By Andrew Thompson
When Homayoun Daryani took over ownership of Santa Clarita’s Persia Restaurant, he wanted to make the cuisine as authentically Persian as possible. At the time, less than one percent of his customers were actually Persian, so Daryani and his wife worked to overhaul the restaurant’s menu to correct the nuances of some dishes that their Persian customers knew were just not right.
“After our change, now we [get] all the Persian customers,” Daryani says. “Because they come, they know the food, they are comfortable… they are happy with it.”
Daryani was able to fine-tune his restaurant’s menu, in part, because the very cuisine he now provides is the same cuisine with which he grew up. Daryani, after all, was born and raised in Iran.
For the most part, Daryani looks back on his experiences in his home county with nostalgia.
“Always, when you look back to everything, everything looks like a…good experience,” Daryani says of his childhood. “Everything looks like fun.”
But Daryani’s youth was far from idyllic. In 1979, while Daryani was in his early teenage years, revolution hit Iran. Shortly after, when Iran and Iraq became embroiled in an eight-year war, Daryani mostly managed to avoid the conflict because he attended college. However, all that changed just before his final semester, when the government made an emergency decision: anyone who wanted to graduate from university would have to serve.
“When they called me back…at the beginning, of course, you are scared, you don’t know what to do,” Daryani says. “And, emotionally, you are attached to your family, to everybody.”
But Daryani says his fears melted away when he actually arrived at his post.
“That was a complete different feeling,” he explains. “Because then they teach you that you are a savior of your country. You are fighting for your country, for your people, for your beliefs.”
Because of his engineering background, Daryani was sent to work on the naval craft that would ultimately patrol the rivers near the border. He says he derived particular enthusiasm from the fact that he had a higher rank (as a former university student), and was therefore able to lead and guide the other soldiers who were entrusted to his care.
But not all of Daryani’s memories were so pleasant. There were also times when he was forced to see firsthand the brutal effects of the war.
“We would see the missiles coming, and [they] would destroy a whole block,” Daryani recalls. He adds that bombs sometimes dropped within five hundred feet.
“We used to run there and see what can we do [to] help – because the emergency system is not that great – so people would go and find other people, bringing them out of the…[rubble] and everything.”
Fortunately, peace was declared seven months after Daryani was called. Daryani was able to finish his degree, then complete the remainder of his military service working in factories.
When Daryani first attempted to acquire a visa to come to the United States, his application was denied, so he returned to his life in Iran. He worked, he married, he even had children; but it was while raising his first child, a daughter, that Daryani decided that it was time to try again to head to the United States – this time for good.
The move actually involved several trips and took a few years, but eventually, the entire family ended up in America. In 2003, they settled in Santa Clarita and purchased a Middle Eastern market. Then, in 2006, they bought Persia Restaurant. The couple has owned the restaurant together ever since.
Like many business owners, the Daryanis were hit hard by the recession. Their market closed after more than 10 years, and even their restaurant has struggled, at times. The difficulties can be particularly hard, Daryani says, when he thinks back to the quality of life he once enjoyed with his family back in Iran.
“We had a very nice and relaxing life. But…we basically left that,” he says. “I came almost with nothing to this country…hoping for the best,” he adds.
Still, Daryani doesn’t regret his decision.
“When I look back…I miss those [days] back in Iran,” Daryani says. “But I am not sorry for my move. Because now, the opportunities that…[are] upon us…in front of my kids, are…wide open. And also, for ourselves…starting from zero, to here – I think this is a big grow. And I would never be able to do that in Iran.”
Even amid the hard times, however, Daryani and his family have managed not only to keep their restaurant in business; they have actually grown it through their determination.
“I think the only thing that made us to stay in business…was our hard work, being behind it day and night, working it as a family business,” Daryani says.
Daryani gives particular credit to his wife, who he says has been a true partner. He also says that, in addition to being a family-run business, Persia Restaurant has many employees who he considers to be family, as some of them have worked at the restaurant for several years.
“They have been very patient with me,” he jokes.
But Daryani’s commitment to his customers and to his quality are perhaps equally responsible for his restaurant’s success.
Daryani points out that, even as the prices of many ingredients have doubled, he has managed to keep his food prices relatively consistent. Daryani also takes care to ensure the quality of those ingredients, and regularly uses expensive items like saffron, the most expensive spice in the world.
Darnyani also touts the flavor and health benefits of his restaurant’s cuisine. His rice, he says, is prepared in a special two-step process that makes it extra-fluffy and removes starch. Also, his restaurant almost never uses frying products; he only uses healthy oils like olive oil, and his dishes are often high in protein (his boneless chicken tenders and lamb dishes are particular specialties).
Persia Restaurant hosts events, including live music every other Friday, a belly-dancing show on Saturdays, and a buffet every Monday through Saturday from 11:30 to 2:00 p.m. But Daryani says that Persia Restaurant is perhaps most distinguished by an additional service that he literally goes the extra mile to provide. Persia Restaurant caters, and Daryani says he has made deliveries to areas as far as Bakersfield, Santa Barbara, and Marina Del Rey. Meanwhile, he has earned a reputation for being able to serve up to 500 people with food that is of the same quality as that which customers would receive in his restaurant.
Daryani recognizes the challenge of gaining new customers in a country in which some styles of cuisine reign supreme and many people seem wary to try new things. Nevertheless, he’s sure that no one who tries his dishes for the first time will leave disappointed.
“That’s impossible, [for] someone to not like our food,” he says.
Still, Daryani admits that customers will have to see for themselves what it is that he’s offering.
“People have to come and try it,” he says. “Until then, they don’t know…what they’re missing.”
Persia Restaurant is located at 27600 Bouquet Canyon Road, Suite 100, in Santa Clarita. The restaurant can be found across from Haskell Canyon Road and the Albertsons shopping center. For more information, visit www.persia-restaurant.com or call the restaurant at 661-513-0077.