FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) While James Bashir Khan was growing up, he had a couple of goals.
“What I did know is that I did not want to live in a trailer and I wanted to make enough money to buy my mom a house,” said Khan, a local restaurateur, entrepreneur and best known for owning three restaurants in town – Baker Street, the Hoppy Gnome and Proximo.
Not that he wasn’t excited to move into a double wide trailer on Moeller Road when he was young. The child of a single, divorced mother who was a server and an IPFW engineering student from India, Khan has a certain gratitude for his upbringing but realizes it’s what’s driven him to do better.
Now, to add to three successful restaurants, on paper he is the lead developer of Arneo Estates, a 206-acre project tucked away off North Clinton in the shadow of Interstate 469 and not far the bustling development on East Dupont Road near Parkview Regional Medical Center.
His plans are innovative, fresh and risky, but his intention is to bring a new kind of community to Fort Wayne, something like he saw in Carmel and Fishers on a tour with Greater Fort Wayne.
Khan took WANE TV on a tour of the project driving over the ruts and bumps in his black Ford F-150 pick-up. In each new section, it was obvious the excitement he felt for this project that could take years to develop. He pointed to one 2-acre plot that will be his home backing up to scenic woods. “That will be my view,” he said.
The development reflects “a lot of his desire to do something transformational,” Khan said during a phone interview. It came out of another desire to lure big city chefs and restaurant managers to Fort Wayne and offer something they could relate to.
“I needed to sell Fort Wayne,” Khan explained.
Interviewing people from California, Colorado, Phoenix, Miami, Detroit, Chicago, and Grand Rapids, he realized they were looking for a quality of life they had at home, something he compares to Arlington Park here that’s walkable with shops, parks, a real neighborhood.
That’s what Arneo will offer, even if it means giving up a lot or two, Khan said. The development is planned with single family homes, apartments and commerce designed to feel like a village. There will be natural wetlands, a park and trails and will be “walkable to everywhere,” Khan said, who intends to keep the extensive woods and an 8-acre pond. Keeping with the urban theme in a natural setting, there were be more than 65 brownstones, 240 high-end apartments with garages and 73 single family homes that would include about 16 estates on one to three acres. Other lot sizes range from one-third to two-thirds of an acre.
Buying the property was an accident, Khan said, and grew out of a search with a couple of other families to move closer Blackhawk Christian School his children attend. He and his partners closed on the property in December and went in front of the Board of Zoning Appeals to change the zoning from agricultural. The land is corn stubble.
In order to sell the idea of a new kind of development that inevitably adds traffic to an area, Khan reached out to neighbors at North Pointe Woods and invited them to Baker Street for drinks and appetizers. The Allen County Plan is expected to vote on the application Monday. If approved, the application will move on to the City Council.
“We can’t envision any other use except what’s being proposed, said Doug Woods, a local developer and investor in partnership with his wife Patty.
The Woods are an integral part of Khan’s rise as a local restaurateur. They met at a charity dinner and Khan, looking to get out of the restaurant business, applied to one of Woods’ industrial firms in Churubusco. The Woods had another idea and in 2008 invited Khan, working as a general manager at Biaggi’s, to take over Baker Street with the idea of Khan turning it around and eventually owning it.
That’s what happened. Khan had gotten his start at Biaggi’s as a food runner while working two jobs and attending IPFW, now PFW, for a degree in electrical engineering. After his vehicle was in an accident, he couldn’t get to class and ended up dropping out because he didn’t have the money to fix his car without insurance. That led to his rise at the restaurant and sowing some wild oats. At one point he got into a bar fight at 3 a.m.
He was married in 2005 and had turned to religion with the help of his future mother-in-law who introduced Khan and his wife. His two children were born in 2006 and 2013.
By 2008, Doug Wood called Khan and met him at Starbucks. Business was over a handshake. Khan was hesitant, but Wood was convinced that James “was the guy.”
“We wanted to set a standard,” Doug Wood said. “We were going to be fine dining in every sense of the word.”
Patty Wood said the move was about paying it forward. “We have been blessed in our lives and I think James is following suit and doing the same thing.”
His sister, Nasim Khan, says her older brother is a “very humble person.
“He really does use his situation to help other people. A lot of his being wealthy and so successful has been a blessing for others even some complete strangers pulled over to the side of the road and helped,” Nasim said. “He doesn’t look for recognition. He doesn’t want it out there and uses his due diligence and uses his blessing to bless others.”
James always had a leadership quality in his and an “innate instinct to take care of his family.” Yes, he did buy his mother a house and she works in the office with him where he keeps her close.
“He thought he was my dad,” she explains. Now he often counsels Nasim in her own event planning business.
At Paul Harding High School where he graduated in 1997, he had “this drive and motivation to finish,” Nasim said. When he joined the marching band, he became the drum major. He “busted in butt” in his classes to get good grades.
The next step in Khan’s development was opening up The Hoppy Gnome, a project he undertook with the help of Purdue grad and mentor, John Nichols.
“I think I could take him and throw him into anything and he’d figure it out,” Nichols said. Starting in 2011-2012, Nichols and his partners bought and redeveloped the Anthony Wayne building downtown where the Hoppy Gnome is located on the ground floor.
“I think his motivation, like mine, in the end, you’ve got to be profitable, but it’s also about quality of life in the community you love,” Nichols said. The restaurant opened in 2015 and Gnometown Brewery two years later.
Khan said his next venture, Proximo, in the Ash Brokerage building on Harrison Street started with a phone call from Tim Ash, the firm’s CEO.
All three restaurants keep Khan busy and he still works shifts if needed. The new development will more than likely have a coffee shop and a burger place, Khan said, but beyond that, there are no more plans for another restaurant.
Or so he says.