In June 2020, the rent went up for Persian Garden Café, the Persian restaurant at the courtyard plaza at 15th Avenue and Thomas Road that's been around since 2001. Founders Mahmoud and Afsaneh Jaafari, with the help of their son Joseph Jaafari, had a choice to make: Do they close forever, find another venue, or come up with a new system? They went with the third option.
“My father wanted to neither stop working nor start a new restaurant,” Joseph says. And so was born the Persian Garden (they dropped the cafe) bi-weekly takeout and delivery program.
Persian Garden Café closed at the end of January, at which point the family brainstormed and came up with a program inspired by Toronto’s Charlie’s Burger, which was founded by Franco Stalteri in 2009 as a series of privately held pop-up dinners, each hosted by a high-profile chef. An email would go out to customers, and the first 50 respondents would get to enjoy the experience.
The pilot program, which ran in March and April, was successful enough to encourage the owners to continue.
“It’s really nice to have a business on your own terms,” Joseph says.
Mahmoud is more about relationships and personal contacts, so this virtual model is a little challenging for him. That’s why his son, an investigative reporter by day, has decided to move back to Arizona to help manage the business on the side. In a way, Mahmoud’s idea of having a family business is continuing.
So here’s how it works.
The week’s menu goes out in an email on Sunday for the following Saturday. All food is prepared in the Jaafaris' home kitchen. You click the menu link for the week's dishes (as well as a book of the Persian Garden recipes, written by Mahmoud, for purchase). Menu items have included chilled watermelon soup (made with crushed watermelon, honey, rose water, and coconut milk), chicken kebab (marinated in yogurt and herbs), Merza (thin slices of eggplants roasted and pan-fried and wrapped around feta, garlic fresh herbs, and tomatoes), and kuku sabzi (herb frittata).
Overall, the food is not necessarily traditional Persian, but Persian fusion.
“We are not trying to do what Persian Room or Caspian does,” Joseph says of other Valley Persian restaurants and markets. “We are trying to do what we do best and give Phoenix healthy Persian food with a modern flair.”
Another perk: Each order comes with a complimentary dessert and a piece of art.
The brick-and-mortar restaurant used to be a space where artists could showcase their work, be it paintings, poetry, or amateur belly dancing. Supporting local artists has been a part of the restaurant since the family first opened it in 2001. The new iteration of Persian Garden still partners with local artists in Phoenix.
“We wanted to focus on queer, BIPOC, and women,” Joseph says. “So far, we have three artists and would love to work with more.”
Currently, these artists are asked (and paid) to do an interpretation of a paisley (a symbol of birth and womanhood, and the restaurant’s logo). Each food order receives a postcard, sticker, or 3D image of the piece. With each work, the Jaafaris wish to spark conversations while supporting local artists and making a living off their dishes. Artists interested in participating can contact the restaurant.
Now, the Jaafari family hopes to turn the food delivery into something more frequent than every other week. In addition, they are planning on adding Persian fusion pop-ups for different American holidays. "My mother is from Louisiana," Joseph says. "I used to host Persian-Creole parties. We can carry over the same concept to Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas."
Check out Persian Garden’s Square site for the most recent menu and to sign up for updates.
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