Zareen Khan © Mark Tuschman
Country of Origin: Pakistan
Chef and Co-Founder of Zareen’s Restaurant
My name is Zareen Khan and originally from Pakistan. I am the chef and founder, along with my husband Umair, of Zareen’s restaurant where we serve authentic Pakistani and Indian food.
For me, even more than the creative part of cooking, what I love most is that my restaurant lets people see who we are as immigrants, introduce our culture and our hospitality to them.
Folks come here and are on tables nearby because we’re kind of cramped for space. So people on adjacent tables – strangers who have never met – will start to bond over our food. You’ll see Indians and Pakistanis explaining the cuisine to Americans and getting to know one another through a shared love of food. This is very gratifying to Umair and to me.
I worked about 12 years as product management and I wasn’t fulfilled at work. So I wanted to start something of my own. But then Umair had two companies and he was traveling a lot. We had three kids. So within all these constraints, I had just one or two options: either become a teacher, which I would have enjoyed, or to try food-related because I love cooking.
So we started with cooking classes from home> these were a big hit. So I went and rented a small catering kitchen, and started doing office catering. That was the time when companies in Silicon Valley had started giving free food and I saw an opportunity for me. This led to a restaurant next to Google t in 2014. I never thought I’d own a restaurant, but here I am with two restaurants now. Umair always says he is in the very enviable position of being a board member and investor of our restaurant. But especially in the early days, we both did whatever it took. When we first started the business, before the restaurants, what we were doing was frozen kababs delivered to folks in Berkeley and San Francisco. And so our weekend date was Umair and I going and delivering kababs to all these places in the city. So Umair has always been very supportive, and much more than a “board member”.
The restaurant is a joyous symbol of the best of the immigrant experience. This is a restaurant that at the end of the day, gives a lot of happiness to a lot of people. When you see the crowds and the bustle and lines out at the door, everybody is happy. And every skin color, every religion comes through our doors. You have people who’ve never had spicy food in their life, they’ve never had curry, they barely know Pakistani food; and now they taste the fruits of an immigrant’s experience and the good fortune that this immigrant was welcomed here 30 years ago.
I think I contribute most by just showing people our hospitality. As soon as you enter, you get free chai (tea). That’s how it is in our part of our world: we greet all guests who come to our home with chai. We do the same thing here at my restaurant. Anybody who can’t afford to pay is still welcome to eat. If anybody says I don’t have money but I am hungry, can you give me food, we do.
Apart from this, anyone who comes and asks can you help with a charity fundraiser or contribute a gift card or a dish, we do that. We share our profits across many causes– towards nonprofits here in America and in other parts of the world. For instance, we contribute to ACLU, Planned Parenthood, NPR/KQED, as well as nonprofits for the ethical treatment of animals. In Pakistan, India, and elsewhere, we contribute to a lot of education initiatives, especially, girls’ education; also to Doctors without Border and Heifer International. Any chance I get to contribute, I do that.
I was featured in and contributed to the Immigrant Cookbook. The Immigrant Cookbook came out in 2018 and its tagline was ‘Recipes That Make America Great”. It covers these famous American chefs who are all immigrants. And I was the only Pakistani, and I think, one of only two Muslim chefs in it. Getting out and showing that how you’re contributing to society and how you don’t consider yourself an outsider, is important. I don’t consider others as “the other’” and I don’t want anyone to consider me as an outsider or “the other”. We are all Americans.
I think immigrants bring different cuisine, different ways of life, different mindsets, different ideas from a different parts of the world. It all adds color and texture to the fabric of America.
To learn more about the work of Mark Tuschman please visit his page at Mark Tuschman.
To read our interview with Mark on the Immigrants are US project please click on the title.