News

Restaurateur doubles as employees' landlord

Owner of Zareen's buys a house to fight staff turnover amid housing crisis

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 employees were telling her that the primary culprit was the lack of affordable housing in the area. This, in turn, was impacting 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 in an interview Monday, standing in the sunlit kitchen of the Menlo Park home. "If things go on like the way they are and there is such a lack of housing, the only things you will see when you decide to have dinner" are Chipotle, McDonald's and "big chain restaurants."

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 and just under 7 miles from the Mountain View location.

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.

The cashier, Muhammad Umair Siddique, was previously living in Hayward, paying about $1,000 in monthly rent. He worked at Zareen's on weekends and for a food distribution company in Manteca, near Modesto, during the week. He later moved to Manteca, where housing is cheaper but continued to work at Zareen's on weekends.

Her employees earn between $15 to $25 per hour based on the position.

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 employees live in Palo Alto. She employs about 25 people across both restaurants and most commute from San Jose or Hayward. A handful live in East Palo Alto and even there "they are feeling the pressure," she said. (East Palo Alto recently made headlines for breaking the $1 million mark on median home prices.) 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 embracing rather than rejection of density in the area would go a long way.

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

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Comments

45 people like this
Posted by Word of Caution to everyone
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2018 at 4:28 pm

@Khan,

Very smart of you to not buy a rental property in Mtn. View with rent control, even thou you could have.

For if you did you would find out very soon if Prop. 10 passed, that your interest on your mortgage is not considered a business expense. As other landlords have found out the hard way going thru the city's petition process for a rent increase only to be told by the hearing officer that landlord is making $35,000 a year in profit and denied the rent increase. But in actuality landlord is paying roughly $70,000 a year in interest which means landlord is losing $35,000 a year and he needs to pay his money out of his pocket into running the building expenses and thereby subsidizing the tenants rent.

In other words, if your business would be in Mtn.View, you would be losing money.

Word of caution to everyone who might want to buy or rent out your property, DO NOT DO IT IN MTN.VIEW OR ANY OTHER RENT CONTROL CITY.

You will be sorry!


38 people like this
Posted by Agreed
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 28, 2018 at 5:59 pm

The residents and the city council Do Not want rental units any longer in the city.

The residents have nothing but hatred towards landlords.

Go away landlords.Lenny Siegel is after your selfish souls.


15 people like this
Posted by Paul E
a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2018 at 2:21 pm

I actually live in San Jose, but used to live in the Blossom area. I think that the time has come to consider company owned housing in this valley. It may be the only way to keep employees in the area. It would have to be done fairly and ethically though.


36 people like this
Posted by mountain view resident
a resident of Shoreline West
on Aug 29, 2018 at 2:31 pm

I commend the owner for helping her employees, both with the lower rents and in helping them feel like they're a family and "in this together." I've not yet been to the restaurant, but based on this article I will visit there soon.


18 people like this
Posted by SecondThat!
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 29, 2018 at 2:46 pm

Bless her. Yes. More companies should offer this. I have friends who work here and are moving two hours away, and from their children, in order to be able to still work here. They are so tired by the time they get home and just want to sleep. Google, move away someplace else already. Or make reparations for the negative impact you've made on our city. Why did you even choose Mountain View? What's wrong with Nevada? Cheaper, more space. We have no more room here for you to build. San Jose will now feel the wrath of Google's expanding empire. And above, yes, landlords have become so greedy. Just because you can raise rents to insane amounts, doesn't mean it's right as it's not. Anyone can steal, but it's still a crime, and in this case, raising rents to where families are separated from each other more and more is wrong.


19 people like this
Posted by David K
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 29, 2018 at 3:04 pm

David K is a registered user.

What a compassionate employer! Kudos to Zareen Khan! Although, understandably, her one house is only a drop in the bucket, it has clearly improved the lives for 3 of her employees. She is a role model for other small businesses - improving your workers lives will benefit your business, in lower turnover and training. Additionally, although I currently have "favorite" restaurants, I will definitely visit Zareen Khan's restaurant in future!


