Restaurateur doubles as employees' landlord | August 31, 2018 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 31, 2018

Restaurateur doubles as employees' landlord

Owner of Zareen's purchases home to fight staff turnover

by Elena Kadvany

Zareen Khan, the owner of the eponymous Pakistani-Indian restaurants in Palo Alto and Mountain View, has added an unexpected job title to her resume: landlord.

Last year, she took the unusual step of purchasing a three-bedroom house in Menlo Park for just under $1 million and renting it to a small number of employees for $500 a month each. She had been battling high staff turnover for months, and workers were telling her that the primary culprit was the lack of affordable housing in the area. This, in turn, was affecting the quality of her restaurants, as she found herself in an unsustainable cycle of training new employees and working until 2 a.m. to pick up any slack.

"Sometimes I want to tweet about it and say, 'Hey, small businesses are gasping for air right now because there is such a crunch, especially in Silicon Valley,'" Khan said on Monday, standing in the sunlit kitchen of the Menlo Park home. She predicted that only chain restaurants would survive if housing costs continue to escalate.

Khan, a native of Pakistan, opened her first restaurant in Mountain View in 2014 and the second, larger location on California Avenue in Palo Alto two years later. From the beginning in Palo Alto, the restaurant was closed on Mondays and only open until 9 p.m. — despite late-night demand from Stanford University students and others — due to a lack of reliable staff, Khan said.

She tried raising wages. She rented an apartment in Santa Clara for employees, but the landlord didn't like the setup. When she found the 1,100-square-foot home in Menlo Park's Belle Haven neighborhood, she decided it would be a worthy investment for both her and her staff.

Three Zareen's employees — two cooks and one part-time cashier — currently share two bedrooms at the clean, sparsely decorated house. Their rent includes maintenance, electrical, garbage, cable and high-speed internet. They're about 6 miles from the Palo Alto restaurant.

Khan rents the master bedroom and bathroom at about $1,500 per month to non-restaurant workers to help pay for the mortgage.

"It's a good deal," Khan said — a vast understatement given that the average rent for a three-bedroom home in Menlo Park is about $5,400 per month and about $7,000 in Palo Alto, according to real estate website Zillow.

Her employees earn between $15 to $25 per hour.

Cashier Muhammad Umair Siddique was previously renting in Hayward, paying about $1,000 a month, before moving to Manteca, near Modesto, where housing is cheaper. He worked for a food distribution company in Manteca during the week but commuted to work at Zareen's on the weekends.

Living at the house has changed Siddique's quality of life, financially and personally, he said.

Compared to other living situations with random roommates who come and go without any interaction, the Zareen's employees cook together, hang out on their day off, host barbecues in the backyard and provide a support system for other immigrants who are far from home and family. Siddique moved to the United States from Pakistan four years ago. One of his roommates, chef Shakeel Muhammad Naqvi, moved from his native Pakistan to Phoenix before arriving in California this spring.

"We don't feel like we are not at home," Siddique said. "When you only work, study, go home, then you don't have any extra activity to go sit together, to say what you feel and to share all that stuff. Since I moved in, it's totally changed my life."

On Monday afternoon, Siddique and Naqvi waited while Kelly Ghuman made lunch, an egg curry — his mother's recipe, made with cumin, onions, ginger, garlic, spices and hard-boiled eggs.

Khan said none of her 25 employees live in Palo Alto. Most commute from San Jose or Hayward. A handful live in East Palo Alto, where median home prices recently broke the $1 million mark. One employee has no home and sleeps in his car in between shifts at Zareen's and a second job at Acme Bread. On weekends, he rents a motel in Los Banos in the Central Valley to visit his children.

"At some point it's important for them to have quality of life," Khan said.

As an independent restaurant owner in the Bay Area, labor is Khan's No. 1 pressure. The increasing cost of housing is contributing to a regional restaurant labor shortage that many owners worry will spell the end of mom-and-pop restaurants. She believes more affordable housing and an embrace rather than rejection of building density in the area would go a long way to helping restaurants stay afloat.

In the meantime, she's trying to think outside the box — providing health insurance is a consideration — for how to help her employees survive and by extension, her own business.

Staff Writer Elena Kadvany can be emailed at ekadvany@paweekly.com.

Comments

24 people like this
Posted by Awesome
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 28, 2018 at 2:25 pm

This is awesome. Not only is Zareen's one of the best restaurants in Palo Alto, it also has one of the best owners!


4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 28, 2018 at 2:58 pm

Such a great idea. There must be a way to tax it!
(Sorry to say, I'm not kidding.)


Like this comment
Posted by Not Revolutionary By Any Means
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 28, 2018 at 2:58 pm

[Post removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by zap
a resident of another community
on Aug 28, 2018 at 3:12 pm

There's a few other restaurants in the area that pack their employees in like sardines in a variety of housing. Some ok housing. Some are basically Dickensian flophouses. Other people in the biz, plumbers,PG&E workers etc all know it. Apparently reporters, police, and other city and county officials don't.


