The first thing that happens when you walk into Sharif Jewelers is you are offered a cup of Turkish coffee and some baklava.
“My dad showed me that’s what you do when you greet people, you welcome them for a cup of coffee to break the ice and make them feel part of your family and part of your business,” says co-owner Mahmud Sharif ’84 (Mechanical Engineering). “It’s a Middle Eastern tradition, to be really hospitable, and I carried that with me.”
Tradition is big in the Sharif family. There’s the family business, which Sharif’s grandfather started in Jerusalem in the 1930s. Sharif and his brother Hazem continued the tradition by opening their own shop in Sacramento, which today has become a chain of stores run in part by their children.
Then there is a newer tradition taking shape: Sacramento State. Mahmud Sharif came to the United States to study at the University, and his three oldest children – Naser, Laila and Ali – as well as his nephew Omar all are Hornet alumni as well. His youngest son, Mohammad, or “Moe,” is currently a student.
“Sacramento State is a great school, especially for engineering,” he says. “I recommended it to them. It’s close to home. This is the place where they grew up. And they loved it.”
Several factors contributed to the Sharif children following their father to Sacramento State, including tradition, proximity, and reputation.
“For us it was part of the legacy to follow in his footsteps,” says Ali Sharif ’16 (Marketing), who now is the company’s vice president of marketing. “Working here, it was easy to go over to Sac State and they’re known for their business program, so for us it fit right in.”
As a child growing up in Jerusalem, Mahmud Sharif says being in his father and grandfather’s shop was “amazing,” and it’s where he fell in love with jewelry and the family business. After school he would help out at the store, watching and learning as his father designed jewelry, ran the store and interacted with customers.
In 1980, Mahmud moved to the United States and began his time at Sacramento State. In addition to his engineering major, he minored in art, something that would come in handy down the line when he began designing jewelry. Around the same time, he and Hazem opened Sharif Jewelers on Howe Avenue.
“Sac State was really great,” he says. “I had the best years of my life. I had a lot of friends, did a lot of activities, and I had a great time.”
Following in their father’s footsteps started early for the Sharif children. They too practically grew up inside the store and worked there throughout college. Today, alongside Ali, Nasser ’11 (Business Management) serves as operations manager, while Laila ’13 (Psychology) works as a designer. Customers who they met as kids are now bringing their children and grandchildren in to purchase engagement rings.
“We’d come in on the weekends, we’d help our dad,” Laila says. “The customers, some of them we grew up with since we were little. A lot of our jewelers and employees we’ve had for over 10 years, so they literally watched us grow. It’s been fun.”
The jewelry store, they say, provided a perfect place to practically apply the knowledge they were gaining in classrooms at Sacramento State.
“What you learned in class, you could apply in actual work,” Naser says. “Go learn about it and come after to one of the shops and apply what you learned and discuss what you learned to help grow the business.”
Like many Sacramento State alumni, the Sharif children all stayed in their hometown – Moe plans to join the business after graduating next year – to continue the Sharif tradition started by their grandfather nearly a century ago.
“Sacramento’s just home,” Laila says. “It gave us wonderful opportunities, it’s always been good to us, and now it’s our time to give back. We can work and continue to build relationships with people and give back to the community that gave us everything to start with.”
Her father agrees.
“I really feel like Sac State formed me into who I am,” Mahmud says. “And I really like the atmosphere and the people and the diversity here in Sacramento. I want my kids who grew up here to live and excel here.”
Top photo, from left: Naser Sharif, Mohammad Sharif, Mahmud Sharif, Laila Sharif, and Ali Sharif. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)