Taste Of Persia, a beloved local Persian restaurant nestled inside of a nondescript pizza place in the Flatiron district, is closing.
"Customers are shocked by the news, everybody is shocked, and very disappointed," owner Saeed Pourkay, who made the announcement on Facebook just before the new year, told Gothamist today. "I have to leave the space by the end of the month. I have to find a new spot, I have to start looking."
Pourkay, who emigrated to NYC from Tehran, ran a print shop on 18th Street for two decades before cashing out and becoming a professional cook. He first developed a following at the Union Square holiday market selling ash reshteh (a popular, thick soup) before he opened the location inside Pizza Paradise on 12 West 18th Street in early 2013.
As we wrote in 2016, "What Taste of Persia lacks in ambiance it more than makes up for in hospitality. Order from the frequently-changing menu in Pourkay's little island of steam tables up by the front door and carry your tray to one of the rickety tables in the back. You will feel happy here."
Pourkay told Gothamist that the trouble started in late 2019, when the owner of Pizza Paradise sold the business to another group—"Before signing the contract, they came to me and said, 'don't worry, you'll stay.'" He said they also raised his rent a little bit at the time, which Pourkay took as a sign he wouldn't be going anywhere. "When they signed the contract about 20 days ago," he told us, "the new owner asked me to leave. They screwed me. I don't want to say anything bad about the new owners, but that's the reality."
"Honestly, the reason I've been here is that I paid almost $4K a month for that little space," he explained. "I don't have any money to go and rent a place right now—as you know, New York is expensive." Because of the short notice, Pourkay says he hasn't been able to scout for a new location yet.
The new owners could not be reached for comment, and Pourkay declined to identify them. A manager at Pizza Paradise offered Gothamist a number for the new owner, and we will update when we hear back.
Pourkay says some frequent customers and friends are planning on making a GoFundMe to raise money to help him start up again at a new location. Pourkay estimates it will cost $50-60K to begin, especially because "a lot of customers are expecting a nicer place, a nicer restaurant, more seating."
That fundraiser isn't online yet, and Pourkay said he may want to take a break before diving into this next chapter: "To be honest with you, I'm so exhausted after eight years working seven days a week," he said. "This might be my only opportunity to go back home to Iran for a month or so, take a very short vacation, and come back."
But, he added, "I have two kids at home, I have to work."
One of his loyal customers is Gothamist contributor Matt Lubchansky, who went there almost every week when they worked in the neighborhood: "It was a truly special place and exposed me to a lot of food that's not otherwise easy to find in the city, especially in Manhattan," they said. "It was also a great place to take people since a lot of folks didn't know it was even there."
Other fans posted tributes to Pourkay on his Facebook page: "You provide so much for the Iranian-American community and for anyone willing to try Persian food," wrote Minna Partovi. "I hope you are able to plant your roots in the city when the time is right. Food brings down barriers and brings people together—that’s what you’ve always accomplished."