A Family Affair


Taj Mahal is a Place that Begins(and Ends) with Family

by Brad Carlson, photos by Amanda Antilla

Ask members of the Ishaq family about the Taj Mahal restaurant they’ve operated in the Boise area for nearly 23 years and you may be referred to husband and father Sohail – who is quick to credit them for its survival.

“A restaurant is a very, very stressful place,” Sohail said, noting the vast majority of independent restaurants go bankrupt or change management every couple of years. “But we survived with long hours, extremely hard work and involvement of every member of our family.”

Taj Mahal, which offers home-style Indian and Pakistani cuisine, survived various challenges largely because each family member contributed something unique.

Sohail and Farha Ishaq’s four sons, now in their 20s and early 30s, grew up in and around the restaurant, contributing there and in the larger community.

“Their achievement and confidence… I feel very proud of it,” Sohail said.

A former Pakistan TV show anchor and radio disc jockey, he moved the family from there to Idaho in 1993, importing leather coats from Pakistan and buying the restaurant in Meridian. The import business was short-lived. He and Farha began operating the restaurant in early 1994.

Taj Mahal moved to Fairview Avenue and Five Mile Road in west Boise in the early 2000s. It closed in early 2009 after some nearby big employers shrank workforces that supplied many customers. It reopened later that year in Capitol Terrace downtown, ultimately surviving the deep recession thanks to hard work and loyal customers, Sohail said.

Farha is the chef. When asked why she never passed the job to another staff member, she deferred to Sohail. They agreed Farha is a perfectionist who remained chef to ensure quality. Sohail said customers know and appreciate her cooking, which she enjoys. Her education and work background is in art.

Their sons – from oldest to youngest, Ali, Danish, Alaa and Hamza – went to Centennial High School.

Ali graduated from Boise State University, where he served as student body president. He studied abroad and earned an MBA from Duke. He’s an executive with a large technology company in Florida. “At the restaurant, whenever we needed, he would come in and rescue us,” his father said. “He will do anything. He will come in, see what is needed and start working.”

Like Ali, Danish was involved in high school speech and debate as well as student government. Danish graduated from Northern Arizona University and is a well-known videographer in Idaho. He showed early interest in the restaurant’s operations. He has managed the restaurant and made strategic contributions ranging from technology upgrades and trend tracking to menu modifications. “We see each other almost every day, and if we have any business-related needs, we call him,” Sohail said.

Alaa, who studied in the Washington, D.C. area, manages Taj Mahal’s front crew and is learning overall management. He has a unique ability to quickly detect how customers and crew are feeling, his father said. “He always brings us back to positive energy.”

Hamza is in college in Florida. He served as a U.S. Navy quartermaster, developing valuable professional skills and an interest in classic American foods. At Taj Mahal, he did any job needed and showed special interest in cooking.

Following the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the community was “very generous, helpful and encouraging,” Sohail said. “We never, ever felt we were some outsider. We were embraced like family.”