13 people like this
Posted by Facts and Figures
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 28, 2018 at 4:42 pm

Facts and Figures is a registered user.

We need more affordable housing. We can't rely on business owners to do this.


10 people like this
Posted by Rey
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 29, 2018 at 10:39 am

There used to be plenty of housing all up and down the socio-economic spectrum. Now we simply have too many people crushed into our small region with nowhere to expand to.


16 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 29, 2018 at 10:54 am

@Facts and Figures: We do have affordable housing: $400 for a 2-bedroom at Lytton Gardens. Also, Greenhouse apartments on San Antonio Road. But no one is policing them so the scammers are living there and the City Council is aware of this. There are immigrants who live in Lytton Gardens because they don't speak enough English to be employed. They are stealing housing from our full-time blue collar workers.


11 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 29, 2018 at 11:22 am

Wonderful to see this kind of initiative and helping those who work hard to get affordable housing. However, I disagree with the assertion that: "If things go on like the way they are ... the only things you will see when you decide to have dinner" are Chipotle, McDonald's and "big chain restaurants." My unscientific personal observation is that chain restaurants in our areas seem to be on the decline, while local, diverse cuisine is on the rise. The demand is there to support local businesses of high quality. Overall, market forces seem to be working right now in terms of the options available for quality restaurants.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 29, 2018 at 11:54 am

Sounds like she’s helping the precariat transition towards what Boots Riley would call WorryFree.


Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 29, 2018 at 1:00 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 29, 2018 at 1:40 pm

"East Palo Alto recently made headlines for breaking the $1 million mark on median home prices."

Wowsers!!


15 people like this
Posted by Ellen
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 29, 2018 at 1:57 pm


What Zareen is doing is fantastic! She is actually trying to solve a problem - and doing it! But no, an extraordinary number of people have made negative comments. "Palo Alto" refers to "scammers" and adds:

"There are immigrants who live in Lytton Gardens because they don't speak enough English to be employed. They are stealing housing from our full-time blue collar workers."

This is wrong and untrue on so many levels! And the same writer finds it "strange" that a small business owner in Palo Alto can afford to buy a house in Menlo Park. Zareen has been working incredibly hard for her business and on behalf of her employees. She doesn't want people living in their cars. According to the article, she found a house for less than $1million, (which was incredibly lucky,) and is paying the mortgage by charging a reasonable rent. "Palo Alto"'s racism is so overt. Go Zareen!! I'll be eating at your restaurant even more in the future!


19 people like this
Posted by Curious
a resident of Los Altos
on Aug 29, 2018 at 2:23 pm

How much is the rent & what % of their take-home pay?

Indentured servitude comes in many forms & colors.


2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 29, 2018 at 2:24 pm

What a sad state of affairs this area is in. To Palo Alto and the rest of the Bay Area: how could have let your housing crisis get so bad that one of the best restaurants in this city can't pay its workers enough for them to afford nearby housing?

To all those who claim that people and companies who try to build more housing are "ruining what was great about Palo Alto", I hope you are beginning to realize that YOU are ruining Palo Alto.

Some of Palo Alto is beautiful and historic and should stay that way (Old Palo Alto, Professorville, Crescent Village, Town and Country, etc) and should stay that way. Many other parts are ugly, unremarkable, cheaply, quickly built 50s/60s suburbia. Build more housing in these areas, and build the infrastructure to match.


2 people like this
Posted by Open Borders?
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2018 at 2:59 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Questions
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 29, 2018 at 5:22 pm

[Post removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by R. Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 29, 2018 at 6:07 pm

QUOTE: Some of Palo Alto is beautiful and historic and should stay that way (Old Palo Alto, Professorville, Crescent Village, Town and Country, etc) and should stay that way. Many other parts are ugly, unremarkable, cheaply, quickly built 50s/60s suburbia.

Southgate (near Peers Park) is a nice neighborhood as is the area around North California Avenue.

You have to remember... at one time the working-class resided primarily in the south & southeastern portion of Palo Alto (South Palo Alto/Ventura/Barron Park/Charleston/Midtown etc.).

Are those the areas you suggest gutting?


4 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 29, 2018 at 7:12 pm

@Ellen: The immigrant remark is irrelevant to the owner of the restaurant, it's a fact. The immigrants I am talking about do not work at the restaurant. Also, the Menlo Park and strange quote was not mine, it was a person with the same alias, different neighborhood. Consider reading more carefully.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2018 at 11:03 am

The southern part of Palo Alto is just as "nice" as the northern part if you consider the homeowners doing their part to make the neighborhood nice by looking after the property, keeping the front looking smart with fresh paint and pleasant landscaping. There are those houses though that are a blight with several cars parked without wheels or in a similar state of disrepair, loads of trash stored anywhere and refuse cans left on the street all week. But this happens in the northern side too.

I am not sure that there are many "ugly" areas where things can be torn down to build ugly pack and stack housing.


2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 30, 2018 at 1:41 pm

Resident: I have no doubt the people who live in the southern parts of Palo Alto maintain their homes very well. That doesn't make the home any more well-built.

