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Zaya Younan came to the United States from Iran alone and essentially penniless. Now his family's buildings soar over American cities and their castles are the toast of France.

Hearing the life story of Zaya S. Younan can be a tonic in troubled times. From coming to America alone as a near penniless child to trying to take his company, Younan Properties, into an IPO just as the 2008 crash hit, he’s had to draw on resilience and determination that stand in contrast to the business towers, converted-castle hotels, and fine wines that he now provides to his clientele. After graduating at age 19 from the University of Illinois and working several low-level jobs, he spent more than a decade as a young executive with companies across the business spectrum, including General Motors, Johnson Controls, and TRW. 

In 2002, at age 39, he founded Southern Californiabased commercial real estate company Younan Properties, where he remains chairman and CEO. The company has a portfolio of high-rise office buildings in the United States worth $2.8B. Having moved recently into Europe and the business of luxury hotels, golf courses, cigars, and wines, with plans for broader expansion, Younan Properties became part of the larger Younan Company, the eponymous family business where his employees include four of his five children. (The fifth is still in high school.) The 57-year-old Younan sat down to talk with CSQ about hislife’s journey. 

YOU CAME TO THE UNITED STATES FROM IRAN BY YOURSELF AS A 13-YEAR-OLD BOY. WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO DO THAT AND WHAT WAS IT LIKE? 

We were Assyrian Christians, a small minority in Iran. I lived in a tremendous amount of poverty. My father was a truck driver. At an early age, I learned that it was very frustrating for me to live in that country. I met some tourists that came to our house and needed to use the bathroom and drink some water. They turned out to be Americans. So, I developed a huge interest in going to America. I saved up my money, got my own airline ticket, and got my own visa, without telling my parents. headed to America alone. The trip took 48 hours! I had so many connections with the ticket I could afford. Tehran to Amsterdam to Frankfurt to New York JFK to LaGuardia to Chicago. When you’re a kid you don’t really think in terms of how long it will take; you think about the endpoint. I had an uncle who lived in Chicago, so I lived there first. Obviously, you’re scared, you’re a little kid. I was very scared, but I was very happy to change my life and to come to the place that I had heard so much about. I was very excited to get here and to start my life here. And my parents joined me a year later. 

Younan always wanted to own castles in Europe. Pictured here, Alexandra Palace.

HOW DID DOING SOMETHING THAT BIG, BOLD, AND RISKY SHAPE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?

That’s the personality that usually succeeds in lifethey push envelopes and take risks. I wanted something different, something better, but then it becomes a part of your personality. You still take risks.That passion gives you the energy. It’s always easier to find a closed door than an open door. Every time you are planning to do something, you are going to find a closed door. The way I think about it, I look until I find a door that is open. You need that perseverance in trying to always get to the final goal. I think that’s very very good for anybody to have. I had it from a very early age. 

ONCE YOU WERE IN THE U.S., HOW DID YOUR EDUCATION AND YOUR EARLY YEARS OF WORK SHAPE YOU INTO THE CEO YOU ARE TODAY?

I looked at education as a tool for me to get where I wanted to get. I couldn’t wait to finish high school. I couldn’t wait to finish college with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. I graduated from the University of Illinois when I was 19. My graduation was on a Saturday, and I was working on Monday. I did engineering for a short period of time. I went to production, to purchasing. I went to advertising. I was able to be well rounded. I was a senior executive for General Motors. I worked for many different companies with different products. By the time I was 35 years old, I had held a couple of CEO jobs with major companies. I did not waste my youth; I optimized it. I knew it was important for me to have a lot of experience. I was able to do what it takes. I promised myself I would be the first one in in the entire company, and I would be the last one to leave. People would ask, Why are you working when you’re not getting paid? But I wasn’t just working for the company, I was working to mold myself. 

AND AFTER ALL OF THAT, HOW DID YOU END UP WITH YOUR OWN COMPANY IN REAL ESTATE AND PROPERTY MANAGEMENT? 

