— -- It began in a flower shop. With the seeds of their parents' encouragement and a relentless work ethic, brothers Tariq and Kamran Farid grew their once-small family business into the multimillion-dollar venture Edible Arrangements.
Last month Edible Arrangements opened its 1,000th franchise, in Cranston, R.I. The fruit-bouquet business has set up shop in 15 countries, but the brothers say theirs is an only-in-America story.
Hailing from Pakistan, the Farids are among the country's growing number of immigrant entrepreneurs. Foreign-born business owners accounted for 28% of new entrepreneurs in 2011 — up from 15% in 1999, when they founded Edible Arrangements — the 2011 Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity reports.
When Tariq and Kamran moved to the U.S. in 1981, their father juggled several jobs to support their family. From the time they were young, the brothers say, their parents instilled in them the notion that hard work was a necessity, not an option.
"There was never a question of not helping," says Edible Arrangements CEO Tariq Farid, 42. "Whatever money I made, I gave it to my mother … and I did it with pride."
When a failing flower shop in their East Haven, Conn., neighborhood went on the market, Tariq says, his father suggested he buy it. This ambition runs in their blood, says Kamran Farid, 33, the company's chief operations officer.
Though Tariq was still in high school, he bought the store in 1986 with a $5,000 loan from a family friend and managed it on top of his schooling. With help from his family, that first store grew into four.
During his flower shop days, Tariq began experimenting with a fresh idea — arranging fruit instead of flowers. His mother loved the bouquets, but banks were not so impressed. So without a loan, Kamran and Tariq launched Edible Arrangements in 1999 from a section of their first flower shop.
"It was the best thing that ever happened to me," Tariq says. "The only thing we knew was hard work, and beyond that we didn't have any resources."
They never considered franchising until Chris Dellamarggio, now 41, strode through their door in early 2000 and asked if the brothers would consider opening a store near his Boston home.
"I think after I left they kind of went back and laughed and said, 'What the heck is this?' " Dellamarggio says.
After a year of preparation, Dellamarggio opened the first franchise in Waltham, Mass.
In the beginning
The early days weren't easy. At Dellamarggio's shop on the eve of Thanksgiving 2001, he worked through the night — and slept on the floor — to finish preparing the next day's orders. "It was a lot of learning on-the-fly," Dellamarggio says.
As more franchises cropped up across the country, Tariq and Kamran personally helped build stores from the ground up. They, too, slept on franchise floors to help jump-start the new shops. "You've got to make their success your priority," Tariq says of franchisees. "Lose some sleep and lose some comfort so they're successful."
Edible Arrangements attorney Stuart Hershman says this humility makes the Farids industry leaders.
"These guys have intelligence and business savvy, yet in many respects are very humble," says Hershman, a partner of DLA Piper.
Though they still make trips to check on the franchises, Tariq and Kamran are far from their modest start: Last year, Edible Arrangements' systemwide sales rang in at $422 million, and they're aiming for $488 million this year.
As for the banks that were reluctant to help them in 1999? "Now they throw money at you," Kamran says.
Edible Arrangements ranked ninth on Forbes' 2011 list of top franchises to start, and the company plans to open another 100 locations within the next six to eight months.
Though the idea of fruit arrangements was novel, taking that chance paid off.
"Isn't that the ultimate spirit in America? Isn't that what makes it? It's that risk," Tariq says.
Edible Arrangements has grown about 10% each year since 2006. Though it began by offering nine bouquets, the company now offers 150 arrangements, which range from about $25 to $130. There are designs for every occasion, including heart-shaped pineapples, chocolate-dipped bunnies and race-car-shaped baskets.
"I travel the world a lot," Kamran says. "What you can do in America, you can't do anywhere else."
Perhaps that's why last year, immigrants were twice as likely as native-born citizens to start a business, the Kauffman report says. Where else can a company go through 5.6 million strawberries in a single day, as Edible Arrangements projects for Mother's Day?
It began in a flower shop. And with a little sweat, know-how and humility, the Farids' idea blossomed into scrumptious success.