Before launching Ma’am Saab in 2020 and Malika in 2021, Maryam Ghaznavi was a full-time teacher at East Cooper Montessori Charter School | Filed photos by Rūta Smith

Local food and beverage entrepreneur Michael Shemtov has added another project under his belt to help fellow restaurateurs, chefs and those in the food and beverage community. Shemtov has partnered with BLAKE, a small PR company that tells stories “responsibly, with context and confidence” to build nationwide brand awareness for smaller restaurateurs and chefs through The Bee Fund.

Local entrepreneur Michael Shemtov expands his food and beverage community philanthropy with The Bee Fund 

“I know folks who could benefit from PR but don’t necessarily have the contacts or maybe don’t have the budget to spend on it,” Shemtov said. “One of the things that I try to think about is, if we’re going to do something, how can it benefit not just the people that we’re lucky enough to know, but the wider community?”

The Bee Fund is offering recipients a chance to build a nationwide reputation and share their story. Every six months, BLAKE and Butcher & Bee will choose from a pool of applicants “who can come from anywhere geographically and anywhere in the food world — from food cart operators to emerging CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands to system disruptors and everything in between and beyond.” The chosen recipient will then work with BLAKE for six months, building brand recognition and awareness. 

BLAKE has worked with clients who have landed in Bon Appetit Top 10, Esquire’s Best New Restaurant in America list and helped name-changing brands like spice company Diaspora Co. and Chinese sauce and dumpling brand Fly By Jing. 

“We tend to work in a pretty fluid and agile way,” said BLAKE owner Blake MacKay. ”I like to work with clients who aren’t sort of, you know, big or chained or corporate or anything like that.” 

To that end, the first recipient of The Bee Fund are locals Maryam Ghaznavi and Raheel Gauba of Malika in Mount Pleasant and soon-to-be-open Ma’am Saab downtown. Their Pakistani cuisine has taken Charleston by storm. 

“We felt like we had somebody who just was a perfect candidate with a great story, with something new,” said Shemtov. “This sort of fit exactly the business that we wanted to help lift up and promote.”

When planning The Bee Fund, Shemtov knew what Ghaznavi and Gauba had to share, and believed their scope was larger than the Lowcountry. There’s significance, he said, in a pair of Pakistani immigrants taking over the space at Jestine’s, an iconic comfort food haven named after the black cook and housekeeper of the restaurateur’s white family. “I think [Ghaznavi and Gauba] have a bigger story,” said Shemtov. “It really could be a national story in any national publication, especially around, you know, opening downtown in this spot. It’s like, it has a bit of a challenging history to it.”

After Shemtov shared the couple’s story with MacKay and Peter Shrieve-Don, a BLAKE account manager, the pair came to share Shemtov’s sentiment: “There’s no doubt in my mind that this is a story that needs to be told nationally, and that will be of interest to national media,” MacKay said. ”They just need to be aware of it. We’re talking internationally, too. We definitely want to sort of capture some media in Pakistan as well.”

“We were just giggling with excitement when we got off the phone,” Shrieve-Don said. “And I know this word authenticity is used in so many different ways nowadays, but you know, authenticity in this situation is obviously undeniable and in this industry, we all know that authenticity has longevity. We just think that this partnership and the story is a great deal.” 

Ghaznavi and Gauba, too, share the sentiment, and are honored to be the first recipients of The Bee Fund. 

“This is just another representation of the world responding positively to positivity.”Ghaznavi said. We don’t see it as, like, ‘Hey, we just found some magic formula and we’re just going to go ahead and milk it.’ It really is for a purpose. And the purpose is to share and kind of break barriers and stereotypes of where we come from, where I come from.

The Bee Fund was created to help local brands launch into nationwide markets

“As a female Pakistani, and being recognized as a chef, internationally or nationally, you know, out of Pakistan, doesn’t happen very often. It doesn’t happen. I don’t even know many names around the world even if that happens.”

“You know what sets a great business apart from an extraordinary one? The extraordinary one is the one that set out to tell their story,” Gauba added. “You know, how they tell their story, who were the people that helped them tell the story; all those things matter. We didn’t get into this business just to make money. It’s not driven by that, it’s driven by our desire to spread the word, to share our cuisine. It’s to share our story. It’s to share what Pakistani culture is. And Michael has been a huge part in us being able to tell that story.” 

After their time with The Bee Fund, Ghaznavi and Gauba plan to share what they learn and help “graduate another class” of upcoming chefs and restaurateurs.

“We’re the first, and by definition, that means we’re not the last,” Gauba said. “And the most exciting part about the fund itself is that there’s going to be a fraternity, there’s going to be mentorship, there’s going to be growth as a community.”’

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.