Around 2001, I came back from working for a cyber company in France. We were tired of living abroad. I had built a fortune. I had enough money to be able to invest it in properties. I had never had a vacation. I wanted to find a property, go there, and read all the books I had never read. And looking to buy properties got me interested in the property business. I never really anticipated that Younan Properties would be so successful. Our first building was small, like 20,000 square feet. And five years later we had one at 1.8 million square feet. As I bought and I sold, I constantly upgraded myself. Everything I do next would be much bigger and much grander. 

The pool at Chateau de Beauvois.

YOUR COMPANY WAS ABOUT TO GO PUBLIC IN ARGUABLY THE WORST POSSIBLE BUSINESS TO BE IN, REAL ESTATE, WHEN THE 2008 CRASH HIT. WHAT DID YOU TAKE AWAY FROM THAT EXPERIENCE?

The recession was very difficult for us. We did not know we’d have a headwind that was so bad for so long. We were approached by some of the big companies telling us, “You guys have a great story.You guys have a great portfolio product.” So, we started a prospectus, and we got our IPO approved by U.S. government auditors. Then the market started to collapse. We thought, “We’ll wait for a couple of weeks, after that we’ll be fine.” So, we waited. And when you are going public, nothing should change about your company, so we couldn’t do much. For the longest time we thought it was a bad thing, but now looking back it was frankly the best thing that happened to us. We were able to survive during the recession without evaporating. And now we are more of a private equity firm, so we have transitioned ourselves. You’re able to move faster than all the restrictions and obligations that come with being a publicly held company. It worked out better for us. 

WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE TO MOVE THE COMPANY INTO EUROPE IN RECENT YEARS?YOU’VE BOUGHT NINE CASTLES THAT YOU’VE TURNED INTO HOTELS. WHAT MOTIVATED THAT?

Well, growing up in such a tremendous amount of poverty, I was fascinated with the idea of castles. I always wanted to own castles in Europe.

Today I’m able to say I own more castles than any king in Europe.

[The castles, all acquired quietly in France and Portugal since 2016 and quickly transformed by the Younan Company into four– and five-star luxury hotels, include Alexandra Palace in Mazières-en-Gâtine; Château de Beauvois and Château Le Prieuré in the Loire Valley; Château de La Perrière, a wedding and events venue in Avrillé; Domaine de Vaugouard in Fontenay-sur-Loing; Hotel Saint-Martin in Saint-Maixent-l’Ecole; and Malibu Foz in Figueira da Foz, Portugal.]

The opulent interiors at Chateau de Beauvois.

We wanted to expand on our luxury hotel business there. We got into spirit making, winesand producing some of the best wines in the world in that region.[Younan has two wineries in the Bordeaux region, Chateau La Croix Younan and Chateau Zaya, which produce merlot, cabernet sauvignonand cabernet franc; he also owns four golf courses in France.]We wanted at our hotels something very exclusive to that hotel, so guests can experience that. We bought a tobacco company, El Septimo Geneva, which produces some of the best cigars in the world. Next we’re buying a Champagne house, so we can start making our own Champagne, in the actual Champagne region of France, for the market and for ourselves. 

WHAT IS IT LIKE WORKING WITH YOUR CHILDREN? 

I was very fortunate that my kids have joined me in business. I always told them that they should pursue their dreams. That’s why I changed the company from a real estate company to a private equity firm and so forth so they can do different things. They’re learning a lot. I love and I enjoy working with them every day. As children they try to impress their father, and as a father I’m working very hard to impress my children. It creates incredible self-generating energy. 

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Zaya Younan: King of the Castles

BY ALIETTE DE CROZET

“Everyone deserves a night in a château!” is the motto of California businessman Zaya Younan. He knows what he’s talking about because he owns seven castles and stately homes in the Loire Valley and the Centre and Poitou regions, converting them into luxury hotels. And he’s only just getting started."

