Anant Patel likes to say he serves the most expensive chai in town. The delicious tea, prepared by his mother Mina, is actually free, but to get a cup you have to visit Karat 22, his family’s jewelry store. And once you walk in, it’s tough to walk out empty-handed.
Even for Houstonians accustomed to making unusual discoveries in the city’s ubiquitous strip centers, the store is a surprise. Located inside an unremarkable row of shops on Hillcroft between Harwin and Westpark, Karat 22 is, beyond its double doors, beautiful, filled with stunning chandeliers and stately columns.
“In the Middle East, or in India, when you walk into a jewelry store, this is what you’ll see,” Patel says of his family’s business, which has been a fixture in Houston’s Mahatma Gandhi District since 1985. “We wanted to make sure it would be inviting but also feel glamorous. When you walk into a store like this, you want to feel as though you’re in a different world.”
Since opening their store more than three decades ago, the Patels have expanded it four times. There’s now a central watch room stocked with Rolexes, Tag Heuers and Mont Blanc pens, a gold room where necklaces and gorgeous bangles dazzle, and a diamond room featuring high-end sparklers from engagement rings to necklaces.
“We reconstructed the store in 2000 for the sole purpose of having a room like this,” says Patel. “Diamonds are a big thing in our culture as well, and we couldn’t feed the demand at a certain point, so we knew we needed to open up something grand to cater to that buying power.”
With the exception of the store’s watches, Swarovski crystal and Hindu religious figures, everything is designed and custom-made by the Patel family. While some of the more extravagant pieces have a distinctly Indian aesthetic, Patel says many of his younger customers are looking for sleeker styles that can be dressed up or down and worn every day.
With so much high-end merchandise on hand, employees move everything to a bank vault nightly, returning it to the shelves each morning, a process that is somehow accomplished in under half an hour. Nevertheless, in 2011, burglars struck. “They actually drilled through our bank vault through the ceiling and took all the jewelry out,” says Patel. That included much of the family’s personal collection—wedding and heirloom pieces which had been stored at the shop, and which insurance couldn’t replace.
The Patels had to close the store for six weeks to rebuild and retool their security. “We caught them and they were arrested, charged and convicted,” Patel says, “but it was a tough time.” Still, through it all, the family never considered changing locations. “This is our market,” Patel says simply. “The Southeast Asians, they expect to come to the Gandhi District and do everything at the same time.”