Editor’s note: Sometimes when an interview officially ends, the best parts of a story emerge. In addition to the Nov. 2 podcast interview with Majid Ghavami, we wanted to share these additional bits on the Nov. 19 closing of Majid’s restaurant.
There’s hardly a less significant date than Nov. 19. It’s too early to be Thanksgiving, 20 days past Halloween and two weeks post-election day.
But for Majid Ghavami, owner of Majid’s in St. Matthews, Nov. 19, 1975, was the day he began working in restaurants, and Nov. 19, 2016 will be when his career ends.
Forty-one years ago, Ghavami, then a 20-year-old Iranian immigrant, took a job at a Jerry’s Restaurant in Richmond, Ky. Making $2.86 per hour, he had no idea he’d go on to manage and own some of Louisville’s best restaurants, but he discovered then that he liked the energy of the business.
“What can I say? It happened,” Ghavami said, his trademark smile punctuating the memory. “I knew I really enjoyed it.”
With a plan to enroll in college in 1977, Ghavami moved to Louisville with the blessings of his boss at Jerry’s, who told him to apply for another dishwasher’s spot at the now-closed Jerry’s at Eastern Parkway and Crittenden Drive. Recalling that he wore a suit to the interview made him grin again, yet he took pride in the humble work.
“When my boss would come by my station, I was always wiping, cleaning it,” he said. Seeking more money, he took a job as a lunch server at Mama Grisanti. “My paycheck washing dishes would range between $48 and $62 a week!”
Ghavami would later become a captain at its sister concept, the famed Casa Grisanti, and subsequently, its general manager. He took the same post with the opening of Vincenzo’s in 1986, where he served Humana employees who’d eventually lead him to work for the healthcare corporation.
“But I always moonlighted (at Vincenzo’s) because I liked the work, and I loved the guests,” Ghavami said. “Vincenzo (Gabrielle) … he taught so many of us. What an incredible mentor.”
While continuing to work at Humana, he opened Saffron’s Persian Cuisine in 2001, before selling it several years later to focus on his partnership in Volare Italian Ristorante. Ghavami eventually left that restaurant to go it alone again by starting Majid’s in 2013.
When he speaks of the restaurant’s upcoming closure, it’s with pride that he’s had a good run, that every restaurant touched was “as good as we could make it.” He said he’ll miss the live music at Majid’s, and the vibe it created in its spacious and elegant lounge.
“It’s pretty, really pretty,” Ghavami said to himself, standing outside the restaurant and looking in through the front doors left open on the perfect, 70-degree Halloween evening.
As if realizing suddenly that the moment was among the few remaining he’ll have in the location, he pulled his smartphone from his pocket and took pictures.
“I’ll be sorry to see that taken apart,” he said, gesturing toward the long and ponderous rectangular bar. “It’s all going when they come in.”
“They” is two parties: Paul’s Fruit Market will expand into a portion of the 6,000 square-foot space, while an Indian buffet restaurant will take the rest.
“Oh, there’s so much to organize and move and get rid of,” said, Ghavami, sighing heavily and exhaling a nimbus of cigarette smoke. Asked about the destiny of hundreds of bottles of spirits and wine in its bar, his expansive grin returned before he said, “They’re going with me. I’m going to have the best retirement!”
Ghavami said there there’s no special farewell party planned for the 19th. In fact, he said, “I hope it’s not busy. I really do.”
He knows loyalists will be there to wish him well, and he wants to spend at least a little time with each. Though not the city’s most famous restaurant personality, his personal touch has made him one of its most beloved.
“I think it’s going to be really busy that night,” a bartender, said. “People will want to say goodbye to you and come visit one last time.”
“Oh, maybe, but I hope not,” he replied. “But if it is … well, it is.”
He admitted that his mind is on spending Thanksgiving in Key West, Fla., with Debbie, his wife of 30 years, and their 26-year-old daughter, Marissa Ghavami. Though he took a break from Humana about a decade ago, he returned to his director’s job there in 2012. The upcoming rest will be well deserved.
“I am looking forward to that, having one job,” he said. “My wife keeps wondering what I’ll do with all that time, and I don’t have an answer for her yet. But I’m looking forward to it.”