New Persian Restaurant Brings Unique Flavors to Downtown Covington
In what is quickly becoming a destination for diners who enjoy eating a variety of international foods, the Central Business District in Covington has added an authentic Persian restaurant to its growing list of options. Owned by Jonathan Azami, 39, and his wife, House of Grill specializes in authentic Persian foods, including kebabs, stews and salads. The restaurant, located in the former Blend space at 14 E. 5th Street in Covington, officially opened its doors on March 23 and will celebrate its grand opening with a ribbon cutting today at 4 p.m. On Wednesday, The River City News sat down with Azami to learn more about Persian food, why the couple moved to Covington, and what diners can expect to experience at the restaurant.
RCN: Welcome to Covington! Tell us about the food at House of Grill.
Azami: The food is Persian-style food. The landscape of Persia, or what is now known as Iran, is more mountains and hills. Iran is home to one of the tallest mountains in the world - the Alborz - and the people there need animals they can raise on that type of mountain, such as goats and sheep. They also have cattle, but they are more famous for their milk and not their meat in Iran. Most of the meats are kebabs. We also plan on offering a different type of stew every Saturday. One Saturday it will be fesenjan, a traditional Persian stew made with pomegranate syrup, walnuts and chicken and the next Saturday we will serve veggie gormeh, a vegetarian stew served in Iran with potatoes.
The stews are a fancy, delicious, homestyle food. As the food cooks, you need a chef to stay on top of the pot to take care of the food and prepare the food for two hours. You also need a chef there before the pot goes on the burner to prepare the ingredients and follow the recipe. It takes time.
All of the plates that we offer for $7.99 come with a half-plate of rice and a half-plate of salad. This is the normal salad that they serve in Iran. It is a lettuce salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, cranberries and feta. The dressing that we offer is a special Persian dressing. It has less calories because it is mixed with vinegar, syrup and basic ingredients. Most of the Persian food is steamed or barbecued, so it is healthier. We also use original butter, not whipped butter or margarine. The real stuff. Everything we prepare is very fresh. My wife is very picky when it comes to our produce and the other ingredients.
RCN: What is your background in food?
Azami: I graduated with a degree in horticulture and food science from one of the best universities in Iran. I know food. I was part of a famous magazine - Farmers - in Iran where I was head of the engineering chapter of the magazine. I was also one of the members of the National Food Association and Processing Services in Iran, which is responsible for helping all of the food producers and processors in Iran. My dad was an agriculture graduate as well. The produce and meat was common in our family because we had both graduated in that field. Everyone in Iran cooks their own food. Occasionally, you will go to a restaurant but other than that, everyone cooks the food in their home. Since I graduated in horticulture and food services, I've been traveling all over the world. I’m a food lover. Everywhere I was going, I was going to try the food, ask about recipes, and ask about the ingredients, especially when it was delicious to me.
RCN: How did you get into the restaurant business?
Azami: My wife is the best chef ever. She is a very good chef and has been catering for one year for a Persian company in Northern Kentucky. Her food, her stew, her chicken kebab, is the best.
Before we opened House of Grill, I was running another business and finally after three years we said, "Since we don’t have time to see each other, how about we mix it together and open one business and then we can see each other and have fun?" I am almost 40 and she is 35. We love to party. We love to see our people. We love to host people. That’s how we decided to go with her business. Bring the catering in here, open a small cozy restaurant, have our friends and family gather together and enjoy the rest of our lives. We opened on March 23. The first day we had 35 customers in here and served 42 meals. They all left happy. Within the first 14 days, we’ve had eight five-star Facebook reviews, 210 new friends on Facebook and we got four reviews on Yelp, all five stars. In 14 days, we’ve served more than 400 people. Everybody’s happy about the food.
RCN: Where will you source the ingredients at the restaurant?
Azami: The farmers market is going to be our first choice in the spring and summer. A farmers market is local and we love to give our business to local farmers. In the future, if we can talk to the farmers and give them seeds for some of the vegetables we are using, hopefully they can grow them. They have a better taste, in my opinion.
RCN: Why did you decide to open in Northern Kentucky, specifically Covington?
Azami: To be honest with you, I love the state of Kentucky. I grew up with a love for the cowboy lifestyle – farmers and horse riders and hunters. There are three states in the United States that you can find the "Wild West." One is Kentucky. Another is Texas. The third is Wyoming. That is why I love Kentucky.
Another reason is that my cousin has been living in Kentucky for 20 or 25 years. He graduated in Cincinnati, but is living in Ludlow. I moved from San Diego and moved to Kentucky and fell in love with the community, especially Covington and Newport. They are beautiful cities with beautiful historic buildings, beautiful bridges, and nice river views. I think they are more classic than Cincinnati. I think Covington and Newport are historical and modern, a combination of both. I like classic America. It reminds me of the old days and the Civil War. I love history and our country’s history.
I also heard that Madison Avenue is a very famous street for dining. I searched around Madison and found an ad for this space, which is very close to Madison. I have found that if you are in a smaller city, you have a better chance. If you are a good person and provide a good service to the community, they will help you.
RCN: What are your plans for the future?
Azami: This is a small business and we are running it together. At this point, we are trying not to spend too much money. It’s a new food. Northern Kentucky doesn’t have a Persian restaurant, but Louisville has a very busy Persian restaurant. We want to let the customer taste the food and understand the food and understand the quality of the food and then we can grow. You can always spend money to try and grow. When you’re not big and you run out of money, you have to close your business. I’ve been doing business for almost 22 years, since I was 18. I know how to run a business. I know how to start a small business from zero.
We’ve been thinking about opening a small hookah bar behind the restaurant. If you go to northern Theran, there are alleys that are kept very natural with great views of the mountains. In the alley, there are gardens with older style wood outdoor furniture. You can eat a kebab with nice, fresh vegetables, drink Persian tea, and smoke hookah. It's about sitting, talking, drinking tea, and enjoying hookah. Everything is tradition. We have also decided to offer live music in the future and bring in traditional dancers with live Persian music one or two nights a week. We want to make the atmosphere a friendly atmosphere.
RCN: Is there anything else you'd like to share about the business?
Azami: We are currently open Sunday-Thursday from 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. - 11 p.m. We are on Facebook, Yelp and have a page on Google. I would also like to mention that because the food is cooked fresh, it is taking about 15-20 minutes for the food to be ready. If someone thinks we are a fast food restaurant, we are not that kind of restaurant. It’s rice, it’s salad – you need to prepare the salad. The kebabs on the grill take 15 minutes to be cooked. If you are in hurry, call us and we’ll prepare it and get it ready and you can pick it up in 15-20 minutes.
- Staff report