We spotted Kian Kazemi right away as we entered the newly-opened branch of his restaurant, Persia Grill, at the Sky Garden of SM North Edsa in Quezon City.
The Kapamilya host-actor greeted us warmly, "Kumusta po? Feel at home po."
Our tall, lean host himself, in his stylish formal outfit, looked very much at home in the classy ambiance of his resto. Indeed, Kian had invested wisely on interior design to achieve his vision of a "Modern Persian theme" —Moroccan lamps, imported vases, expensive ceiling drapes, and the comfy couch with bright-colored throw pillows.
"It's a place where you won't you be ashamed to bring your friends," said Kian when he finally had the time to sit for an interview with with PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal). "You know, if you are going on a first date, you wanna make an impression, parang di ba, maganda yung ambiance para mag-bond, plus, yung prices namin, hindi siya mahal."
HOW IT ALL BEGAN. Kian got his entrepreneurial spirit from his parents. His dad, who's 100 percent Iranian, and Filipina-Spanish mom are both "business-minded."
He related, "Lahat ng business, pinasukan nila. Dad ko, may Persian carpet; mom ko, binenta niya business niyang mga clothes retail, binenta niya na yung franchise. 'Tapos dati, may sinigang express kami. Basta, lahat na ng negosyo pinasukan na nila."
Persia Grill, according to Kian, is his concept. "Kasi, nag-aral ako ng HRIM (Hotel Restaurant and Institution Management). I studied in La Salle [Taft] and when I did OJT [on-the-job training] in Mandarin Hotel, sabi ko, 'I can't work for a boss, hindi ko kaya. I can't handle authority, lagi akong nasisisante...'"
That's why if you ask him where exactly he worked at Mandarin, he'd say, "Sisante department."
He elaborated, "I'm not good at authority, kasi pantay-pantay tayong tao, e, iba-iba lang yung trabaho, iba-iba yung careers. I respect the janitors, as I respect the artista for entertaining. I respect the janitor for cleaning, I respect the doctor...Kanya-kanya iyang trabaho pero pantay tayo, iba-iba lang yung ginagawa."
And so the 23-year-old La Salle alumnus set his sights on becoming his own boss.
He recalled, "College pa lang, I was [into] business na. I used to make sandwiches na kebab. Nagbebenta ako sa classmates ko, ha, hindi ako nahihiya. Sa La Salle, naka-amerikana kami, necktie, kasi yun ang uniform, e. Ako, yung bag ko, may mga pagkain, maaamoy na nila 'yan, 'O, Kian, ano bang meron ka ngayon?' Bibili na 'yan sila sa 'kin."
One day, he broached an idea to his parents, and the kebab sandwich turn into a kebab resto: Persia Grill.
PERSIA GRILL. Their first branch—situated in Valero, Salcedo Village, Makati—was only "60 square meters."
"Super liit," he described.
"Biglang after a year, sa sobrang successful nung business dahil napupuno siya, yung tao nagrereklamo sa liit, dahil ang liit. So, okay yung reklamo na yun, so sabi namin, para sa inyo, nung New Year nag-expand kami doble, times two. Parking lot yun, e, so nung pinalaki namin yun, yun na.
"We constructed the next branch, Megamall, yung sa bldg. A, we opened in the strip. And then we constructed the Greenbelt 5 branch, actually, beyond the Greenbelt 5, sa may Dela Rosa [corner] Legaspi, and then this is the fourth.
"So in a span of two years, apat."
And for each branch, they would upgrade the look. No two Persia Grill branches are exactly the same.
He said, "Yung ibang branch namin, yung pinagka-iba, mas classic ang look, mas intimate, maganda rin. Ito naman, gusto namin medyo modern, medyo mas bright, kasi yung iba, candle light, mas classic look. Ito naman, mas casual na modern Persian." So far, the SM North branch is the most costly in terms of construction.
