Goodman Community Center | Sultan builds a living wage into entree…

Sultan builds a living wage into entree price

South Asian restaurant offers Pakistani-inspired cuisine and a different business model for paying staff.

August 2, 2023 |
Sultan Ahmed is the owner of Sultan restaurant at 1054 Williamson Street.
Sultan restaurant owner Sultan Ahmed pays employees what they're worth and does not use the traditional tipping model to supplement a low base wage.

By Jacob Link, Eastside News

Sultan, a recently opened restaurant at 1054 Williamson St., is taking a new approach to Pakistani food by taking traditional spices and flavors and mixing in European styles to create a unique blend of South Asian cuisine.

“We are a small-plates Pakistani restaurant where we do modern small portion takes on some of the traditional Pakistani classics,” Sultan head chef and owner Sultan Ahmed said. “We also serve some of the classics the way they’ve always been done, such as nihari, Bahari. Our goal is to bring Punjabi flavors to Madison.”

Punjabi, a style of food originally from the Punjab region, is typically made from a number of traditional spices such as saba, cardamom and cumin, and features traditional meat like mutton, goat, lamb and chicken.

Sultan stands out from other restaurants in the area because it’s one of the only no-tipping restaurants. Instead of asking customers for a tip, Ahmed raises his prices a little higher than usual to pay a living wage, which he feels is fairer to his employees.

“I’ve always not been a big fan of tipping culture,” Ahmed said. “I think it is a terrible way to treat labor, it has a lot of racist roots, such as the post-slavery and post-reconstruction era, and I think people should be paid what they’re worth. If I’m going to open a restaurant, then I’m going to do it the right way and use a no tipping model.”

Ahmed said he’s confident the no-tipping model will work.

“If you are a restaurant that puts out high-quality product and service — and does it well — then you should be successful enough to pay your employees a living wage,” he said.

Ahmed said his plan has always been to open a Pakistani restaurant in the area.

“I think a lot of the South Asian restaurants you see, the concepts are very much the same where it is a large portion of curry and then some rice or some bread. I wanted to take a more modern approach to expose people to more of the flavors and make it more nuanced too. We use a lot of meat and protein heavy spice-based dishes,” he said. “I think the only point of reference people have are Indian places and the cuisine is different in Pakistan. That’s why I want to bring Pakistani cuisine to the people of Madison.”

Ahmed said his small-plates concept is based on a new movement in Pakistan and India.

“In Pakistan and India, there’s a lot of diabetes and a lot of heart disease,” he said. A lot of the cuisine is really oily and fatty and so doing a small plate, smaller portion concept also helps us build a more nutritious menu and a more rounded menu.”

Sultan is open 4-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.

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