9 people like this
Posted by No TECHFAN
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2018 at 3:15 pm

Zareen Khan is to be commended for supporting her employees!

Unfortunately this approach can likely not serve as a blueprint for many small company owners as well as not for profits such as schools as our favorite Tech employers - and Ken DeLeon - are pricing everyone except their own employees out of the valley.

I do not see any solution other than the valley continuing towards becoming a tech island where the techies will one day not too far away crunch their beloved data to evaluate how it happened that all non-techies left the valley...


1 person likes this
Posted by Transplant
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2018 at 3:25 pm

While I don’t think robots can replace cooks (at least for now, at least for stuff more complicated than a burger), I am actually more comfortable when I can get my food at the counter. I am sure dishwashing can be automated too.


31 people like this
Posted by A Word of Caution to everyone
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2018 at 4:34 pm

If people think this is a wonderful thing that this business owner is doing, then Vote No. on Prop. 10 on the ballot this November.

If Prop 10 passes then that house would be under rent control, if it was in a rent control city, and if the employee says he does not want to work for Khan anymore, then Khan can not evict him from her property because of rent control.

Khan will be stuck with that ex-worker living on her property at a cheap rent.

Khan will also not be able to provide any new employee's room to live in the house until someone leaves.

Do you start to see people, how unfair rent control is. Khan knows exactly why she did not purchase that property in Mountain View.


1 person likes this
Posted by Fed Up
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 29, 2018 at 5:10 pm

Once again the anti-rent control faction forgets that San Francisco has rent control.


23 people like this
Posted by @Fed Up
a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2018 at 9:13 pm

We also have an ever increasing homeless population and human feces in the streets.


14 people like this
Posted by mvresident2003
a resident of Monta Loma
on Aug 29, 2018 at 10:27 pm

mvresident2003 is a registered user.

And FedUp, once again, pro-rent control puts San Francisco as an sample of "success" for rent control......how's that working for people moving to SF? Is it what you would call an "affordable city"? Absolutely not. Rent control has not created affordable housing ANYWHERE it's been enacted. It protects the very few who are currently in housing but it does NOTHING to create affordable housing. It does the opposite, it discourages new construction and encourages older properties to be redeveloped.

Stop this rent control insanity. IT DOES NOT CREATE AFFORDABLE HOUSING.


6 people like this
Posted by LOL
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 29, 2018 at 11:23 pm

First time I've heard mvresident2003 endorse new construction. Build, baby, build in Mountain View! How much and how high?


Like this comment
Posted by Fact check...
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 30, 2018 at 12:05 am

Fact check... is a registered user.

@Word of Caution to everyone

WOW. clearly you did not read. Khan is renting a below cost to her workers. As in the below market rent is part of their compensation. As in not a traditional landlord, same as many other company provided situations. If the employee leaves the company, one of the benefits is losing the room.


15 people like this
Posted by @Fact Check
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2018 at 7:48 am

Wow @Fact Check,
You clearly do not know rent control laws or how it works.

Khan is a landlord in a different city. If that city had rent control, like Mountain View does, and if prop 10 passes, the tenants of Khan would not be exempt, nor would Khan be exempt from the rent control laws as she is not a non profit organization, rent control laws would apply to all.

you said,

"WOW. clearly you did not read. Khan is renting a below cost to her workers. As in the below market rent is part of their compensation. As in not a traditional landlord, same as many other company provided situations. If the employee leaves the company, one of the benefits is losing the room."

You are wrong.
You are what the Mountain View Tenants Coalition did 3 years ago in getting Measure V to pass. You lied, told false-wrong information to people to get it passed. Just like you are now attempting the same thing again to get Prop. 10 passed.


10 people like this
Posted by LOL
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 30, 2018 at 9:17 am

Person posting as "@", you should read the terms and conditions, you must post under the same name within an article. I'm surprised the moderators haven't cracked down on you yet.

The Tenants Coalition didn't lie about anything, unlike you folks trying to repeal Measure V. This is well-documented in other articles where signature gatherers were telling people the repeal measure would strengthen rent control, cover mobile homes, whatever it took to get those $40 for that signature. That you cannot post a single thing the Tenants Coalition lied about shows that you, frankly, are the one lying.

