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Former Alex's chef moves from the art of cooking to the art of HVAC

By Howard B. Owens
Hassan Silmi Lion HVAC
Hassan Silmi.
Photo by Howard Owens

How big of a leap is it to go from chef at one of Batavia's best restaurants to owning your own heating and air conditioning installation and repair business?

Not as far as you might think, says Hassan Silmi, who spent a decade in the kitchen of Alex's Place on Park Road to owning Batavia-based Lion HVAC.

In a busy kitchen, Silmi noted, things break, things that are often in need of immediate repair. So when things broke, Silmi set aside his sauté pan and picked up a screwdriver or wrench.

"It's one of those things where maybe I could figure out, get this thing running again and not ruin my Friday or my Saturday cooking at the restaurant," Silmi said. "Besides, whoever you're going to call on a Friday or Saturday night, they will charge you exorbitant money, and that's usually when everything breaks at the restaurant. So it was one of those things -- I could figure it out."

There's also, like cooking, a creative aspect to HVAC work. You might work off a menu, preparing preset recipes, but sometimes you just have to find the right way to do something different.

"There's still a decent amount of puzzle figuring things out," Silmi said. "I could install a furnace, and another guy could easily look at it completely differently and take, you know, the utilities from any direction. Everyone has their own visual look at how they are going to hook it up. How are we going to connect to the boiler? How are we going to branch this system out? The ductwork. One company's work isn't going to look the same if I do it or some other company does it. There's enough diversity, but to the average person, it's like, how it works is how it works."

Silmi is a Batavia High School graduate and went through the culinary arts program at BOCES.  While BOCES exposed him to the idea of working in a trade, he said even then, he could have chosen a different path. 

"There were a lot of things that intrigued me," Silmi said. "I could have easily gone into auto, or I could have easily gone into carpentry or easily went into heating and cooling, but I was intrigued by food at one point. It (BOCES) was definitely helping to keep the mindset to want to stay in the trades."

During his years in the restaurant business Silmi did well enough and managed his money well enough that he could buy some rental properties.  That was the next phase of his move toward entering the heating and cooling business.  He had to be his own handyman on his rental properties.

"It was always one of those things where I enjoyed the mechanical aspect of everything," Silmi said.

A few years ago, he decided to leave his job at Alex's Place and enroll in the HVAC program at Monroe Community College. While there, he took additional electrical classes, additional plumbing classes, as well as welding.

He started doing work for friends and family, and he had a neighbor who was a contractor. He was struggling to find trade help, so he started working with him, and that led to Silmi thinking, "I can make this work."

He struck out on his own nearly a year ago.  

While he's a one-man operation, he said he's keeping busy doing both commercial and residential work.

By background and training, he said, he's become a bit of a jack-of-all-trades.

"I find myself, like, 'Oh, your dryer's not working. Let me take a look at it," Silmi said. "But in order to go heating and cooling, it's really because you have to know gas, you have to know electric, you have to know plumbing. You can't just dabble in things."

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