Business Buzz – March 2019

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(Elana O'Loskey, Photographer)
Monti Kids Founder and CEO Zahra Kassam is bringing the Montessori philosophy into the home.

Monti Kids Founder and CEO Zahra Kassam is the First Orinda Business on Shark Tank.
    As to qualifying for Shark Tank, Kassam says, “Forty thousand people try out for Shark Tank every season; 88 were chosen to pitch this season. It’s pretty amazing that Monti Kids got in. Almost 4 million people watch Shark Tank. It was the most stressful thing I’ve ever done in my life. Receiving my $200,000 ask was an incredible experience. Kevin O’Leary has been a great partner.” 
    Kassam, who has a master’s degree from the Harvard School of Education, is also an internationally certified Montessori teacher. She says she is on a mission to educate parents that 85 percent of the brain develops before age three. The Montessori method is over 100 years old and can be described as developmental education.  
    There’s been quite a media storm since Shark Tank. Kassam and Monti Kids have been featured on Fox News, SF Channel Two’s Morning on 2 Segment and other local and national media. Their website is getting a workout. But Kassam remains resolute in encouraging parents to ask one question: “How can I help my child develop mentally in the best possible way?” Monti Kids was created as the answer to that question when Kassam’s first child was born. There were no programs addressing this 0-to-3 year old window for brain development, she says.  
    Kassam and her team of Montessori educators and toy designers spent three years before launching Monti Kids in March 2017. They opened their Orinda Theatre Square offices in July 2018, have 10 employees, and are growing fast. Because all employees live in the East Bay, Orinda was chosen for its central location and because it is beautiful, safe and family friendly, she says. 
    According to studies done by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, the environment in which brain development happens and age-appropriate stimuli help maximize a child’s potential and lays the best foundation for future development. Monti Kids was founded with the mission of helping parents support their baby during these critical years of development, Kassam said.
    Program Levels 1-8 consist of Montessori toy curriculum delivered every three months. The subscription service includes guides, short videos and articles for parents and those who care for babies on how to introduce and use the materials. Toys are manufactured using sustainably forested wood, non-toxic paint and 100 percent recyclable packaging. Curriculum purchase includes access to online classes, one-on-one support and a private community moderated by vetted child development experts. A re-use program is in place for used toys. 
    When not working, Kassam spends time with her family, especially with her sons, ages 6 and 1. 
    To learn more, go to www.montikids.com, or follow on social media or email them at hello@montikids.com

(Elana O'Loskey, Photographer)
(L-R) Shelby’s owners Carlos Rangel and Chef Arno Kober are rolling out a new menu at their Theatre Square restaurant. This and other improvements are to be completed by March 31.

Shelbys Rolls Out Healthy Menu Options, New Bar Area, Cocktail Menu and Happy Hour Specials. 
    Shelbys has been open for 24 years – no small accomplishment – but owners Carlos Rangel and Chef Arno Kober keep things up to date. 
    Their new menu items follow the “eat local, eat what’s in season” line of thinking. Some dishes won’t change such as their Chinese chicken salad, chicken mango salad and beef goulash. New items include gluten-free pasta, veggie burgers including a portabello mushroom burger, and gluten-free bread, along with grass-fed beef, organic chicken, sustainably farmed fish and fresh seasonal vegetables. Their breakfast menu gets an update as well – healthier choices all round. 
    Rangel says he is excited to welcome patrons to the new bar with a cocktail menu and happy hour specials. The bar will be toward the right as you walk in where the cash register is now located. 
    Rangel and Kober have supported a variety of local events such as the Orinda Baseball Association and Orinda Intermediate School as well as Lamorinda Moms Club. “The community support goes both ways – the community has been really supportive of us and we give back whenever we can. We are very thankful and ask patrons to come in and try our new menus, check out the bar and try a specialty cocktail,” says Rangel. 
    To maintain sanity and a balanced life, Rangel says he focuses on exercise including running, obstacle races and Spartan races. When away from the restaurant Kober can be found with a paintbrush covering a canvas with color. 
    Shelbys is at 2 Theatre Square, No. 152, Orinda. 925-254-9687; www.shelbyseatbetter.com. Hours are Monday to Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch; 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. for dinner (until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday); 10:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday for brunch.

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