The Iranian Entrepreneurs Defining Houston’s Culinary and Cultural Identity
Houston is brimming with diversity, from the rodeo legacy of cowboy culture to vibrant immigrant communities. Among these, Iranian Americans have left an indelible impact as drivers of Houston’s economy and pillars of the community. Delve into the enduring influence of Iranian entrepreneurs on Space City.
An Empire Built on Persian Flavor
Ali and Nahid Izadi have reigned over Houston’s dining scene since founding Cafe Pita+ in 1998. Their humble eatery has blossomed into a local empire thanks to a tireless work ethic and relentless authenticity. The Izadis wake daily at 3 a.m. to begin scratch-baking the lavash and barbari breads that patrons rave over. Hours later, loyal regulars line up for the Cafe’s famed Kubideh Kabob barg.
The Izadis import key ingredients straight from Iran, including saffron bins, pomegranate concentrate vats, and more. No shortcuts when it comes to real Persian flavor. Their dedication has earned accolades like “Best Kebab in Texas” and “Top 10 Middle Eastern Restaurants in America.”
The Izadis now operate five Cafe Pita locations in Houston. Not ones to rest on their laurels, they also opened Verdun European and Nouveau Cuisine to share their equally masterful French and New American dishes. The restaurants stay true to the “Golden Rule” motto. When asked about their enormous impact on Houston over two decades, Nahid warmly says, “We are thankful to all who have supported us on this journey.”
Bridging Cultures Through Cuisine
At Maroush Lebanese Grill, Farid and Rana Ajaka are trying to dispel misconceptions and build community through food. The husband-wife owners emigrated from war-torn Lebanon in the 1980s. After struggling to assimilate in their early years in Houston, they found hope in sharing their culture.
“We wanted to showcase the beauty of our homeland, not the war we escaped,” Rana explains. They opened Maroush in 1996 and pioneered Houston’s Middle Eastern food truck scene with Beirut Food Truck. Farid runs the kitchen using family recipes for tender shawarma, tangy fattoush salads, and scratch-made hummus.
Farid and Rana foster cultural connection through cooking classes and pop-ups inviting Houstonians to form their impressions about Lebanese heritage over a meal. “Food is the language that never needs translating,” Farid says. “Around a table, we are all family.”
Opulent Fashion Steeped in Tradition
Camila Kohan founded her eponymous luxury clothing line in Houston in 2011 after a lifelong love affair with fashion began as a child in Iran, dreaming of American magazines. Each Camila Kohan piece interweaves timeless elegance with a modern edge through rich fabrics, decadent embroidery, and regal silhouettes.
Camila oversees production in her Houston atelier to ensure each garment meets her lofty standards. Her artisan’s hand bead embellishments, hand embroider motifs, and hand stitch delicate details into each design. Her collections seamlessly translate across continents and are now available in high-end stores globally. While her business has scaled worldwide, Camila remains fiercely Texan, finding inspiration in Houston’s cosmopolitan energy.
“Anyone can be successful anywhere if they work hard enough,” says Camila. Her immigrant journey became a true American dream.
Masterworks in Stone from Persia to Texas
Arriving in Houston in 2011 with $400 and a background in geological engineering, Shahin Safarzadeh took a leap of faith to launch Persiano Tile & Stone. Each slab he imports from his native Iran is carefully vetted and selected for quality craftsmanship and ethical sourcing.
Today, Persiano adorns luxury homes and businesses across Houston with Shahin’s keen eye, ensuring each piece is flawlessly finished. He carefully manages every project, from sourcing the material to final installation. For Shahin, his thriving business signifies the potential Houston offers immigrants yearning for opportunity.
“If you have something to give, Houston will let you grow,” he says. Shahin’s stonework gifts Houston spaces with enduring Persian elegance.
Other Must Visit Iranian Businesses in Houston
Kasra Persian Grill – Founded in 2003 by Ali and Tiffany Kashanchi, this upscale restaurant brings a contemporary flare to classic Persian dishes like fesenjan stew and sabzi polo with fresh herbs and rice.
Ariana Rug Gallery – Owner Alex Aminmansour travels to Iran yearly to hand-select one-of-a-kind tribal and city carpets to bring back to Houston. Open since 1994, Ariana is a destination for quality Persian rugs.
Ali Baba Persian Sweets – Specializing in baklava, gaz, and other Iranian pastries since 1986, this sweet shop is a staple for Houston’s Iranian community to find authentic treats.
Persepolis Market – Since 1988, Persepolis has supplied Houstonians with Iranian goods, from spices to cookware to frozen meals. Owners Reza and Fahimeh Kamarei import specialty items.
AG Rug Gallery – Proprietor Ahmed Ghane has outfitted Houston homes and businesses with hand-knotted Persian rugs since opening in 2003. The gallery has an extensive inventory of new and antique carpets.
Caspian Grille (Stafford) – Serving Houston for over 25 years, Caspian Grille founders Vahid and Nazi Dastmalchi share northern Iranian cuisine like kuku sabziherbed frittata and dizi lamb shank stew at this halal eatery. Vahid himself greets diners while overseeing the kitchen, crafting family recipes. Caspian also offers catering and grocery items to take the flavors home.
King Tut Café & Grill (West University Place) – Since 1987, the Menu family has welcomed Houstonians to their Egyptian and Persian restaurant. Distinguished by its courtyard patio and colorful mural, King Tut is cherished for authentic stuffed grape leaves, lamb shawarma, and Turkish coffee. The cafe gives back by donating meals to shelters and providing jobs for new immigrants.
Sofreh Rug Gallery (Sugar Land) – Proprietor Bijan Mashayekhi travels to Iran twice yearly to hand-pick Hamadan, Kerman, and Kashan carpets to bring back to his Houston showroom. For over 30 years, Sofreh Rug Gallery has provided quality new and antique rugs to Houston area homes and businesses.
Shiraz Restaurant (Midtown) – Serving Houston since 1984, Shiraz Restaurant has become the go-to destination for Northern Iranian specialties, from scratch-made kebabs to duck fesenjan stew. Under the care of owner Fariba Maddah, Shiraz upholds the Persian tradition of hospitality in an elegant yet cozy atmosphere.
Partow’s Rug Gallery (Memorial) – Owner Arsalan Partow established this family-run business in Houston in 1977, bringing direct-imported tribal and city carpets to Houstonians seeking quality Persian rugs. Their extensive inventory includes new, antique, and vintage rugs in various designs and materials.
Like a rich Persian tapestry, Houston’s identity is woven from many cultural threads. The Iranian community has greatly enriched this fabric as visionary chefs, fashion artists, and artisans. Their ventures have redefined dining and culture while giving back through community service and philanthropy. Their investments in Houston over the past decades continue to shape the city for the better.