James Khan

James Khan

President, ObiCai Restaurant Group

2024 Pioneer of the Year and
Category Winner - Entrepreneur

Video Transcript

James Khan: I’m James Kahn, president of Obicai Restaurant Group. We manage Baker Street Steakhouse, Proximo, Hoppy Gnome, the Gnome Town Brewing Company and B1 Development. At the end of the day, all of our businesses, there are opportunities for us to invest in people’s lives masquerading as a for-profit business. 

The journey from going from busboy to owner, so to speak, has been 23 years. I guess technically I became an owner of a business in 2009, so 15 years ago. That was Baker Street and then when Hoppy Gnome happened and then Proximo happened and then this real estate development happened. If there was a catalyst that really started me along this journey, of course that’s God, but it was manifested through Doug and Patti Wood.  

I got to know him at a happenstance meeting at a charity dinner and then a year later in 2009 at probably the worst economic time that anyone alive has ever experienced, he writes a check to save a business that’s going to close. It was Baker Street Steakhouse and his reasoning for it was because he had the money in the bank and it would have been a sin to let these people lose jobs and not try to do something to help them. He said pretty plainly, “Come and fix this restaurant and make it do what it’s supposed to be doing and you can pay me back and then you can have it. I don’t want to own a restaurant. I just don’t want to see people lose their jobs.”  

The real catalyst was also having him and him allowing me the freedom to run the restaurant the way I wanted to, to take care of people in ways that didn’t really make sense in our industry. When I got to Baker Street, the food was good, the service was good, but I think what was missing is just really an investment into the culture. One thing that I think that we did differently, probably just a faith that doing the right thing for people is going to pan out in the end. Restaurants are funny. They’re not a very profitable endeavor and so it’s really difficult to, when something goes wrong, to think about like giving anything away. I think we adopted a mentality of, “Look, if we don’t get this literally perfect, then we don’t want to charge you anything for it.” Not like as a gimmick, but just to say it was more about trying to honor our guests and saying, “Look, we know you work hard and so we’re going to make sure that it’s a value.”  

I really don’t care for making profit. I just, I want to be involved in something that that makes people’s lives better. I would say that’s probably the one thing maybe I brought to the restaurant that that might not have been there prior to me. It’s hard to believe that I’m sitting in a chair talking to you about this journey right now because I don’t feel like I’ve done anything specific to get here. It’s been a culmination of thousands of people doing great work to make our businesses successful enough to continue to grow. They were all just opportunities that were provided. Every single one of them was provided by somebody else in this community to me and I think that’s part of the reason why I feel I owe this community so much. I would love nothing more than to have all of our businesses create a profit that then went back directly into the community.  

The day that I think that I’ve been successful will be when our businesses are doing well enough that I can fund some sort of opportunity to grab kids that are in situations that I was growing up that are surrounded by maybe hopelessness and show them that there’s a way out. When I think about going outside of the region it does feel like a departure from home. That’s kind of how I feel. I don’t know that that anything outside of here is really for me. There’s plenty of opportunity in Northeast Indiana for us to do businesses here, for us to expand here.  

James Khan: Pioneer Celebrates Here.

Tod Minnich: Pioneer Educates Here.

Cathy Brand-Beere: Pioneer Chocolatiers Here.

Cote Godoy: Pioneros Comienzan AquÍ.

All: Pioneer Starts Here.