KIAN'S KEBAB. We thought he was just using the common "we're cheap" pitch of salesmen when he said that the prices are affordable. On checking the menu, we found he wasn't bluffing. A cup of plain rice in Persia Grill is only 20 pesos. The side and main dishes range from 95 to 340 pesos. All meals under the Grill Special—usually served with rice or vegetable salad and yogurt—cost 235 to 290 pesos.
His mom recommended Tabouli, a salad dish made of parsley, tomatoes, and onions. It was so good that one of the people in our group commented: "It tastes almost authentic. There's an herb I couldn't name!"
We also tried the usual dishes we order at Kebab restaurants. The Chelo Kebab, Lamb Biryani, and Shawarma all get a "5" (with 5, being the highest); the Hummus, an appetizer made of garbanzo beans, 4.5; the Grilled salmon, 3.8; and the yoghurt shake, 5.1. Taste was the sole basis for our rating.
Kian also recommended Hummus, Lamb Biryani, and Chelo Kabab. "They're my favorites. "Hindi ako nagsasawang kumain dito kasi ginagawa ko, rotation yung menu, e, from top to bottom."
Every meal is prepared with love, said Kian proudly. "Yung fita bread, kami ang gumagawa niyan, handmade 'yan. Hirap 'yan, mga ganun-ganun, muscle na kami dito. Family recipe siya, so we cook it with love talaga."
JUGGLING SHOWBIZ AND BUSINESS. Right now, Kian's busy co-hosting the travel show Trip na Trip and taping for Habang May Buhay. And almost every free time he has goes to "checking the restaurants—yung quality ng food, yung system, yung employees..."
While he's still young, he makes sure his time is productive.
Kian said with emphasis, "Hindi ako naniniwala 'pag may nagsabi sa akin na, 'Sorry ha, busy, wala akong time.' I don't like that answer, there's always time, e. You have to try to make it, make time for it....It's understandable kung hindi puwede ngayon, maybe tomorrow or another day, but you can always find time.
"So what I do, I try to stay productive when I'm not in showbiz, and when I'm doing showbiz, my parents help me here. Ayokong maging idle, I don't wanna do nothing. Feeling ko sayang yung buhay, sayang yung oras 'pag wala tayong ginagawang okay. So do something productive, work out, or do business, or showbiz, or hang out with friends with whom you can have quality conversation-may substance, hindi yung usap lang kayo walang substance."
He sees the synergy between his being a celebrity and a restaurateur. "I think without my celebrity factor, the first branch wouldn't be as successful as it was. I came out PBB, 'sakto nagbukas kami, so prinomote ko, so 'sakto nakatulong. [They work] hand in hand," Kian analyzed.
What if more projects would come his way, and he'd be asked to let his business take the back seat?
His eyes sparkled and his voice was filled with passion as he replied, "Whatever God decides, it's up to him, but I'm willing to give both a try. My family is always here to support me, so if a time comes na I'm doing a lot of showbiz, my family will let me do it. They love to see me on TV, they love to watch me. Ako, gusto ko, e, nagpapatawa ng tao. Gusto ko ng tawanan e. Drama, natututo na ako. Hosting is my favorite."
Kian is determined to establish a good name in showbiz; at the same time, build an empire out of his business.
"Next time, invite ko kayo sa Kazemi Tower," he said with conviction. "It's a condotel you can rent, basta, a lot of dreams!"
He shared a quote that's one of his guidelines in life. "Solid itong quote na ito, nabasa ko sa elevator namin sa condo, "And in the end, it's not the years in your life that counts, it's the life in your years," so I believe in that. So I make my life worthwhile. Ang bilis ng buhay, e, so I wanna enjoy everything, do everything, enjoy it, no regrets. Let God do the rest—"
And he laughed, "Ayos, ha, vote Kian for President!"
What with all his achievements, so far, we won't be surprised if Kian Kazemi makes politics his cup of tea.