The franchisee association of a California sub sandwich chain alleges that SBA SCORE advisor and EECU board member Ali Nekumanesh has turned their American Dream into a nightmare of bitter lawsuits, bullying, bad press and shuttered stores for his own financial gain. by Sean Kelly [please send input including rebuttals to: unhappyfranchisee[at]gmail[dot]com or post comment below]
(UnhappyFranchisee.Com) In a 2015 interview on Fresno TV, SCORE advisor and volunteer Ali Nekumanesh recounted how he arrived at the Denver Airport from his native Iran not knowing a word of English.
“I didn’t speak any English…” Ali recounted. “The second day I was here, my uncle comes to me and says ‘Ali there is no Persian speaking anywhere in here, so learn English.’ So that was it. That was the end of Farsi for me.”
Decades later, Ali Nekumanesh became a consultant to the founder of Deli Delicious Franchising Inc. (DDFI), a fellow Iranian immigrant named Mohammad Hobab.
Mohammad Hobab did not have a stern uncle to force him to learn English. In a sworn deposition August 24, 2020, Ali was asked about Mohammad Hobab’s ability to understand or conduct business in English:
Attorney: But, sir, Mohammad Hobab does not speak English; is that correct?
Ali Nekumanesh: Yes, or limited English.
Attorney: Does he read or write English?
Ali Nekumanesh: I’m not aware, I am not sure.
The DD Franchise Association (DDFA) of franchisees and others we’ve interviewed allege that Ali Nekumanesh’s command of both Farsi and English is what enabled him to essentially take over a successful sandwich chain called Deli Delicious, to control and manipulate its headstrong, non-English speaking CEO Mohammad Hobab, and to eliminate anyone in the organization who challenged his influence… including Hobab’s own son.
Ali Nekumanesh is on the Board of Fresno’s Education Employees Credit Union (EECU) and is the franchise expert at Central Valley SCORE.
The Deli Delicious Franchisee Association (and others we’ve spoken to) contends that Ali Nekumanesh, a business advisor with the SBA’s SCORE program, a board member of the Fresno’s Education Employees Credit Union (EECU), is not only Hobab’s right-hand man and trusted advisor, his role as translator and interpreter has given him the power to manipulate and control Mohammad Hobab.
One might say Nekumanesh is a modern SvengALI who has DDFI’s CEO under his spell. One source tells us:
“Nekumanesh has turned Mohammad Hobab against his own family members, including his son, who was fired by a handwritten letter translated by Nekumanesh. He has played off Hobab’s worst instincts and [encouraged him] to irreparably damage the Deli Delicious brand and destroy DDFI’s relationship with its franchisees.”
Whether the blame rests mainly with Ali Nekumanesh or not, one thing is clear: The Deli Delicious chain went from rising star to a stalled, contentious and litigious mess.
The turning point was a single a disastrous decision that, in our opinion, an experienced franchise advisor should have seen coming.
Just three years ago, Deli Delicious was a growing, 50-unit franchise chain receiving numerous regional, state and national business awards.
Today, its store count is in decline and franchisor Deli Delicious Franchising Inc. (DDFI) is embroiled in 7 lawsuits and counter-suits with former employees, franchisees and a consumer that alleges false advertising and deceptive business practices.
Many franchisees and former employees blame Ali Nekumanesh, a business advisor with the SBA’s SCORE program and a board member of the Fresno’s Educational Employees Credit Union (EECU).
Franchisees blame Nekumanesh for the disastrous “bake-and-switch” scheme
The singular event that reversed Deli Delicious’ successful trajectory was the sudden demand that Deli Delicious franchisees purchase rock-hard frozen bread, packed in cartons, that require freezer storage and daily thawing – instead of the fresh bread that had been baked and delivered daily for more than 20 years.
Despite the fact that their franchise agreements clearly defined the Deli Delicious restaurant system as providing “deli sandwiches made with fresh ingredients for customers seeking an alternative to fast food,” DDFI forced franchisees to purchase allegedly inferior bread they could no longer refer to as “fresh” with no benefit in cost or profitability.
Whereas the previous bread supplier was the iconic Basque Bakery that had more than 50 years of experience, franchisees were now required to purchase from an unknown supplier named DD’s Bakery.
DD’s Bakery, they learned, was a fledgling bakery with no track record that had been recently developed in secret.
The owners of DD’s Bakery? Ali Nekumanesh, Ali’s wife Debbie Nekumanesh and Mohammad Hobab.