A few months ago, I met with U.S. billionaire Zaya Younan at the Le Meurice hotel on Paris’ Rue de Rivoli to discuss his latest projects. I mentioned in passing that the hotel’s star pastry chef is shy and doesn’t do interviews. So Zaya had a word with the maître d’, and ten minutes later Chef Cédric Grolet came over to introduce himself, bringing with him a plate of spectacular cakes. That’s Zaya Younan in a nutshell: “I’m wealthy, I’m 57 years old, and I love a challenge.” His current challenge involves transforming old châteaux – castles and stately homes – into luxury hotels. But what attracted the California businessman to France in the first place?It all started with a TV mini-series he enjoyed watching as a child in Tehran, called Les Rois maudits (The Accursed Kings). Younan grew up in an Aramaic-speaking Christian family – his father a truck driver, his mother a housekeeper. One day, two Americans asked to use the family’s bathroom. Before leaving, they wrote down their address in Illinois. By the age of twelve, Zaya had earned enough to buy a plane ticket, and left for the United States without telling his parents.

Chasing the American Dream

He became an automotive engineer, then made a fortune in real estate and private equity. In 2002 he founded Younan Properties, Inc. in Los Angeles with two billion dollars in assets. Before developing a passion for French châteaux, he indulged his artistic side collecting jade and Fabergé eggs. France has 30,000 historical residences ranging from imposing fortresses and Renaissance palaces, to fortified feudal castles and manor houses surrounded by lavish gardens. About 1,500 of them are for sale, waiting for someone to fall in love with them, maintain them, and breathe new life into them. “A château is more than just old stones and history,” says Zaya. “It’s a direct link to the past. Each generation has left its mark on it. Even the swankiest hotel can’t offer an experience like that.” In 2015 Zaya told his wife, Sherry, that he was going to buy her a palace in France for each year they had been together: “You’ll be the queen with the most châteaux in the world.” She was astonished, given that they were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary that year. 

The couple drove all over France for ten days, visiting 80 properties. “I give each of them one minute to win me over. I ask myself: ‘Do the moats, and towers, and battlements speak to me?’” Five Luxury Hotels Zaya took a shine to the Loire Valley – which spans 170 miles and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site – and in particular the Indre, Indreet-Loire, Maine-et-Loire, and Deux-Sèvres départements, which cover what used to be the Anjou, Berry, and Poitou regions. That’s where Château du Petit Chêne, near the town of Niort, rose from the ashes last summer. The 17th-century abode was renamed Alexandra Palace, after Zaya’s daughter, and has since become the top luxury hotel in DeuxSèvres. It’s also the first five-star hotel in the portfolio of Grande Maison Younan Collection, a company founded by Zaya which also manages four other hotels. “Everyone deserves a night in a château” is a phrase that Zaya says again and again. Zaya the Great sports a large diamond ring, but his hotels don’t necessarily target other ultra-high-net-worth individuals. Prices are reasonable, starting at 100 euros (110 dollars) a night, and guests get good bang for their buck.

The Younan Collection’s coat of arms, bearing the motto Patrimoine, Dieu et la Foi, Héritage (“Heritage, God and Faith, Legacy”), hangs over the reception desk at Domaine de Beauvois, an old hunting lodge used by Louis XIII, nestled in a bend of the Loire River. Jewelry designed by Zaya and Sherry sparkles in display cases. Cristal chandeliers light up the entrance hall, whose heavy curtains are fringed with tassles. The shelves in the wine cellar are threaded with gold and filledwith bottles of Château La CroixYounan Grand Cru, a vineyard that Zaya acquired in the Saint-Émilion wine region of Bordeaux. An Experience Steeped in History How do you turn a profit on a property that took millions to refurbish? The three-year renovation of Alexandra Palace, for instance, cost 12 million euros (13.5 million dollars). “Ninety percent of château-hotels aren’t profitable because they are trying to earn a return as soon as they open.” Zaya’s strategy is to build an excellent reputation for Grande Maison Younan Collection’s five hotels and four golf courses, and to diversify by purchasing vineyards. The idea is also to attract foreigners, such as Americans looking to steep themselves in history. Zaya likes staying at Le Prieuré, a four-star hotel whose foundations date back to the Benedictine monks in the tenth century. Room Nine in the turret looks out over the Loire. That’s where Zaya likes to go to be alone with his thoughts, seated in a Louis XIII armchair, “which was made before the United States was even a country.” This was a well-thought-out investment. “France gets twice as many foreign visitors as the entire United States does,” says Zaya. “There were 95 million in 2019! It’s a great country with a rich history.” The Californian raves about France and its cuisine, savoir-faire, and taste for luxury, and says he wants to launch a start-up incubator in an area of the countryside known as Gâtine Tourangelle. Why not? “I like creating the impossible.” Zaya was awarded the Gold Medal for Tourism by the French government in 2019. “Zaya Younan has understood that heritage is France’s hidden treasure, and that more should be made of it,” says Stéphane Bern, an expert in French heritage and host of several popular TV history programs. Our meeting draws to a close. Zaya suggests a little more rosé champagne. He smiles: “My wife always says the champagne in France won’t make you fat.” Isn’t it nice to believe in fairy tales?

