Born and raised in Pakistan, Ashfaq Malik arrived in the United States 26 years ago to obtain an education that would launch a career as a manager in the hotel and hospitality industry in New York.
But in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Malik found it difficult to find work because of the stigmas attached to his ethnic appearance, his wife said.
After months unsuccessfully searching for a job, the couple took a chance – taking their last savings of $1,500 and moving to Pennsylvania.
By 2006, after Malik worked as a chauffeur and built a reputation as a punctual and courteous driver, the couple started Advantage Chauffeur LLC out of their home.
Today, the company employs six, owns three luxury vehicles that service a large corporate client base and has plans to grow and transition to a brick and mortar business.
“We're proud that we struggled to get this far from nothing,” Ashfaq Malik said.
When Malik arrived in the U.S., he earned a degree in business administration and enjoyed many years in the hotel industry, working his way from the front desk to manager.
When Sept. 11 hit, though, that all changed, and so did the economy.
Malik was working at a hotel on Long Island, but was laid off from his job following the Sept. 11 attacks. Living in Southampton, N.Y., it would be months of job hunting with very little results that would force Malik and his wife to make a serious decision on whether to stay in New York.
That's when they decided to move to near Hershey.
“I told my husband, 'as much as we love Long Island, we aren't going to survive here,' ” Darla Malik said. “We needed to get away from the stigma of New York City.”
After five months in Linglestown, Ashfaq Malik finally got the call to take him back to the hotel industry, where he was most comfortable and successful. Hawthorne Suites in Fogelsville hired him as general manager, and the couple moved to Macungie.
After three years, the hotel was taken over by new owners, and Malik lost his job. At this point, with their first child in tow, looking outside of the hotel industry was the way to go.
Ashfaq Malik became a chauffeur for Siegfried Chauffeur in Allentown, which had a corporate account with Lutron Electronics of Coopersburg. Lutron hired Siegfried to supply personal drivers for its fleet of cars.
Malik became known among the executives that he drove and began to gain a positive reputation.
“He is punctual, and was getting a lot of requests,” Darla Malik said of her husband. “A lot of those people were calling him on his cellphone instead of calling the business.”
Soon, Malik realized her husband had a knack for the chauffeur industry, and she decided it was wise to start their own business.
She put her administrative skills and love of art to use and built a website for the business. She registered the business with the state Department of Revenue, and in 2006 it was incorporated.
“I saw a niche in market that nobody else saw,” Darla Malik said.
Darla Malik said it took time to build what they have, especially since the couple started with bad credit and little money to invest.
But, as Ashfaq Malik chauffeured people in their own cars, he gradually built up a client base.
“For them [customers], the quality of service matters more than anything else,” Darla Malik said.
In 2010, the couple bought their first car from a client – a Mercedes S500. Since then, they have added two vehicles to their fleet.
Advantage Chauffeur makes about eight to 12 chauffeur trips in a day, going as far south as Florida, west to Cincinnati, north to Connecticut and east to the end of Long Island.
According to Darla Malik, customers usually are repeat clientele, typically business people. New calls come in from those who have heard about them through word of mouth or found them on the Internet, she said.
“The small-business feel while being personable and on a first-name basis is what I truly appreciate from Advantage Chauffeur,” said Jeffrey Sharratt of Macungie, a customer of Advantage for a year and a half.
For Rose Tukeva, federal sales administrative specialist for Mack Defense LLC, the price and etiquette of Advantage have kept her a customer for a year.
“Advantage provides professional, courteous and on-time service,” she said. “They have helped me out on many short notice requests, and their prices are very competitive.”
Short-term plans for Advantage are to expand the fleet by adding a sprinter or party bus and sedans, Darla Malik said. The business has a Mercedes S550 and two Suburbans.
“The more vehicles we have, the more volume we can handle,” she said.
As more vehicles are added, the company will lease a parking lot to hold the vehicles, she said. Eventually, Advantage hopes to have a brick and mortar business.
“Hard work and determination pay off, and that's what we get to show our children,” Ashfaq Malik said.