Home is where the heart is.
That saying goes hand-in-hand with my family’s decision to move to Lincoln. One look at the entrance to Yia Yia’s, and those memories always come flooding back.
This is the town where my father made some of his fondest memories while attending school in the late ’50s. It was the place he knew one day he’d hopefully return to and raise a family.
And that’s exactly what he did.
After the Iranian Revolution, my parents packed up everything and made the trek out west to start a new chapter in our lives. It’s a chapter that would change everything for the better. It’s one that I can look back proudly on and say, “I’m glad we did it.”
Staying in town
Of course, our journey didn’t come without its struggles.
We got into the restaurant business and struggled for many, many years. Honestly, it was a financial trap in the beginning. Back then, I went to school on the east coast and would come to Lincoln during summertime to help out with the family business. Frankly, that’s pretty much how I gained my first experiences in the industry.
While I certainly had the opportunity to go someplace else, there was one thing that compelled me to stay: a woman.
Not an uncommon start to a great story, and mine was no different. I fell in love with the woman that has been by my side now for 30 years.
So I stayed and started a family of my own.
But I also began to fall in love with the restaurant business. The community I was able to build around it was just fascinating. Experiencing the support of the people during my early years here in Lincoln meant the world to me.
A leap of faith
Things really started to take flight when an opportunity arose for me to buy Yia Yia’s.
Which, in full honesty, wasn’t actually the plan. I was supposed to help my friend sell the business, but there was something inside of me that kept telling me to buy it.
So I eventually took that leap of faith and did just that.
Yia Yia’s has helped change my perspective of the food business to the point where I started tapping into a bigger audience. I’ve had so much socioeconomic exposure and interest in dining trends to the point where I’d even call myself an addict. Just seeing and understanding how we serve, consume, and come together for food at the table has always been a passion of mine.
More importantly, however, Yia Yia’s presented me with an opportunity to stand face-to-face with my customers. There are three points of contact that I have to manage: the welcome at the door, taking the order at the register, and hopefully, a thank you and a goodbye upon departure.
I’ve been doing that now for 20 years. And it’s one of my favorite things about the restaurant business.
But my goal is to always avoid complacency. I’m always looking to break barriers by doing something new and exciting. Not only did we open up a second Yia Yia’s location a couple of years ago, we also own a bar (Marz Bar), had a burrito business at one point, and also explored a ramen concept right next to our Yia Yia’s location downtown.
The great thing about Lincoln is the community has changed so much ethically that there’s room to be a little creative with new ideas and new foods.
There’s nothing wrong with branching out a bit or being unique. Those are basically the core values of how Yia Yia’s was founded in the first place. A friend of mine had the unique vision of building a pizza-by-the-slice business, along with the idea to serve beers that were either imports or from a few states making local brews.
I loved that concept from the very beginning and stuck with it ever since.
Paying it forward
I’m just thankful to be part of a community that supports new ideas from local businesses.
The No. 1 thing that made me choose Yia Yia’s in Lincoln is the people.
I’m blessed to say every relationship for me seems to have a flavor that’s personal, real, and genuine—whether it’s with a supplier, my car mechanic, my plumber, or my mailman.
I honestly don’t know the reason. Maybe it’s because we don’t have a big struggle commuting or shopping, and people aren’t constantly trying to get ahead of each other to get somewhere. There’s something about this place that allows us to take time to be kind and nice to one another.
I love that about Lincoln, and I’m thankful for every day I get to wake up here.
Times haven’t been the easiest this year, but I have been blessed with continued local support. The trickle-down effect is us always trying to pay it forward by doing the same for our neighbors as well.
If we all continue doing that, we’ll come out of this thing stronger than ever before.