Hish Shtayyeh is no stranger to hard work. Owner of several Shell gas and convenience stations around Dayton, the immigrant from Jerusalem has shown determination and drive in developing his career. Now he is working hard to stay on top of the trends in the convenience store industry, having just put the finishing touches on a huge renovation of his first gas station on Far Hills Avenue in Kettering. Shtayyeh shared some of his experiences as an immigrant business owner in Dayton with me.
Q: Where were you born?
A: I was born in East Jerusalem, West Bank.
Q: What brought you to the U.S., and when?
A: Came to U.S. in 1964 as a student at Wilmington College. I was accepted at Wilmington and Miami University in Oxford. Not knowing the difference, Wilmington offered me a work study program and that made up my mind. I graduated in math and physics, minoring in business in 1968. I worked through college in an assembly line, library, college farm and washing trucks for UPS.
Q: What brought you to Dayton?
A: After graduation, I worked in Cincinnati, went to night school at the University of Cincinnati, lived in Oxford with my two student brothers to help with their expenses. Then worked at Armco Steel in Middletown and moved to Dayton.
Q: How did you get into the gas station business?
A: In 1972, I was laid off from Armco as a metallurgical research engineer, could not find a job to pay close to what I was making, and I refused to go to unemployment line out of embarrassment and pride. Oil companies were offering $150 per week to attend their training to be a station dealer. I went with Sunoco and then Shell, they loaned me all needed money to be a dealer and started with Shell at 3151 E. Dorothy Lane in Kettering. Within a year or so, had many stations, would buy them, improve them and sell them. From cash generated, I started investing in real estate and rentals around UD, then into large acreages and started developing single family subdivisions, Kingswood Forest, Wagner Hills and Stone Gate.
Q: What were the biggest cultural differences you faced as an immigrant working in the U.S.?
A: As I came to U.S., language was the biggest challenge, food was in the beginning. Assimilation was the best thing I did, mixing with Americans and partying with them. I felt it was important to get accepted.
Q: What are the biggest challenges of your job? What about the most rewarding part?
A: Running gas stations is not easy, you are dealing with entry level employees. I had some kind of arrangement with a high school for students to work at the station as part of schooling. Tried my best to help and encourage them to go to college. Felt extremely good for the ones who did go to college and made it. Still in contact with several.
Q: Do you go back to Jerusalem much?
A: Have been back to Jerusalem several times as my mom was living, after that you start losing the desire. I have two sisters living in Jerusalem.
Q: Is there good Middle Eastern food around Dayton?
A: My wife is from Jerusalem, she is extremely good cook. There are several Middle Eastern restaurants in town. Detroit, Toledo and Chicago have the most.
Q: What do you do in your spare time?
A: I am a half-ass golfer, enjoy getting together with people and argue you name it — politics, religion, social issues facing the country. And I also enjoy watching sports, and reading books.