Taste of Persia at Union Square Holiday Market
“Persian cooking is not easy,” says Saeed Pourkay. “Everything must be fresh, and each dish takes 4- 5 hours to cook”. Born in Iran and having immigrated to New York City in 1978, Saeed’s interest in business started outside of the kitchen while working in the family business at a graphic house just four blocks north of Union Square.
As the neighborhood changed, so did the pa- per business, and so Saeed set out on his own to find his true passion.
While on an extended trip to Iran, Saeed decided to work for a few different restaurants during his stay to gain some experience in the kitchen, First we started at a Persian ice cream shop, then he moved to a bakery, learning the traditional ways of making Iranian food. Saeed realized his passion for cooking Iranian food, and returned to America to bring his new- found chef-status to the U.S. Upon returning, Saeed found himself without money, homeless, and depressed. He ended up sleeping in a friend’s warehouse in Brooklyn on broken down boxes with nothing but his laptop and watch to his name.
After a year of living in the warehouse, Saeed personally gave himself a tough talk about following his dream to become a chef. “I said to myself, Saeed, you’ve got to be brave enough to give this a try.” He came to Urbanspace in the winter of 2012 and rented a small pop up booth at the Union Square Holiday Market to sell his Persian Soup recipes. “ at’s the best place to experiment, to get an idea of how your business will be received, in a market like that”. Saeed served his favorite Iranian dish, Ash Reshteh soup. It was an immediate success, attracting long lines of customers. Soon, his booth at the Market caught the attention of local news, including Zagat and Eater. en, his story got picked up by BBC, NPR, and even the New York Times.
Saeed gained much notoriety and many customers at the Market, but didn’t have anywhere for people to come buy his soups outside of the holiday market. at’s when the Union Square neighborhood stepped in to help Saeed really start his business.
“I’ve been on this this block for 25 years. The owner of this pizza shop right across from
my old print shop said, ‘I’m going to give you my front window, you start your business and when you have money, give me my rent.’ He was so kind. And then on the other side of the street there was a Jewish guy who’s a friend of mine, he’s a super nice guy, and he had an appliance store. He says, ‘I’m going to give you a refrigerator and a freezer, and when you have the money, pay me back.’ In two or three months I paid him, and in two or three more months I started paying the rent. e whole neighborhood helped me out, to get up.’”
You’ll find Saeed among the food vendors at the Union Square Holiday Market, likely a with line mixed of veterans and first timers, excited to warm their souls and bellies with a Taste of Persia. ■