Interview with the Ariarad Sisters – Founders of Irvine Grill + Aria Kitchen

February 7, 2024

Mahta and Ana Ariarad (Image Credit : Irvine Standard)

By Iman Sadri

The Ariarad sisters are to Persian cuisine what the Williams sisters (Serena + Venus) are to tennis. Ana + Mahta Ariarad. Two young entrepreneurs with decades of culinary experience already between them. They are the founders and owners of Irvine Grill and Aria Kitchen, two outstanding locales in the heart of Orange County. Irvine Grill is far and away the best Persian restaurant in Irvine. Aria Kitchen is a Spanish-Persian fusion with an eclectic menu of flavors.

To catch up with these two prolific Persians, culinary experts and business leaders in the community, Ana + Mahta Ariarad shared insight into their illustrious journey behind and in front of the kitchen with an interview – into a career that is just warming up.

Aria Kitchen – The new Persian Spanish fusion restaurant by the Ariarad Sisters

The Persian Observer : Thank you for making time for this Q+A with The Persian Observer. Please describe your early life, education and upbringing.

Ana Ariarad: I received my master’s in health administration from Cal State Fullerton, and worked/volunteered a lot in hospitals. During my time in the hospitals, is when I realized that it wasn’t the right path for me. I did a lot of reflecting and realized that my happiest times were working with my family in the restaurants. So, I decided to make a change. 

Sumptuous Persian cuisine @ Irvine Grill (Image Credit Yelp)

Mahta Ariarad: We both grew up in the Irvine Market, our dad was working 7 days a week there. So, if we wanted to spend time with him, we had to go to the restaurants. I also grew up riding horses and was in the stables or with my dogs for a huge majority of my upbringing. I received my bachelor’s in business economics from UC Irvine, and then took about a year off, and then applied to business school. I went to Columbia University for business school for a year but then COVID-19 hit so I returned home and finished remotely. 

The Persian Observer : Describe some of the highlights of your experiences growing up around Caspian and Super Irvine, owned by your family. 

Ana Ariarad : Customer happiness and appreciation in all our businesses has always been the biggest highlight.  Opening the new Irvine Café was also a big deal to us, and we felt a huge sense of accomplishment when that came to fruition. 

Mahta Ariarad : I used to sell CDs in the CD section of Super Irvine, which was my favorite thing to do. Many kids would come in who were my age and was really fun to see them and talk about CDs together. Everyone grew up going to Super Irvine, so I was always seeing people I knew which made it so much fun. 

Irvine Grill always offers fresh poultry (Image Credit Yelp)

The Persian Observer : What were some of the jobs / experiences you had at Caspian and Super Irvine ? How did your family manage / run both simultaneously  ?

Ana Ariarad : I did the payroll at Super Irvine for a very long time and learned a lot from that. It gave me a lot of insight into how the business works and made me feel prepared to venture out with my sister to the new restaurants. 

The sleek design of Aria Kitchen (Image Credit Yelp)

Mahta Ariarad : Both my sister and I were both baggers, and helped the stockers bring product forward. I did more bagging than anything though. And because Caspian and Super Irvine were right next to each other we were able to manage both. 

The Persian Observer : What were some of your culinary career experiences leading up to Irvine Grill? 

Ana Ariarad : Prior to Irvine Grill, all my culinary career experiences were at Super Irvine. 

Mahta Ariarad : Same for me, I learned everything at Irvine Grill. 

The Persian Observer : When did the concept of Irvine Grill come about ? When did you open the restaurant ? How did you craft the menu ? 

Ana Ariarad : The concept came from the Irvine Café, because customers were always saying that they would love it if they could sit down and have a fine dining experience with their food. 

Mahta Ariarad : At the Irvine Café, we only had about 4 tables, and we really want to expand and have more space so that more of our customers could sit down and enjoy their food. 

Aria Kitchen’s artisan appetizers (Image Credit Instagram)

The Persian Observer : What are your Top 3 personal favorite Persian dishes of all time ? Favorite (Persian khoresht) – (favorite Persian appetizer) and favorite poultry or beef dishes ? 

Ana Ariarad : My favorite would have to be Celery stew, or Fesenjan which is a Walnut pomegranate stew, and then Saffron Ice Cream Cake is my favorite dessert

Mahta Ariarad : Celery Stew is also one of my favorites, as well as Barberry Rice, and Shallot yogurt is my favorite dessert. 

The Espresso Martini at Aria Kitchen (Image Credit Instagram)

The Persian Observer : What are the keys to maintaining fresh quality dishes as you when passing recipes down generations or to new chefs ? 

Ana Ariarad : Our advantage when it comes to fresh quality ingredients is the market, because we get a fresh delivery of products every single day. Where as other restuanrst might get one delivery every week or so and have to freeze their ingredients. Do you know which market they are talking about? I didn’t catch it.

Aria Kitchen’s Spanish Persian fusion (Image Credit Instagram)

The Persian Observer : The Irvine Standard wrote that you are bringing back Super Irvine – that’s great news. What is the outlook on that ? 

Mahta Ariarad : We will be bringing back Super Irvine, in 2024. It will be a more global approach to the market, along with a Persian section it will also have Russian, Turkish, Italian, Indian, and more. And we will have a lot of specialty imported products.

Artistic and flavorful dishes at Aria Kitchen (Image Credit Instagram)

The Persian Observer : What are the keys to being entrepreneurial as you are to be able successfully run and manage two restaurants of the highest caliber simultaneously ? 

Ana Ariarad : For both of us it was instilled from a young age. We were used to a very fast paced life and for me and Mahta we were able to share a lot of tasks and split time between the different businesses to optimize our time. We are also very good at delegating, which is crucial to operating restaurants. And we have had to become better at that, because in 2020 at the Irvine Grill we had begun to get burned out. But we both learned from that and became better at delegating and communicating.  

The Three Stew Appetizer Plate at Irvine Grill (Image Credit Instagram)

The Persian Observer : For your recipes and cooking methods at Irvine Grill do you apply the same methodology from your days at Caspian ? + What are keys to becoming the experts that you have become in Persian culinary cuisine? 

Mahta Ariarad : All credit to becoming ‘experts’ goes to our Mom and Dad. From a very young age, we were in and around the kitchen and learned so much from both of them. We got a lot of recipes and ideas from our dad, who got most of his recipes from his mom and aunt. So, there is a lot of family history, love, and tradition in our dishes. A good percentage of your clientele are international and non-Persian foodies. How proud of that fact are you ? 

Ana Ariarad : Our mission is to make Persian food and Persian-inspired food accessible to everyone. We really want to create a menu and a place where there is something for everyone, whether you are Persian or not. And we believe that is why our clientele is so diverse.

Mahta Ariarad : We do our best to cater to everyone, so we are very proud of the fact that our customers come from so many different backgrounds. 

The Persian Observer : Imagine you are 100 years and writing your Wikipedia page. What are some future culinary goals on that list ?

Mahta Ariarad : A goal of ours would be to franchise Irvine Grill. Keeping the quality of our food is the only concern with that. Our main focus has always been catering to the community and making a place that they are happy to go to and to say “This is owned by Persian sisters”. Persians have always been their biggest supporters and that is something we think we will be remembered by.  

The Persian Observer : Have any travels inspired your food?

Mahta + Ana Ariarad : Elements of our travels are going to show in the design of the new Super Irvine Market, and influence our overall perspective on food and dining. 

Follow the sisters on their restaurant’s social media pages @AriaKitchen_ + @IrvineGrill_