The Tastemakers: Na’eem Adam

Stepping into the dimly lit Café Social on Montreal’s Saint-Viateur Boulevard on a cold winter morning, six-foot-three entrepreneur and social media magnate Na’eem Adam shook my hand and humbly apologized for being a few minutes late. “Sorry, dude. Things have been a little hectic these days,” he said. With the second edition of Poutine Week just around the corner, a new radio show, and having recently been married, that would be seen by most as a simple understatement.

Born into a small Indian family on the South Shore, Na’eem has lived and breathed Montreal since day one. He took on the role of caring for his two sisters in their Boucherville home following his parents’ decision to return to their home country of Botswana when he was 25 years old. Now 30, Na’eem has grown into one of Montreal’s most recognizable figures, particularly on the food and nightlife scene, due in large part to the creation of both Burger Week and Poutine Week.

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With his roots firmly settled in MTL, Na’eem intends to keep his business here while continuing to expand to other locations. The two weeklong food festivals have grown to include several cities across Canada, which allowed Na’eem and his business partner, Thierry Rassam, to make connections with other like-minded, ambitious people in the game. In the weeks and months before taking on the expansion, he focused his search on finding someone with similar characteristics to himself. “They had to be someone not just business-oriented, but personable and food-oriented, with a voice in the city in one way or another,” he said. Admitting that it can often be challenging to empower someone across the country with your brand, Na’eem expressed confidence that anyone who can prove their determination will ultimately win trust from his peers.

His quest to find others with an entrepreneurial spirit can be traced back to his own professional career. From a young age, marketing had always been incredibly attractive to Na’eem. He launched a consulting firm early on, encouraging clients to engage in smart, creative social media strategies. A one-year position he held at Sid Lee helped fine-tune some of his content marketing methods, and he sought to intertwine these techniques in a business of his own. “I needed to immerse myself in the creative culture before looking to capitalize on it,” he said. Meanwhile, Na’eem had launched a popular food blog – Méchant Mangeur – that has also served as his moniker from then out.

“I truly believe that I belong in Montreal. I grew up here… I love it here”

His drive to become an entrepreneur stemmed from the fact that he sought to gain perspective with the most forward-thinking people in the city. That, and he simply couldn’t see himself as the nine-to-five type. Now that he’s settled in the heart of Mile End, Na’eem is convinced he’s in the perfect place to continue growing his business. When quizzed about why he wouldn’t rather be in a city like New York, San Francisco, or even neighbouring Toronto, his response was short and sweet. “I truly believe that I belong in Montreal. I grew up here… I love it here,” he said. He admitted that while it may seem Montreal lacks hustle – at least compared to the others – he chooses not to paint the picture that way. “It all depends how you look at it. Negativity breeds unhappiness. But if you surround yourself with people with a hustle mentality, that will rub off on you and guide you towards a better future,” he said.

Na’eem’s character reflects this very mentality. On numerous occasions throughout the conversation, he referred to the one essential quality people need to succeed: passion. “Without a doubt, passionate people can change the world. Passion is what drives us to recreate, redevelop, and re-imagine that which already exists,” Na’eem said. He confessed that although the concepts behind Poutine Week and Burger Week were enjoyable to create, these types of festivals could actually help produce a healthy competition among restaurants. “Without each other, there’s no growth, and often a lack of creativity,” he said. “Competition forces chefs to push the envelope and stand out in a city with literally thousands of restaurants.”

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Aside from bridging Canadian cities and further developing the web platform and apps for Poutine Week and Burger Week, Na’eem recently married Montreal’s own DJ Abeille, whom he credits as being his anchor when he needs it most. The wedding was a hybrid between traditional Indian and Quebecois style, held on a small island facing the city, with people dressed in everything from saris to suits and tuxedos. As Abeille is involved in several of her own projects, they’re able to “focus on their careers as a team” and concentrate on the bigger picture.

His advice for the young, entrepreneurial bachelors out there is to get married. “This frees up at least 75% of your mind. To keep it simple – I’ve got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one. A woman can be just as big as 99 problems, but if you don’t have one, that’s when you’re in real trouble,” Na’eem said. As if shying away from the question, he modestly admits that running after girls polluted his mind, and kept him distracted from what he truly values in life: friends, family, and business.

And as we came back full circle to the topic of business, we parted ways so he could get to just that. Na’eem, on his way to record an episode for his new radio show – called Dinner Rush on CJAD 800, aired every Saturday from 3-4pm – casually reminded us to start dieting now, before Poutine Week hits Montreal later this week. This year, 30 of Montreal’s restaurants, including Imadake Izakaya, Chez Boris, Miss Prêt à Manger, Ice House and La Banquise will be cooking up unique poutines from February 1st to the 7th. The event will also be held in Quebec City, Ottawa and Toronto. All dishes will be priced at $10 or less and can be voted on at www.LaPoutineWeek.com. Check out the website for a full list of participating restaurants, too.

Like us, you should start making room for what’s going to be a very gluttonous start to February. And we certainly have Na’eem to thank for that one.

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