 

LGMYC Blason 2019 GOLD HR 2

At La Grande Maison Younan Collection, guests experience the French art de vivre at our six exceptional chateaux-hotels.

Chateau de Beauvois

Located in the Loire Valley and a short drive from Tours, this castle sits among 57 acres of hiking woodlands which was once frequented by King Louis XIII. This 4-star jewel has been completely renovated and offers guests 35 sumptuously decorated rooms and suites, a gastronomic restaurant, open terraces and manicured gardens, heated swimming pool, and a wine cave boasting thousands of bottles.

In warmer months, guests drink and dine outdoors while they enjoy the pool lounge, private cabanas, tennis courts, and live music. Chateau de Beauvois is a favorite among couples who desire a fairytale wedding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hotel Saint-Martin

 

In the heart of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, it has cultivated the art of hospitality over the centuries as a welcome respite for weary travelers. This 4-star boutique hotel offers just 10 meticulously renovated rooms and two suites and presides within a magnificent park facing the Sevre Niortaise River.

Hotel Saint-Martin offers guests an outdoor lounge, heated swimming pool, and regional gastronomic cuisine served at Le Logis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chateau Le Prieuré

 

Sitting on a promontory at the bank of the largest river in France, Le Prieuré boasts breathtaking views of the Loire Valley and offers a “unique” panoramic view of the Loire River!

The newly-renovated 4-star castle offers mini-golf, and tennis courts while being complemented by Le Castellane, a world-class restaurant that serves a gastronomic dining experience to all its guests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexandra Palace

 

Situated in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, this registered national monument of France is a golfer’s paradise. Nestled among 160 acres of lush forestry and a world-class golf course, this 5-star chateau offers exclusive suites beautifully draped in rich French history.

From exploring the ornate grounds to enjoying the classic wine cellar or the cognac room and also discovering the menu at the restaurant and bar, Alexandra Palace offers visitors a taste of royalty in the 21st century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domaine de Vaugouard 

 

Discover this exceptional environment with its quality, wooded and landscaped 18-hole Golf Course, scattered with ornamental lakes. The lounges, seminar center, swimming pool, sauna, and fitness center are built around this luxurious green setting.

The refined cuisine will allow you to forget daily stress, whether at the bar at lunchtime or the gastronomic restaurant in the evening. The Domaine also has a tennis court, bar, and a petanque ground. Located in Montargis (1h30 from Paris).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Website: younancollection.com

gilgamesh line 

First Time Premium Cigar Company Releases 50 Ring Gauge Cigars to Meet U.S. Demand

Geneva, SA, February 19, 2020 -- El Septimo, Geneva, SA, makers of world-renowned premium cigars, has announced its latest addition to its growing collection. The Gilgamesh Collection will offer the brand’s first 50 ring gauge cigars.

The Gilgamesh Collection is named after “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” symbolizing one of the oldest stories written into existence. Based on the historical records of Assyrian King Gilgamesh who ruled in 2700 BC in Mesopotamia, King Gilgamesh was considered the strongest, wisest and most handsome of all mortals. His rule was so epic that great legends were inspired by his deeds afterward. El Septimo’s new Collection is named after King Gilgamesh because as a brand in the premium cigar industry, El Septimo is known to inspire new products with groundbreaking ideas and research into growing and aging the best tobacco through precision farming, blending techniques, aging and rolling processes, and market research. El Septimo continues to step outside the box and encourage men and women alike to enjoy the premium cigar lifestyle, using science to find the most luxurious blends to pair with the most exclusive designs and packaging. This Epic symbolizes the love and pleasure that people take in enjoying God’s natural resources—which is exactly how one should feel when enjoying a premium El Septimo Cigar.