Anyway, keep posting! Your cowardly, angry landlord character is my favorite new addition to this site.


4 people like this
Posted by The Business Man
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2018 at 9:34 am

The Business Man is a registered user.

As far as Rent Control and Proposition 10 goes here are some facts:

This person properly bought the property at the right price. That is why the rent levels are achievable.

However, the majority of these buyers complaining about proposition 10 is that they buy the property at outrageous prices, thus force their tenants to bail out their purchase.

What is awesome is that Tom Means is no longer a member of the RHC, thus the RHC cannot be used to bail out the local landlords for doing the same thing.

I am not saying that you should vote for proposition 10. But I want you to make a decision based on the facts and not the promises or the arguments made by the industry that failed to perform after Costa Hawkins passed. They simply do not want to provide affordable housing only premium housing. THe Costa Hawkins backers claimed it would solve the housing problem.

It simply made it worse. They cannot blame anyone but themselves for the problem. They were given their chance and after 20+ years, we must take whatever actions are necessary to remedy the current laws allowing exploitation of the renters.

The public has a choice, make it a good one.


9 people like this
Posted by @TBM
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2018 at 10:34 am

If only you knew what you are talking about, then people could consider what you say.

Since you have been proven wrong enough times already, people should not consider anything you say, IMHO.

Example,
You said if rent control passed in Mtn.View that landlords would never sell their properties to a developers because of the the fees they would have to pay"

Now, Mayor Siegel and your group are all upset that this is happening and the mayor wants to find legal ways to prevent this, further taking away private
property rights.

You also repeatedly say that landlords over pay for their properties, that shows how little you know about real estate, and you are a renter in a high priced area, not that saying you where smarter to rent, but you could never afford to buy. If apartment value's went any lower, as you want, there will be no more rentals in Mtn.View as they would quickly be bought up and turned into $2 million row houses.

You put more fault on the value of properties, why do you not put a cap on all property value increase's in Mtn.View? Because people who own homes would never vote for it as they want their own properties to go up in value. Just like Mayor Lenny Siegel's $2 million dollar house in the very desirable Old Mountain View neighborhood.


6 people like this
Posted by @LOL
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2018 at 10:45 am

You said,
"The Tenants Coalition didn't lie about anything, unlike you folks trying to repeal Measure V. This is well-documented in other articles where signature gatherers were telling people the repeal measure would strengthen rent control, cover mobile homes, whatever it took to get those $40 for that signature. That you cannot post a single thing the Tenants Coalition lied about shows that you, frankly, are the one lying."

Prove it!
The TBM says that you need evidence and sworn testimony first. I can not remember how many people from the MVTC where posting on here telling people to film and record all these "Allegations that was going on in Mtn.View with the signature gatherers"

Yet not one thing has been shown to happen, not even the Voice recorded anything.

Go away with all the propaganda that your group was saying, it was all a plan as a last resort that if it made it to the ballot for your group to file a lawsuit to stop it.

@LOL,
You also said a week ago that you are not with the MVTC or a member, how would you know what they did or said if you denied here that you had nothing to do with them.


2 people like this
Posted by The Business Man
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2018 at 11:23 am

The Business Man is a registered user.

In response to @TBM you said:

“If only you knew what you are talking about, then people could consider what you say.

Since you have been proven wrong enough times already, people should not consider anything you say, IMHO.

Example,

You said if rent control passed in Mtn.View that landlords would never sell their properties to a developers because of the the fees they would have to pay"”

Please provide proof of this? I never said that. What I do say is the when for example my new landlord paid 4.5 times the county assessed value of my building. He simply took the word of a real estate agent regarding the value of the property. He did not get an independent assessment. He bought the property at an estimated future value of 30 years ahead. That is proof of overpaid property. You said:

“Now, Mayor Siegel and your group are all upset that this is happening and the mayor wants to find legal ways to prevent this, further taking away private property rights.”

