Atlanta Orders In: Online market supports Persian restaurants during pandemic

A serving of koobideh kabob from Persian Basket. CONTRIBUTED BY GREEN OLIVE MEDIA
A serving of koobideh kabob from Persian Basket. CONTRIBUTED BY GREEN OLIVE MEDIA

Credit: green olive media

Credit: green olive media

Divan, Persian Basket Kitchen & Bar open for dine-in, takeout

Online marketplaces have thrived during the pandemic, providing stay-at-home shoppers a convenient way to purchase groceries and get them delivered to their door. One of those online outlets is Johns Creek-based Persian Basket.

Max Lotfi and his wife, Arezoo Armaghan, launched PersianBasket.com in 2015, shipping imported Persian pantry staples like saffron, pistachios and date molasses nationwide. As the demand for ready-to-eat meals rose, they added those to their offerings. They used the kitchen at Divan, their restaurant in Buckhead, to make meaty delights like kabob koobideh, and stews such as ghormeh sabzi, then trucked the food to the Persian Basket warehouse in Marietta, where orders were processed and shipped.

Duck leg confit is one of the offerings at Persian Basket. CONTRIBUTED BY GREEN OLIVE MEDIA
Duck leg confit is one of the offerings at Persian Basket. CONTRIBUTED BY GREEN OLIVE MEDIA

Credit: GREEN OLIVE MEDIA

Credit: GREEN OLIVE MEDIA

Early this year, they looked to streamline operations by relocating the Persian Basket warehouse to Johns Creek, planning to use that space for the online business as well as a cozy brick-and-mortar specialty shop open to the public. In an adjacent building, they envisioned a sister restaurant to Divan, Persian Basket Kitchen & Bar, focusing not on the dishes most often seen on Persian menus, but on the type of food Persians prepare at home. “At Persian homes, you get items never offered at Persian restaurants,” Lotfi said. The restaurant kitchen would double as the prep space for making prepared meals sold online.

However, in mid-March, Lotfi and Armaghan closed Persian Basket Kitchen & Bar, just weeks after its debut. They also locked the doors at Divan. Suddenly, the online store became their sole source of revenue. Fortunately, the online customer base they’d established five years earlier was hungry to support them.

“So many orders were coming in,” Lotfi said. “It was a crazy time.”

Business was brisk enough throughout the spring that Lotfi did not lay off any of the 25 employees at the two restaurants. Rather, those staffers were enlisted to fulfill online orders.

Persian Basket has a dining room (seen here) and a spacious patio. CONTRIBUTED BY GREEN OLIVE MEDIA
Persian Basket has a dining room (seen here) and a spacious patio. CONTRIBUTED BY GREEN OLIVE MEDIA

Credit: green olive media

Credit: green olive media

Divan reopened in May for dine-in service and takeout. Persian Basket followed in June, opening its dining room and spacious patio, as well as a curbside pickup option for those who felt safer enjoying their meal at home. Business at the well-established Divan steadily is coming back, Lotfi said. It’s a different story at the sister restaurant in Johns Creek, which barely had time to establish itself before closing.

As with most restaurants, Divan and Persian Basket are following all CDC guidelines, but one aspect of their coronavirus playbook is unique. Every day, at least one employee is tested for COVID-19, and every employee is tested every two weeks.

The idea for regular, recurring testing was from Lotfi’s wife, a pharmacist by training, who worked for years at Northside Hospital.

Lotfi is hopeful that 2021 brings a vaccine. In the meantime, “we just have to make it work,” he said.

The menu at Persian Basket includes trout and herb rice. CONTRIBUTED BY GREEN OLIVE MEDIA
The menu at Persian Basket includes trout and herb rice. CONTRIBUTED BY GREEN OLIVE MEDIA

Credit: GREEN OLIVE MEDIA

Credit: GREEN OLIVE MEDIA

The couple also looks forward to the grand opening of their Persian Basket Market store in a matter of weeks.

PERSIAN BASKET KITCHEN & BAR

Menu: full Persian menu

Alcohol: wine and beer to go, cocktails for on-premises dining

What I ordered: borani, Beyond koobideh, akabr joojeh duck leg confit, roasted rainbow trout, morasa rice, ghormeh sabzi stew, spice roasted lamb rib chops, baklava cheesecake, bergamot roulette. These were among the most delicious, aromatic and satisfying dishes I’ve experienced in four months of ordering takeout. The presentation was stunning, particularly the morasa rice, which was studded with chopped nuts and dried fruits. The rainbow trout came with an exceptional sauce, along with herbed basmati rice and zeitoon parvardeh, a Persian olive tapenade. Folks who love dipping need to get the borani (yogurt blended with spinach and spices) and swipe it up with warm naan. It was hard to believe the Beyond koobideh was vegetarian. The baklava cheesecake combined the best of two classic desserts.

Service options: dining room or patio dining, curbside pickup; order pickup via phone; no delivery; ready-made meals and Persian groceries via persianbasket.com

Safety protocols: following all CDC guidelines; employee temperatures taken daily; regular employee testing; gloves and masks worn; hand sanitizer available to patrons; restaurant is professionally sanitized every two weeks

Address, phone: 2100 Ray Moss Connector, Johns Creek; 770-674-2779

Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays

Website: persianbasketatl.com

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