By Noah Alatza
Shelley and Henri Najem owned the Bella Vita at the Marina for more than 20 years before selling the Geist lakefront restaurant in 2014, but the couple isn’t done with the food industry quite yet.
Four years after selling Bella Vita, the couple opened Flamme Burger and Oak Catering in Fishers at 8594 E. 116th St. and a Whitestown location at 6850 Whitestown Pkwy.
The Najems do not just own and operate their storefront, they continue to give back in Fishers and across the state.
Shelley Najem said helping the community and their customers is rewarding.
“I personally believe there is no greater feeling than helping somebody out,” she said. “If we all came together and did a litte, it could be a different world. People choose to come in because we do so much. I don’t feel like we don’t have too, but that’s why we’re here and successful.”
The name of the Najems’ catering company, Bella Vita Catering, was renamed after it was sold. It is now called Oak Catering, which means “one of a kind.”
Najem said business has been thriving since Flamme Burger was patented.
“It’s a 90-percent failure rate for small, independent restaurants,” she said. “We have been operating this business so long due to help from the community.”
Najem said when both restaurants opened, Flamme Burger invited local police to eat for free. Public servants also receive daily discounts.
“Any veterans in uniform, police and fire, they get 20 percent off every day,” Najem said. “You have to help out the community.”
At the end of each business day, the Najems take leftover food to local charities in Fishers, Noblesville and other locations across the state. Nonprofits including Third Phase and the St. Vincent DePaul of Noblesville are among the many recipients of donations.
“Anything that is left over, we drop those off,” Najem said. “Sometimes, if it’s too late, we put it in the fridge until the next day.”
The company donates a percentage of profits each month to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Nashville, Tenn.
Oak Catering and Flamme Burger run under the same owners, however the catering from both the restaurant and actual catering company depend on the event.
Oak Catering is a more upscale service gor larger gatherings, including IMMI, Ambassador House, Fairfield Inn, Escape Room and more.
Najem said that catering kitchens prepare the food in both Flamme Burger restaurants.
Recently, the company made an impact with Indianapolis’ Hope Academy, a traditional academic program with a focus on recovery for adolescents suffering from substance abuse disorders.
The tuition-free public school hosts an annual Taste of Hope event to support fundraising. The best taste for the February 2018 event was awarded to Flamme Burger.
Hope Academy Principal Linda Gagyi said support from Flamme Burger and other restaurants helped fund a gap in student education. It costs about $22,000 per student to attend Hope, but with only $15,000 coming from state funds, the school has to make up the additional $7,000 for each student.
“That’s where Flamme Burger came in,” Gagyi said, “We raised $70,000, enough to cover expenses for 10 students.”
Gagyi said the total nearly doubled from last year. More than 250 people attended the event. At any given time, there are between 30 and 40 students at Hope.
“It was a combination from sponsorships, gift cards and raffles,” she said. “We have recovery focused for every student that comes here. We are not a treatment provider, but we support recovery.”
Oak Catering recently donated food and desserts at the fifth annual Women’s Build Kickoff for Habitat for Humanity. The event was hosted on International Women’s Day March 8. The home was funded and built by the women at The Tinker House Events.
For more about Oak Catering’s outreach, visit flammeburger.com.
Awards for a fresh taste
According to Najem, everything at Flamme Burger and Oak Catering is fresh and local – right down to the wood for the oven.
“We cook over a wood-fired grill,” she said. “All meat and produce is bought from local farmers with no preservatives or hormones. We do not even have any freezers at our Flamme Burger locations. Fresh is our motto.”
Najem said for every event in the City of Fishers, Oak Catering donates 100 percent of its time and costs.
Flamme’s BBQ Burger was selected best burger by Indianapolis Monthly Magazine in 2016 and has been featured in Building Tomorrow’s Indy Burger Battle, where it most recently won Critics’ Choice Champion in 2017.