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Taste of Persia

12 West 18th Street
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Saeed Pourkay, sitting with the Manhattan Sideways team at the back of Pizza Paradise, leaned back in his chair to check on his counter at the front of the restaurant. His business, Taste of Persia, is nestled comfortably into the window of this 18th Street pizzeria. The front window holds a collage of printed stories about Saeed and his food, including a New York Times rave review, and one Old-West wanted poster which prominently features Saeed in a cowboy hat.

As he leaned back into our conversation, Saeed shared, “As a kid - around eight or nine years old - I used to help my mom in the kitchen. I always loved to surprise her: she was going shopping and by the time she came back I had something ready for her to eat. That was a talent that I think led me to open my own place, because I do have a passion for food” - a passion that spoke for itself in the steaming, aromatic dishes set before us on the table.

Saeed moved to the U.S. from Tehran, Iran, when he was twenty-five - the last of his family to do so. He followed his parents and five siblings. When he arrived in New York, he joined his three brothers in business at a graphics shop directly across the street from where Taste of Persia can now be found. “Even David Bowie was bringing his childhood pictures,” Saeed told us, and yet “somehow I wasn’t too happy with what I was doing.” And so he departed the city: “I went to China. I went to Japan. I made some bad investments and I left with no money in my hands. At that time I had no place to live.” Saeed moved back to Iran for a quarter of a year to live in his family’s house. He began visiting different restaurants with reputations for their cuisines to build upon his childhood interest in cooking. “I learned so many things at that time, and I decided to come back.” Still, though, he had no place to live and no money. “So what did I do? I went to a friend of mine. He had a warehouse in Brooklyn Navy Yard and I asked him to let me sleep between boxes . . . I was living for almost a year in Brooklyn Navy Yard between the boxes coming from China, with my Baume et Mercier and my computer and every morning getting a cold shower [in] the sink that they used to wash their mop.”

After some time, when he felt ready, Saeed made the leap and met with Urban Space Management and asked if he could rent a stall at the Christmas market to sell his soup - and they agreed. That winter, Saeed ran a booth at the Union Square Market, where he began to sell his now much-anticipated, overwhelmingly comforting Ash Reshteh soup, an Iranian traditional dish.

While you can still find him at the market every winter, Saeed decided to open his own little space in 2013. He proudly told us that he works seven days a week at Taste of Persia. He runs the business by himself, “shopping, cooking, selling, and being so kind with people.” His customers are constantly blown away by what he does. “At this point my life has a meaning, because I wasn’t happy before; now, I am happy because every day I open this place I meet so many wonderful people, and I have so many friends.”

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