Zaya S. Younan, Chairman & CEO of La Grande Maison Younan Collection and El Septimo Cigars, explained El Septimo’s growing audience in the U.S. “Since acquiring El Septimo in early 2019, we have expanded the brand with new cigar offerings and U.S. distribution to make it easier to acquire our premium cigars. El Septimo is known for its larger gauge cigars due to the fact that each cigar is hand-assembled with many different tobacco leaves aged in different environments, providing exceptional flavors while engaging optimal aging and blending processes. Because our wrappers consist of 25-75% of the entire cigar’s flavor in our various collections, our bigger gauge cigars are known for providing an intense flavor due to the binder, tobacco filler, and wrapper ratio. However, due to the significant growth of the brand, we realized there was a market need for smaller gauge cigars so we concentrated on developing a new brand to satisfy this market.” The addition of the Gilgamesh Collection expands El Septimo’s offerings to now carry 42 different blends.

The Gilgamesh Collection initially will offer the cigars in medium and full-bodied strengths, each possessing a milder light-up due to the distance of the heat being further away from the palate. Wrapped in dark and oily Maduro wrappers, the two blends offer hints of a cedar aroma that evolve into scents of pine nuts and white pepper. Soft flavors of coffee and light cream notes find a presence on the tongue as an even ash builds, despite very little rotating. Smokers will experience a gradual pace with a perfect balance between thickness and length, as the final flavor profile ends with a spicy kick of chili flakes and black pepper, fully engaging the “seventh sense.” Like other cigars produced by El Septimo, The Gilgamesh Collection is sourced from exceptional Costa Rican plants that are grown in high altitude conditions. The tobacco is aged anywhere from five to fifteen years, allowing oils and flavors to develop while leaving behind an unusually rich and creamy smoke.

The Gilgamesh Collection is the second new Collection that El Septimo has offered in less than a year. The Alexandra Collection was introduced in June of 2019 as the first cigar line grown and blended exclusively for women. The company has sold more than 250,000 sticks this past year alone. “We continue to put significant resources into market research, testing, and blending techniques so that we stay ahead of the curve in satisfying the demands of the premium cigar market. Quality, experience, and technical innovation will be the cornerstone of our growth strategy,” Younan concluded.

The Gilgamesh Collection is now available in limited quantity Preorders worldwide at the El Septimo website. The Collection will be available for sale worldwide in Mid-March of 2020. All other 40 blends of El Septimo Cigars can also be purchased globally at the El Septimo website, as well as through U.S retailers Cedar Room Fine Cigars & Lounge in Scottsdale, AZ, Stixx Private Cigar Lounge in Woodland Hills, CA, The French Laundry in Yountville, CA, and Conquistador Cigar Parlor in Brooklyn, NY.

About Younan Company

The Younan Company is a global private equity firm that specializes in acquisitions and management of various assets and companies in the luxury consumer space. The company’s strategy is to build a portfolio of luxury products and properties, and lifestyle companies and services. Today, The Younan Company is recognized as a global luxury brand with more than $1.2 billion in assets under management through its subsidiaries Younan Properties and La Grande Maison Younan Collection. The Younan Collection owns and manages luxury hotels and resorts in France, including Château de Beauvois, Hôtel Saint-Martin, Château Le Prieuré, Alexandra Palace, Château de Vaugouard, and Château de la Perrière, premium cigar maker El Septimo Geneva SA; Golf des Forges, Golf du Petit Chêne, Golf d ’Avrillé, and Golf de Vaugouard; two vineyards in Saint-Emilion, including Château La Croix Younan, and Château Zaya, and MPA Studio de Création in Paris. It recently launched its first beach resort, Malibu Foz Hotel and Resort in Figueira da Foz, Portugal.