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Mohammed Ali

Fueling Local Business

Riding the wave of Austin's growth, while always remembering to keep it local.

The Shell station on Northland Drive in Austin, Texas might look like any other gas station in America, but its roots are steeped in Austin’s culture. After all, it’s owned by a true Austinite who’s been around long enough to know where Austin’s been, and where it’s going. Mohammed’s family immigrated to America in the 1980s and moved to Austin in 1993 when he was only 7 years old. He’s seen Austin’s explosive growth firsthand as a resident and a business owner.

“It’s changed drastically but there’s still lots of pockets that are the same. It’s grown in all four directions now, but we’ve been lucky to be in the real estate space in Austin and ride the wave.”

Real estate runs in Mohammed’s blood. He and his brother grew up around the business. His father was an engineer by trade but saw an opportunity in the convenience store business upon arriving in Austin. He purchased his first location in what is now in the beating heart of the city, and turned a small store with two pumps on a tiny plot of land into a business he could build upon.

With a few convenience stores here and there, he attended the University of Texas, where Mohammed and his brother began to dream of something bigger. They took their father’s business and continued to grow it, diversifying by investing in fuel transportation and shopping centers in up-and-coming Austin neighborhoods.

“The commercial real estate part started in about 2008, when we actually moved in to actively pursuing not C-store real estate. We identified strip centers, generally retail, sometimes industrial, in an up and coming part of Austin or around Central Texas, and then we go in there and rehab and put a good facelift on the centers. We try to add local tenants as much as possible.”

Ask an Austin resident about the town’s rapid growth and you’ll likely be met with apprehension. Mohammed is no different, though he’s happy to ride the wave, one of his main goals is to help preserve the small business culture that Austin prides itself on by focusing on local tenants. He describes their niche as an eclectic group of businesses that let Austin’s culture shine through.

“A lot of our tenants are mom and pop. I think all our locations have a very neighborhood feel. Whether they’re on IH-35 or they’re tucked in a southeast Austin neighborhood, we cater to the needs of that local clientele and that’s how we differentiate ourselves from the big boxes of the world. The support for smaller local businesses in Austin is bar none.”

It’s not just a measure of sticking up for his small business peers. The local economy is extremely important to Mohammed. It’s painful for him to see large corporations move into Austin and take the money they make here away from the city, because family-owned local businesses tend to struggle in that growth environment.

“It’s a competitive landscape. You have well-funded Fortune 500 public companies that are competing for the same sites that we are, and that makes it difficult to grow. It’s important for that money to stay in Austin, and it’s good for the local economy. So whenever we see a local business being scraped and torn down for a national big box, and Dan’s Hamburgers goes away for In-N-Out, you know that money’s not staying here.”

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To survive in such a competitive landscape, Mohammed and his brother continue to diversify and vertically integrate. Mohammed found a partner in Centennial BANK. Together, they’ve been working to secure funding for convenience stores and commercial real estate all across Austin, while continuing to grow Mohammed’s fuel transport business, Embark Energy.

“Centennial’s been around for long enough to know that there’s ebbs and flows in every market, and there’s peaks and valleys. Opportunity can come at any given time and we want to be ready for that.”

In true Austin fashion, Mohammed is not about growth for growth’s sake, but intends to continue the legacy built by and for family. Now with over 30 locations across the city, Mohammed is leaving a legacy that helps to keep Austin’s local, small business culture alive for many generations to come.

"I’d like to leave a legacy for our children; for the local community. Without those folks we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing.”

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