The Grilled Chicken Boti Meal at Zareen's. Photo by Natalia Nazarova.
By Julia Brown
The Peninsula-based Indian Pakistani eatery chain Zareen’s is more than doubling its Palo Alto space and opening a fourth location in downtown Sunnyvale next year.
Zareen Khan confirmed Tuesday that she is taking over the lease for the now-closed Starbucks space on California Avenue to expand her Palo Alto restaurant and turn it into the flagship location. The former Starbucks is bigger than the space Zareen’s currently occupies and will allow the eatery to more than double its square footage, from 1,600 square feet to 3,500.
“When I found out they were closing, our management approached me to see if I'd be interested, and of course I was because we’re so restricted there with what we do so it was perfect timing for us,” Khan said. “We don’t want our food to take too long; we’re working on making it a really efficient kitchen so takeout and dine in orders go fast.”
Khan is creating a design that enables the restaurant to have a fully functional kitchen on the Starbucks side, with expanded seating in the current Zareen’s space. She’s hoping to double available inside seating and add room for around 15 more customers outside.
Once the Starbucks space is operational as a restaurant, which Khan anticipates will take six to eight months, the current Zareen’s space will close for a couple of days to allow workers to remove the wall separating the interiors, Khan said.
Khan added that the renovated Zareen’s will be “very organic looking, some bohemian but very modern looking too.”
“We want our Stanford students to feel comfortable there and like to hang out,” she said, adding that she wants the space to be “trendy, but no artificial flowers.”
“Our place will be Instagrammable without the plastic,” she said.
One of the reasons Khan decided to expand her Palo Alto eatery is the potential she sees for California Avenue to become a “restaurant row.” While vacancies have been abundant on California Avenue since the pandemic began, Khan points to efforts the city of Palo Alto has made to revive the corridor with expanded outdoor seating, artwork, decorative lights and the third Thursdays live music program that launched in the spring.
“One of the reasons I decided to expand the footprint there is that I really believe in the potential for California Avenue,” she said. “We had some opportunities on University Avenue too, but I personally like the quaintness of Cal Ave. It was always a sleepy downtown, but now the city’s effort is helping revive that.”
Zareen’s opened its first location in Mountain View in 2014, followed by Palo Alto in 2016 and Redwood City in 2020. Khan said they are in contract for a fourth location on Murphy Avenue in downtown Sunnyvale that will need renovations since it’s not currently a restaurant. She hopes it will open in early to mid 2024 and says her son will join the family business and help manage that location.
“We might have specials, but the food will be more casual,” she said. “It’s a small place; we want to make sure our food comes out fast, and the more complicated the menu the longer it takes.”
As work gets underway this year on Zareen’s Palo Alto and Sunnyvale locations, she and her husband Umair Khan are also working on their cookbook, which she hopes will be published in time for International Women’s Day on March 8.
Zareen’s, 365 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-562-8700; 1477 Plymouth St., Mountain View, 650-628-6100; 2039 Broadway, Redwood City, 650-747-6400; Instagram: @zareensrestaurant.