CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Nearly two years after Shiraz Grille closed, a new Persian restaurant has popped up on 28th Street.
“Everything (is) fresh, all made on the grill and hopefully I give something new to the community,” said Backyard restaurant owner Kourosh Shahbodaghloo.
Backyard restaurant is in its soft opening phase. Shahbodaghloo hopes to celebrate its grand opening soon, once all the necessary staff are hired and trained.
Before Backyard, Shahbodaghloo spent decades operating restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area that fed Congress members and famous basketball players. Now he’s launching his first restaurant focused on the food he grew up eating.
“I’m Persian originally. I came to this country a long, long time ago,” he said.
Shahbodaghloo first arrived in the United States in 1979 to welcome his first son. His wife had fled to the U.S. the year prior when the revolution in Iran began. But Shahbodaghloo only had a temporary visa.
“I went back home. Unfortunately they took the (American) hostages back in Iran and the war started between Iran and Iraq and they closed all the borders. Nobody could leave the country. But I had no choice to find another way of getting out of country. I… made my decision to escape. I wasn’t political or anything. I just, I just did it for my family,” he said emotionally.
Shahbodaghloo says he had to pay thousands of dollars to someone to help him make it over the border into Turkey.
“It was very difficult. I slept in the mountains for two weeks without eating anything,” he said. “We were…taking the roots, peeling it and chewing it, you know, to get rid of the thirst and stay alive. That was for a long time, we did that. But we survived.”
Shahbodaghloo spent four months in Turkey before securing his green card to live in the U.S.
“Now I’m here after forty-something years,” he said. “This country gave me a home to live… and I love this country, people are very nice. And I made it here, fortunately, with the hard work.”
FROM WASHINGTON, D.C. TO WEST MICHIGAN
Shahbodaghloo originally planned to open a Persian restaurant in Washington, D.C. in 2008. He traveled to Tehran to work in three of the top fine dining restaurants to learn how to properly prepare dishes only available in restaurants because of their complexity and ingredients.
“At each one I worked one month to learn the different way of making the food, how they do it, how they marinate it, how they prepare it. Some of the Persian food is really artwork,” he said.
But when Shahbodaghloo returned to D.C., the Great Recession was underway, putting his Persian restaurant plan on hold.
Shahbodaghloo began revisiting the idea a couple years ago but again shelved the concept when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, wreaking havoc on his existing restaurants.
“The restaurants got closed and everybody was sent home,” he said. “We weren’t able to do any business, just waiting and waiting until everything comes to normal. By that time, you know, we were just shrinking and the last restaurant we had, we said, ‘OK, we’ll close it down.’”
That’s when Shahbodaghloo decided to move back to the Grand Rapids area where he lived decades earlier and his wife still operates a salon.
“I love the city and I love the people,” he said.
BRINGING THE BACKYARD INSIDE
From the kitchen to the dining area, Backyard brings the feel of a summer barbecue inside for every season. Shahbodaghloo spent months transforming the former Moe’s Southwest Grill at 5070 28th St. SE just west of I-96. He took over the nearly 2,500-square-foot storefront in January and changed the floors, updated the bathrooms and refinished the dining area. A vine-wrapped pergola, mismatched chairs and checkered tablecloths now fill the space.
Inside the open kitchen, a specialty grill from California is always fired up and ready for the next round of kabobs. Backyard’s menu includes several varieties — from the marinated chicken Joojeh and seasoned salmon kabobs, to the labor intensive koobideh and costly filet mignon Barg made in small batches daily by Shahbodaghloo.
Backyard’s bread is also made fresh in a tandoor. Shahbodaghloo couldn’t get a clay oven from Iran because of sanctions, but he found this one in New York. Backyard’s baker carefully stretches and stamps the dough before slapping it onto the side of the tandoor. The pita bakes for about 45 seconds before the baker fishes it out of the oven using a long hook.
One thing you won’t find in Backyard is a freezer.
“I don’t freeze food because I don’t believe in that,” Shahbodaghloo said.
But you will find the culinary equivalent of gold in nearly every dish.
“I use a lot of saffron. As you know, saffron is the price of gold. If you want to buy gold, one kilo of gold is going to be the same price of saffron in this country,” Shahbodaghloo said.
Shahbodaghloo says he loses money on some costly menu items, “but I’m not that type of person just to charge people too much to make money… I lose money on one, I make money on the other one, they offset (each other). You know, I don’t need to be millionaire from this business. I just want to survive. I want people to have a job to make money for their family and put people to work.”
Shahbodaghloo says while other people are capitalizing on the growing popularity of Persian food by opening dozens of restaurants, he will only operate Backyard and give customers his best.
Shahbodaghloo is 72 years old now. He says he will continue to work at Backyard “as long as my body can function.”
“This is what I’m going to do for the time I am here. And hopefully I’m here as long as I can be, you know, that life permits. But this is what I’m going to do for the community.”
Backyard is open from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Shahbodaghloo hopes to eventually add lunch hours.