What property rights are “taken”? The market regulations are not taking away the property. So no property rights are being taken. One is free to sell their property at any time. You bought into the false claims made by Tom Means in various publications paid for by his private interest groups like the “Independent Institute” which makes money making propaganda that has not be proven by a court of law. You said:

“You also repeatedly say that landlords over pay for their properties, that shows how little you know about real estate, and you are a renter in a high priced area, not that saying you where smarter to rent, but you could never afford to buy. If apartment value's went any lower, as you want, there will be no more rentals in Mtn.View as they would quickly be bought up and turned into $2 million row houses.”

I discussed this above. The property investors are being conned into buying properties at “real estate” appraised levels not market levels. The real estate appraisers get away with it because the courts only recognize them as opinions. And opinions are protected by the first amendment. Thus Caveat Emptor, the buyers are responsible for any failure to prevent overpayment of any property. You said:

“You put more fault on the value of properties, why do you not put a cap on all property value increase's in Mtn.View? Because people who own homes would never vote for it as they want their own properties to go up in value. Just like Mayor Lenny Siegel's $2 million dollar house in the very desirable Old Mountain View neighborhood.”

A home is not a commercial investment. Apartments are not single family homes that are simply OWNED and LIVED in. You love to mischaracterize and convolute the picture to confuse the public. I hope my information clarifies the public’s image so the voters can make an informed decision. That’s all. You said:

"The Tenants Coalition didn't lie about anything, unlike you folks trying to repeal Measure V. This is well-documented in other articles where signature gatherers were telling people the repeal measure would strengthen rent control, cover mobile homes, whatever it took to get those $40 for that signature. That you cannot post a single thing the Tenants Coalition lied about shows that you, frankly, are the one lying."

Prove it!

The TBM says that you need evidence and sworn testimony first. I can not remember how many people from the MVTC where posting on here telling people to film and record all these "Allegations that was going on in Mtn.View with the signature gatherers"”

Whenever anyone approaches these Professional Signature Gatherers with any device that can do what you say, they tend to pack up and leave. I do not have any footage, I want those who do to post where it can be viewed on this discussion as soon as possible. That’s all. You said:

“Yet not one thing has been shown to happen, not even the Voice recorded anything. “

As soon as anyone identifies themselves as “Voice” reporters approach, I am certain that people pack up and leave. And they also have unfortunately the right to not be identified in any news report without their approval. You know this. You simply want to give the impression it cannot be proven. The jury is still out on that. You said:

“Go away with all the propaganda that your group was saying, it was all a plan as a last resort that if it made it to the ballot for your group to file a lawsuit to stop it.”

You are not discussing the history accurately. The ballot measure was elected on in 2016 successfully. The CAA and local landlords did sue to stop the CSFRA. They failed miserably.

Instead of trying to personally attack another while not having any evidence to support your contention is a poor strategy. I simply discuss what publically objective information for the public to consider is. You want to dictate the conversation and declare anyone in disagreement as:

“If only you knew what you are talking about, then people could consider what you say.”

Please provide evidentiary proof that I have made any unreasonable observations. If you cannot do that, resorting to the above is not convincing.


Like this comment
Posted by Vote Yes on Prop 10!
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 2, 2018 at 11:28 pm

Vote Yes on Prop 10! is a registered user.

There have been several false statements made here about Prop 10 that need to be addressed. One example of these false statements is the following: "If Prop 10 passes then that house would be under rent control" - its important to be clear that voting Yes on Prop 10 and having it pass in November 2018 does not automatically mean that every city in California will have rent control in place.

If the Affordable Housing Act, or Prop 10, passes in November, then local communities will be given the power to adopt rent control necessary to address the state’s housing affordability crisis by repealing the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Each city in California will have the option of passing rent control laws that are appropriate for their city if Prop 10 passes so local communities will have more local control over their own rental housing laws.

So its important to be clear that Voting Yes on Prop 10 in November just means that the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act will be repealed and its very clear that this law has not helped in any way to prevent this disastrous housing crisis our state is facing. Its time for this outdated law to go and for all of us to Vote Yes on Prop 10 in November!


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