Ahmad Ashkar leaning on a table, with Falafel Inc. logo painted on the wall behind him (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)
Ahmad Ashkar at Falafel Inc. restaurant in Georgetown, a Washington neighborhood (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)

Ahmad Ashkar is as enthusiastic about his business model as he is about the falafel he sells. It’s the latest development, he says, in “how business can serve humanity, as opposed to humanity serving business.”

The falafel and hummus the Palestinian American serves up — based on his mother’s recipe — have been a hit since Falafel Inc., his fast-food outlet in Washington, opened in May 2017.

For every $10 purchase, the restaurant donates enough money to feed a refugee for one day. Currently, sales are totaled and donations are made weekly via the World Food Programme’s ShareTheMeal app.

It works like a business franchise with a twist. When franchisees license a brand, they pay ongoing royalty fees to the franchise company. These fees may be as high as 50 percent of revenue, depending upon the arrangement. Instead of paying a big corporation, however, Falafel Inc. pays the World Food Programme.

“It’s automatic, off the top,” Ashkar says. “We have impact while we sleep.” He adds: “Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s actually good business.”

Born in Kansas City, Kansas, Ashkar lived in the Middle East for a few years as a child, but grew up in America’s Midwest. His parents were Palestinian immigrants. He was a star football player at Immaculata Catholic High School in Leavenworth, Kansas, and landed full athletic scholarships to the University of Nebraska and later to Avila University, a private university in Kansas City, Missouri, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. He holds a master’s degree in business administration from the Hult International Business School.

Ashkar believes philanthropy and business are not mutually exclusive. His philosophy is pure capitalism plus social consciousness — for-profit entities ensure that philanthropy thrives along with the business.

He wants to train refugees in the food business, giving them work and the opportunity to open their own small restaurants similar to Falafel Inc. With the goal of feeding 1 million refugees a year, he intends to open more “food-for-good” franchises.

Named Esquire magazine’s 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year, Ashkar also heads the Hult Prize Foundation, which he founded to encourage young social entrepreneurs to develop viable for-profit/for-good startups that address the world’s most pressing challenges. He serves on the United Nations Development Programme Innovation Facility Advisory Board, focusing on poverty alleviation.