WILKES-BARRE — Ali Abualburak is living life like a boss. He may not be partying on a yacht with Leonardo DiCaprio, but he’s certainly feeling like the king of the world. The 22-year-old, who graduated from Penn State University in 2014, is living every frat boy’s fantasy. His first job out of college is opening a bar, Ali Baba Lounge, with his father, Nabil.
“I didn’t expect this to be what I was going to do right after college,” Ali said. “I thought I was going to be like a regular college student who graduates and gets a regular salary-paying job or goes back to school for my master’s.”
Ali’s father said he decided to go into business with his son after he started to worry about what Ali would do after college. “I wanted him to have something to do as soon as he graduated,” Nabil said. Understandable, since today’s millennial generation is lagging in the workplace. A study by Carnevale’s center at Georgetown University found that the employment rate for young graduates was worst between the ages of 21 to 25.
The father-son business endeavor is gearing up for a grand opening weekend Sept. 3 to 6. Before the area is introduced to the new nightlife experience, Ali and Nabil invited Weekender to get a look at the place and find out what to expect when Ali Baba Lounge opens its doors.
PASSING THE TORCH
Ali said he’s spent his entire life watching with admiration as his father ran several businesses in New Jersey and Northeastern Pennsylvania. At one time, Nabil owned seven pizzerias in the Garden State. Now, he owns Mr. Pizza in Wilkes-Barre and several rental properties.
It all started in 1989, when Nabil moved to the United States from Jordan to achieve a masters degree at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. Financial restrictions prevented him from finishing his degree so he began working at a pizzeria. Determined to live the American dream, Nabil worked hard and within six months, opened his own pizzeria.
In 2006, Nabil sold his businesses in New Jersey and moved his family to Kingston Township, focusing less on business adventures and more on family.
“I’ve watched him, growing up, and learned from all of his decisions,” Ali said. “The thing I caught on to was his work ethic. That’s what I try to copy. He moved to America with no money and started his own business. He works 16 hours a day and he’s still able to balance putting his family first while maintaining a strong work ethic. That’s what I’m trying to figure out how to do — to find that balance in life of working hard and keeping my priorities straight.”
Opening a bar was more Ali’s style than a pizzeria, he said. In college, he served as social chair for Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity and discovered he had a knack for giving people the type of nightlife experience they wanted.
“I pretty much ran the social budget and events for my fraternity. I planned the parties,” Ali said. “Phi Sigma Kappa threw a few major parties. We were known for our Gravediggers Party, which was our Halloween party. We also had a pirate-themed party in the spring. One party that I actually did myself was an outdoor day-long party. To have a day-long party there was a lot of paperwork and preparing to make sure we abide by the rules of IFC [Inter-Fraternity Council] rules. A lot of brothers in the fraternity weren’t about it, but I was. I spent months planning it out. We had to get a fence. We had to get security guards. We had to ID people at the bar. We had a bunch of DJ’s. We had sponsors. It was my biggest success as social chair.”
Ali said his experience as social chair was comparable to an internship guiding him toward the next chapter of his life: Ali Baba Lounge.
Ali will have total control when it comes to running Ali Baba Lounge, Nabil said. “I’ll be there to step in only when I feel I need to,” he said. “I’m here to guide him and pass the torch.”
BELLY DANCERS, HOOKAH AND UNDERCOVER SECURITY GUARDS, OH MY!
As Ali strives for the perfect balance of working toward his new business and his priorities, his energy is also directed at providing the crowning equilibrium of what people want to experience when they go out. He said he interpreted ideas from his favorite nightlife experiences.
“We put together what we thought was the best combination of a chill atmosphere slash party from some of the best bars, nightclubs and lounges from here to Miami,” Ali said. “You can lounge with some friends and just chill and have some drinks or a meal, or you can go on the dance floor and meet people and socialize.”
Ali Baba Lounge will have hookahs available for customers, an amenity he witnessed crowds enjoying at Off the Hookah in Miami and Chrome at State College, he said.
“We’re going to have the best hookahs around,” Ali promised. “All of our hookahs are hand-made in Egypt. These are the hookahs you’d find in the Middle East. We have over 50 flavors of shisha, too.” His younger brothers, Omar and Saleem, will help set up the hookahs and charcoals for customers, he said. Middle Eastern food will also be available, often prepared by his mother, Manal.
Ali Baba Lounge’s stage, which will feature performances from bands, DJs and the occasional belly dancer, was modeled after a bar in NEPA, he said. “We got the idea of how to set up our stage from a local bar, Breakers. We liked how their stage was set up.”
Aside from a good time, Ali and Nabil are driven to provide the safest night-out possible for their guests.
“Security is our number-one priority here,” Ali said. “You hear the news in Wilkes-Barre, and people just assume the worst. But we are guaranteeing everyone to be 100 percent safe when they come to Ali Baba.”
Ali Baba Lounge will enforce a strict dress code — banning hats, baggy clothes, boots and “gang-colored outfits.” From there, security will be on high alert. Ali’s older brother, Samer, will be working security, making Ali Baba Lounge a family affair.
“We’ll have security guards wanding everyone and everyone will be pat-down,” Ali said. “We’ll also have security guards in regular clothes who will be just walking around and talking to people and socializing with them to see what they’re about.”
The protection of their customers is perhaps the one thing Ali and Nabil agree on wholeheartedly.
“We have different views on things,” Ali said. “I look at things completely different than my father looks at things, but we piece the best pieces together at the end and I feel like we come up with the best solution with every situation.”
Ali said he hopes Ali Baba Lounge will be a learning experience for him, so that one day, he can own multiple businesses, like his father.
Reach Justin Adam Brown at 570-991-6652 or on Twitter @wkdr
IF YOU GO
What: Grand opening weekend of Ali Baba Lounge
When: Sept. 3 - 6 from 4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Where: 219 S. Main St., Wilkes-Barre