Small Business Monday – spotlight on Z’s Restaurant

Birmingham AL
Carolyn Bolivar-Hameen and Ezekiel “Zeke” Hameen, owners of Z’s Restaurant. Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

Did you see the Alabama Theatre’s new sign on 18th Street light up last night? Well, on 17th Street, Mr. Zeke’s famous baked chicken and bean pie will make your face light up!! Try a new spot in the New Year and head on over to this cozy meat and three. Zeke’s wife, Carolyn, tells us all about the tasty food in this week’s edition of Small Business Monday!

Birmingham AL, business
Z’s famous bean pie accompanies the baked chicken with cornbread dressing and veggies. Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

We opened here (104 17th St N  Birmingham, Alabama 35203) in 2008.  We found the property on my birthday. It was just in the front part.   We had a couple of little tables.  It was really cozy. In 2011, we expanded to the dining area.  It had been a church food giveaway location.  It was in terrible condition before we remodeled.  There was no floor in here.  My dad is a contractor and he said, “Carolyn, don’t do it.”  Well, don’t tell me not to do something.  We needed to expand, my son helped us, and we were blessed to get it done.  We operate with a small staff of about five.  People come here who are tired of fast food.

Birmingham AL
Happy customers! Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now.

Zeke is a wonderful man. He really has a passion for the food service and baking. That came from his mom.  His mother and father were beautiful people, always helping other people.  His older children run the other restaurant at 16th Street and 4th Avenue North,  Miss B’s. They named it for their mom, Barbara.  His daughter is a caterer for birthday parties and showers and all types of occasions.  His granddaughter has a baking business for cupcakes and custom made cakes.  My son, who moved here from California, is a great cook, a really good grill guy. I’m the business manager and also try to be a p. r.  person.

Birmingham AL
Bizarre Foods of the Travel Channel came to investigate the bean pie! Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now.

We have been covered by the Travel Channel. They thought bizarre foods meant bean pies!  Zimmer actually came in.  His staff was wonderful.  The bean pie is made from vanilla beans, navy beans, and has the texture of a sweet potato pie. It kind of has a crust on the top that others don’t have.  He’s a very sweet man, very nice, quiet spoken and not at all like one of those Hell’s Kitchen chefs.  But the ice cream has to be done his way.  He has to stop and make time to make some. He doesn’t let anyone know how he makes his ice cream. It’s a secret.

Birmingham AL
Mr. Zeke promises to make a fresh batch of ice cream in January! Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now.


Signature dish-

I feel like we have the best baked chicken and dressing in the world!  I don’t profess to be a cook, but I know taste and I know what I want the food to look like. The chicken is so pretty, it’s a beautiful color and the dressing is delicious. We make the best cornbread muffins!

We offer breakfast and lunch, and are considering doing breakfast on Sundays. The only day we are closed is Mondays.  It’s a tough business.  But Mr. Zeke is steady. He’s going to get up everyday and shop, and do anything that’s necessary to keep the doors open.  We are so fortunate to have our manager, Linwood.  He’s down here at 4:30 in the morning to get breakfast on and make sure everything is running. He’s very loyal, very trustworthy.

Birmingham AL
Mr. Zeke, serving up a tasty plate. Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now.

Tough stuff –

People don’t realize how much cleaning there is to do.  Then there’s the health department, the fire department, a lot of taxes. It’s an old building, so when we were bringing it up to code,  getting the hood in was an ordeal. It was a bad time, but we made it through.  When you’re getting a business license, there’s no one to help you. It’s almost like they are making it up as they go along.

I have to play bad guy sometimes and tell him he’s got to go up on the price of this or that item.  People think you get discounts on food, which we don’t. They think everything is delivered, which it’s not.  They think you get a cut on the power bill because you are a business. That’s not true.  It bothers me that when you have this beautiful meal for seven dollars, some people still complain.  Some people come in and just want to stop up your plumbing. When I do the contracts (for events)  it’s written in stone.  We tell people, Mr. Zeke hires, but I fire.  I don’t like to fire, but….that keeps Zeke with dealing with the quality of the food and the cleaning.  Folks who he has helped when they were down and out come back later and patronize our business.

The best part

The best part of this business is the satisfied customers.  The people who come back repeatedly and spread the word.  We get referrals from people in Chicago and other cities who tell their friends, “If you go to Birmingham, you’ve got to go to Z’s Restaurant!”  We have made so many friends and met so many people from all over the world!  We want to do our part to make a good name for our city!

Birmingham AL
Z’s hosts special events in their dining room. Photo via Z’s Restaurant.

I handle the dining room and I’m so proud that we have tours that come through all of the time. The Birmingham Visitor’s Bureau refers people to us. We have been blessed with a lot of repeat customers. We have such a good relationship with the Civil Rights Institute. When people go there, they refer them to us.  We just had sixty people here to kick off the Kwanzaa celebration. We’ve had spoken word performances where people can come do their poetry and be creative.  We do cast parties and wedding parties. We’ve had bands and dj’s.   I’m working on a Toast and Roast for Zeke.  So, we work hard to make sure we always have a nice, clean place and friendly service!

Birmingham AL
Zeke Hameen. Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

We’ve been together since 2004.  It’s kind of cute how we met, quite by accident. His restaurant was closed that day.  I had stopped by a store, I think it was T.J. Maxx, and he just happened to be in there too.  He actually started following me in the store.  He asked me if I had been on vacation, and actually I was getting ready to go on a trip with my daughter. We’ve been together since then. We have a great partnership.   It takes teamwork and he tells me all the time he wouldn’t be able to do it without me.

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Kristina O'Quinn
Kristina O'Quinn
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