Rick Badie's Gwinnett: Better life means sacrifice for some

It’s 10:30 a.m., days before Christmas, and the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Jimmy Carter Boulevard already has two customers.

I marvel at the fact that someone has a jones for fried bird so early in the morning. Restaurant owner Ali Surti assured me it’s not atypical.

“People come that early in the morning,” he said.

For the past six years, Ali and his wife, Reshma, have owned this Norcross KFC. And in that time they have started a tradition of always being open on two of the biggest holidays of the year — Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

As far as Surti knows, he’s the only KFC franchiser in metro Atlanta who whose neon “open” sign glows on those storied holidays. And unless profits dwindle to a drip, he plans to keep on keeping on.

After all, KFC is as American as it gets. People know what to expect. The first time he opened on Christmas, Surti was shocked by the volume of customer traffic. Family deals and mega-sized sides flew out the door.

“Some people told me, ‘I traveled within a 14-mile radius and couldn’t find any food,’ ” he told me before the noon rush. Being open “used to be a big profit. Nowadays, everything that comes my way is a big profit. These are the things that motivate you.”

That, and a desire to live a decent life.

Surti is from Bombay, a city in a country that’s considered the largest democracy in the world. In India, competition for any and everything runs keen. Dreams can be deferred.

The Surti’s’ only child, 15-year-old Aman, attends the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology. Even though he has shown scant interest in learning the family business, his parents are confident in one thing: a decent life.

“You get a better quality of life and a better life for the children,” Surti said.

To that end, Ali and Reshma log an amazing number of work hours each week. Most holidays, too. Any of the eight employees who work while the store is open on Christmas Day — 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. — get a bonus.

“I have people who are ready to work on holidays,” Surti said, “and that’s most important. But you have to balance between the work and the employee’s families as well.”

Now, what about his family?

The desire to commiserate on the holiest day of the year? To simply relax and forget about whipping up a batch of secret recipe and mashed potatoes?

“We celebrate with parties, gift exchanges,” he said. “We just do it a day later, the 26th instead of the 25th. All our relatives, basically, are here, just around the corner. So we meet often in church and stuff like that.”

January and February, typically, are slow months for retailers and restaurateurs. Surti already has plans.

“They’ll be looking for a deal,” he said. “And we’ll be ready.”

Rick Badie, an Opinion columnist, is based in Gwinnett. Reach him at rbadie@ajc.com or 770-263-3875.