In five short years, Mir Kashif’s computer industry business had grown from one employee (himself) to a staff of 80.
Living in Torrance, Calif., with his wife, Goska, the fruits of his labor were paying off.
Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, everything changed. As a result of the terrorist attacks, the technology market began to plummet, and suddenly Mir found himself knocking on doors to collect overdue bills — often unsuccessfully.
In what seemed like an instant — after years of hard work — Mir’s technology business had become unsustainable.
In the midst of exploring his future options, a friend who owned a successful International House of Pancakes, or IHOP, mentioned to Mir that there was an IHOP for sale in a small Northern California town called Grass Valley.
“I wasn’t interested,” he said. “I’d worked in fast food while I was in college — it wasn’t for me.”
But Mir’s friend convinced him to keep an open mind — that it was different from the fast food industry. So he drove the more than 400 miles north to take a look.
He liked what he saw.
“I couldn’t believe a beautiful area like this actually existed in California,” he said. “And the people actually look you in the eye and say hello — they are incredibly friendly.”
Not only was he taken with the town, the restaurant itself was not the typical A-frame design of most IHOP franchises. Formerly a steak house, the eatery boasted sweeping high wood ceilings and large skylights.
Now all he had to do was convince his wife, who insisted the area was too remote. Needless to say, he did.
On Christmas Day in 2001, Mir was handed the keys of the Grass Valley IHOP. It was packed.
“I was just thrown into the mix on this incredibly busy day,” he said. “Thanks to the good cooks and the experience of Eda — a server who still works for me — we somehow survived.”
In the coming months, Mir worked quickly to remodel the restaurant and make improvements in the areas of food quality and cleanliness. He established a policy of rigorous staff training and hired only those truly committed to high quality customer service.
In the first year, the Grass Valley restaurant had the largest increase in sales in the entire company, which includes more than 1,500 franchises around the world.
Today, some 13 years later, some of Mir’s initial staff is still there, with a total of 37 on the payroll.
“I feel respected here and I make a decent wage,” said server Doris Chalmers, who has worked at IHOP for 13 years. “I love my coworkers — we are team players. Plus, Mir and Goska are easy to laugh with. They are just what you want in owners.”
With a degree in human resources, Goska has continually overseen the books and hiring of staff. But after roughly five years at IHOP, she announced she was ready for a challenge.
“Goska wanted to buy another business that she could run herself,” said Mir. “So we started looking around.”
In 2006, the couple bought Baskin-Robbins in Grass Valley, just up the street from IHOP. The ice cream and frozen dessert franchise boasts more than 7,000 retail shops in nearly 50 countries.
With a seasonal staff that generally peaks at 15 during the warmer months, Goska has imposed the same rigorous hiring standards as IHOP, only the staff tends to be bit younger.
“I enjoy working with teenagers — for many of them it’s their first job,” said Goska. “We have fun, and they are able to take valuable skills with them. The first thing I look for when hiring a new employee is their smile. I can teach them the rest, but the smile has to be natural.”
Goska says she also derives tremendous satisfaction from being able to help the community through fundraisers and donations.
“We try to do what we can for the community,” she said. “People truly appreciate what we do.”
At IHOP he is able to host numerous community organizations on a regular basis, such as church groups, the Lions Club and the Roamin’ Angels, who come in every Friday morning.
In addition, Mir says he is immensely proud of providing employment opportunities to so many local people.
“The employees here don’t leave unless they move, and even then they sometimes come back — we’re blessed in that regard,” he said with a smile.
“We have a cook here whose wife is a server and their teenager worked at Baskin-Robbins. I’m watching them grow before our eyes. They’re like extended family.”
A startling contrast from Torrance, Mir and Goska now say they prefer life in a small town. The couple now lives in Penn Valley with their 9-year-old son, Yaqub.
“I’m so happy that things turned out the way they did,” said Mir. “But I wouldn’t have done any of this without Goska. I’m so lucky to have her.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4203.