.AJ’s Market is a Culinary Trip Around the World

The longtime Santa Cruz market and restaurant serves everything from falafels to sushi

Former strategy consultant Isaac Javed recently returned to his hometown to help with his dad’s namesake business, AJ’s Market. Thirty-six years ago, AJ, a Pakistani immigrant, transformed a junkyard mechanic shop into a locally loved, one-of-a-kind Santa Cruz market/restaurant. Javed says his father’s story is fueled by the American Dream of making something out of nothing.
Gyros, chicken shawarma and falafels, all prepared with housemade seasonings and sauces, are among the most popular offerings. The eclectic menu also features a best-selling burger, sandwiches, teriyaki bowls and even sushi. The market is known for its local produce, bread, local wine and beer selection and high-quality meat and seafood. Isaac defines the place as a “unique one-stop-shop,” with things you need plus things you didn’t know you needed—or know existed—but are happy to have. AJ’s is open every day, 7am-8pm. Recently, Isaac talked to GT about the market’s vast selections and working with his father.

What are some of AJ’s most diverse offerings?

ISAAC JAVED: We have a large Marianne’s ice cream selection, and we were one of the first places to offer bread from Aldo’s, a well-known local bakery. And I also hear so much about our beer selection, much of which is made locally. It’s well-curated and insanely good, people go on and on about it, and we really are an unspoken mecca for beer connoisseurs. We also carry a bunch of hard-to-find Asian spices as well, and our pre-made food is perfect for a quick bite.

How does it feel to be working side-by-side with your dad?

It feels like this is the beginning of where I am supposed to go. I enjoyed strategic consulting, but this is much more fulfilling. Not only do I get to help my family grow their business, but I also get to pursue my own passion for business. My dad and I share a passion and love for helping others through entrepreneurship. It’s nice to help people, and business is a great opportunity to do that. A healthy business is measured by how much value you give to people, and we have built a business that reflects this and supports the community. 

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AJ’s Market, 5955 Soquel Drive, Soquel, 831-479-0399; ajsmarket.com.

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