How one family built a real estate empire
12 months ago, 3 Jan 16:07
Their gaze hovers with contentment over one of their family’s key businesses, The Village Market. The high-end shopping complex, was built by their father, Ahmed, and uncle, Mehraz, who conceived the idea way back in 1992. There is a sense of pride as the two brothers survey the cornerstone of their empire. The complex was meant to encapsulate the recreational and shopping experience in Gigiri, Nairobi’s diplomatic zone. And it has lived up to its billing. What started off as a ten-shop establishment exactly 20 years ago now boasts 150 outlets on three levels, an outdoor food court and health and fitness centre. Then there is the ongoing expansion Together with the second born in the family, Shamim, the boys were literally raised on construction sites, thus absorbing the kind of details an average contractor may not even be aware of. Raised here “I know the terrain like the back of my hand,” says Soha. “I used to ride my bike here as a small boy before the whole thing came up.” Their uncle, Mehraz, went on to design Tribe, a five-star hotel adjacent to the shopping complex that has in the past hosted celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Nicole Kidman. Tribe is well known for its rich collection of African art that adorns every nook and cranny. At the Tribe, those with time to spare have the option of reading from a collection of close to 3,000 books or to watch any of the 300 DVDs in the library. The family’s real estate footprints extend beyond Gigiri. Last year, local media was awash with images and interesting anecdotes of what has been billed as Kenya’s most expensive residence – House No:12 Magnollia Hills. With a price tag of close to Sh600 million, House No:12 is the very epitome of opulence with its double kitchens, a fully-equipped gym, six ensuite bedrooms as well as interior and exterior Jacuzzis. The architect? Mehraz Ehsani. When I inquired about how they managed to put together a business empire of such a magnitude, the siblings were reflective. “This almost never happened,” says Hooman. “My parents came here in 1981, shortly after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. We belong to the Bahai faith that faced persecution when the new rulers came to power. We were deemed to be too pro-Western with our advocacy around women’s and other rights in a society that frowned upon such noble ideals. We were actually hounded out of town.” Their sojourn in Kenya was meant to last a couple of weeks as they explored ways of getting to Australia for final settlement. In Kenya, they spent some time with Mehraz, an accomplished architect who was by then a lecturer at the University of Nairobi. But due to delayed visas, their trip to Australia was never to be. The family decided to stay on and try their hands at local business. Hooman and Soha are identical chips off the old block. They have followed in their mentors’ footsteps ever since ...
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