DD’s Bakery was evidently built for the purpose of diverting production and revenue from Fresno’s iconic Basque Bakery into the pockets of Ali and Debbie Nekumanesh and Mohammad Hobab.
DD’s Bakery had been built with more than $2M in financing guaranteed by the taxpayers via Ali’s friends at the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Ali Nekumanesh “controls every decision made at DDFI, for his own benefit, his own hidden agenda.” – Deli Delicious Franchisee Association Letter 2/22/21
In a letter to DDFI President (Mohammad Hobab’s son) Hesam Hobab dated 2/22/21, the DD Franchise Association of franchise owners contends that the one-time consultant, now Executive Vice President, Ali Nekumanesh calls the shots at the franchisor organization:
Ali is the decision-maker at DDFI, a Franchise Company that is currently been sued by former employees, current and former Franchisees, its customers, and its own family…
Ali hides behind you and your dad, yet he controls every decision made at DDFI, for his own benefit, his own hidden agenda, and his own power to flex his muscles, while playing the ‘coy humble servant’ to you and your dad.
Ali is not only hurting the Franchisees but he is also hurting the Deli Delicious Brand…
Franchisees are not alone in their opinion that Ali Nekumanesh is the main decision-maker at DDFI.
Foad Saffarzadeh was DDFI Director of Operations and Regional V.P. for more than 7 years, and reported to Ali Nekumanesh. In a sworn deposition on August 19, 2020, Foad Saffarzadeh was asked who is in control of DDFI.
ATTORNEY: Between Ali Nekumanesh and Mohammad Hobab, who is the alpha male…? Who’s in charge?· Who calls the shots?
FOAD: Mr. Nekumanesh.
ATTORNEY: Would it be accurate to say that Mohammad Hobab has given free reign to Ali Nekumanesh to do as he sees fit?
The attorney then asks about the role of DDFI President Hesam Hobab:
ATTORNEY: …I just want to make sure I understand the chain of command in DDFI as of the time you left. On top of the ladder, who was sitting on top?
FOAD: You know, in regards to title it was Hesam Hobab was the president. In regards to making decisions it was Mr. Ali Nekumanesh.
ATTORNEY: So Hesam was basically a figurehead; is that correct?
FOAD: You can call it that.
The late Al Lewis, owner of Basque Bakery for 30 years and an expert with decades of prior commercial baking experience, shared the same opinion that Ali Nekumanesh is in charge of DDFI.
In an interview with UnhappyFranchise.Com in July, 2019* Mr. Lewis was not shy in expressing his opinion of Ali Nekumanesh’s manipulation of Hobab and general dishonesty:
Ali is Executive VP, but I think he has Hobab’s ear… and I think Hobab does what Ali wants him to do…
Al Lewis claims that Ali Nekumanesh writes letters (in English) and Mohammad Hobab just signs them without even being able to read them:
We wrote letters back and forth for so long…
Hobab signed them but I know who wrote them…
I don’t think Hobab has [the ability] to write letters like those I received…
Ali wrote the letters and Hobab signed them…
Here are some short audio snippets of my interview with Mr. Al Lewis of Basque Bread.
Al Lewis on Ali Nekumanesh calling the shots at DDFI:
Al Lewis on DDFI’s false claims about Basque Bread:
Al Lewis on Ali Nekumanesh’s and DDFI’s treatment of franchisees:
Input invited: Is Ali Nekumanesh the sincere and caring professional he seems? Or the manipulative opportunist DD Franchise Association claims? All opinions invited.
We invite Mr. Nekumanesh, Mohammad Hobab, Hesam Hobab and others at DDFI to address the allegations made by DDFA. Clarifications, corrections and rebuttals will be published in their entirety.
We would also like to hear from colleagues and organizations those who publicly endorse Mr. Nekumanesh, including:
- Central Valley SCORE,
- the Small Business Administration (SBA),
- Educational Employees Credit Union (EECU) of Fresno,
- California Restaurant Association,
- International Franchise Association (IFA)
- Institute for Family Business, Fresno State
We understand that there are more than one side to every story… help us share the whole story by sharing your opinion with a comment below or by emailing, in confidence, to UnhappyFranchisee[at]gmail[dot]com.
* Our interview was one month to the day before Mr. Al Lewis’ untimely passing. Our sincere condolences go out to his family, friends and the team at Basque Bakery. Al Lewis was a fiery, straight-shooting, tell-it-like-it professional that I deeply admired after a single conversation. I don’t think anyone has ever made me laugh in an interview the way Al did. I regret not having had the chance to know him better. – Sean
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