You and R. Davis are making this out to be about the "wealthy" side of Palo Alto vs the "poor" working class side. Maybe it was like that 30 years ago. Today, anyone who owns a house in Palo Alto is enormously wealthy. Those "poor" south Palo Alto homes currently start at 3 million dollars. The idea that I'm suggesting displacing the working class is preposterous: i'm suggesting exactly the opposite: making the southern park of Palo Alto affordable again to the working class by building more housing!


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2018 at 1:57 pm

Joe, you completely misunderstand me.

My point is that the southern part of Palo Alto is just as nice because so many of us here spent lots of money $2+ million to buy a home here. You cannot say that it is not as wealthy as the north just because someone there may have spent over a million to buy a home there 20 years or so ago.

We all paid what we were willing to pay when we bought our homes regardless of the number. The north/south divide may be that the homes on the north are worth more than the south, but it doesn't follow that those homeowners in the south are "lower income" or less worthy to take pride in their neighborhoods.

The south of Palo Alto also deserves to have nice neighborhoods kept intact. Please do not suggest that the south should be turned into pack and stack housing.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Barron Park

on Aug 30, 2018 at 3:15 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Like this comment
Posted by R. Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 30, 2018 at 5:34 pm

@Joe/Stanford
QUOTE: You and R. Davis are making this out to be about the "wealthy" side of Palo Alto vs the "poor" working class side.

Let's backtrack a bit. What I said was:

"...at one time the working-class resided primarily in the south & southeastern portion of Palo Alto (South Palo Alto/Ventura/Barron Park/Charleston/Midtown etc.).

Are those the areas you suggest gutting?"


Curious. In what Palo Alto neighborhoods are you suggesting that more housing be built?




Like this comment
Posted by Bikermom
a resident of Mayfield
on Aug 30, 2018 at 6:03 pm

I love love love Zareens so much and want it to thrive. I will be sure to leave a bigger tip the next time I go. They really are the best Indian food around and I've had a lot. I've always loved their staff also.


20 people like this
Posted by Doing the Math
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 30, 2018 at 6:16 pm

> how could have let your housing crisis get so bad that one of the best restaurants in this city can't pay its workers enough for them to afford nearby housing?

Uh. Maybe the restaurant isn't paying them well enough to begin with. Earning minimum wage + tips won't go very far towards rental expenses in many cities around here.

A kid down the street is making $18.00/hour working at In & Out Burger...roughly $2800/month. I would imagine that the owner of this particular restaurant would have to pay her foodservers at least $30.00/hour which would also be accentuated by tips for them to break free of this magnanimous living arrangement.

I seriously doubt she is paying them that much. On the other hand, if the housing was provided for free, that would be another story & one worth mentioning.






2 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 30, 2018 at 6:35 pm

"Curious. In what Palo Alto neighborhoods are you suggesting that more housing be built?"

How about at Stanford? There are thousands of undeveloped acres there.


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 31, 2018 at 2:43 pm

Let me restate my argument, I think I was not clear enough initially:

1. We desperately need more housing in Palo Alto.

2. If we have to build somewhere, it should be in certain parts of south Palo Alto because the housing stock there is objectively lower quality and more deserving of replacement. It is objectively lower quality because it was built in the 50s/60s, a time when developers aimed to mass-produce low density housing as quickly and cheaply as possible.

My argument has nothing to do with what kind of people live in what part of town. It is solely based on the quality of the housing stock.

FYI: there is a term normal people use for this "pack and stack" housing you keep mentioning. They're called "apartments".


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2018 at 2:55 pm

Joe

I strongly disagree with your idea that south Palo Alto is full of deteriorating poorly built properties just waiting demolition. From what I see driving and walking around the south part of the city there are a few homes in their original 50s/60s condition, but most have been updated with various upgrades and remodels and many have already been demolished and rebuilt with state of the art modern designs and materials.

I suspect you have no idea of how nice some of the neighborhoods in south Palo Alto have become. They are not the slum area you seem to feel that could be upgraded to what you call high rise apartments, or slums of the future, or any other name you seem to prefer for stack and pack housing.


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 31, 2018 at 6:10 pm

Resident: If you're going to characterize my post as claiming that south Palo Alto is a "slum area just waiting for demolition", then it is clearly impossible to have a thoughtful and honest debate with you.


Like this comment
Posted by Tear Them Down?
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 31, 2018 at 6:24 pm

>>> 2. If we have to build somewhere, it should be in certain parts of south Palo Alto because the housing stock there is objectively lower quality and more deserving of replacement. It is objectively lower quality because it was built in the 50s/60s, a time when developers aimed to mass-produce low density housing as quickly and cheaply as possible.


Then Eichlers (Charleston neighborhood & beyond) + the Brown & Kaufman designs (cheaper-looking versions of an Eichler in Midtown) must go along with most of the older 1940s-built houses south of the Santa Clara County courthouse...all the way down to Charleston/Arastadero Road (Ventura neighborhood).

Not sure if the current owners are going to go for that unless some developer offers them above-market prices to get out of Dodge. Same with Barron Park (which was once an unincorporated part of PA).




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