Welcome to Industry Talks, where Eater shines the spotlight on Atlanta chefs, bartenders, sommeliers, and restaurant owners to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their world.
Delbar chef and owner Fares Kargar learned to cook as a young child in his native home of Iran. His parents worked late, and he ended up cooking for his younger sister and elder brother. He learned to cook by watching his aunt and grandmother in the kitchen. But Kargar didn’t simply cover weeknight dinners.
“Since I was seven, eight, nine years old, I used to cook, I used to entertain people,” he says. “I would convince my mom and dad to throw family parties at the house so I could cook for everybody, and I had my signature dishes.”
Iranian men are enlisted in the army at 18, so when Kargar was 17, he took a train to Turkey and applied to come to the U.S. as a refugee. He arrived in Atlanta a year later, in 2007, re-enrolled in school, and worked different jobs to make ends meet. “One day when I was going to Kroger to pick up my paycheck, I saw a hiring sign at a restaurant. Surprisingly, [they] hired me, even though I had no real experience,” he says.
Kargar never considered a career in food or restaurants. Persian families typically push for their children to become doctors, engineers, or lawyers. His father worked in construction, so Kargar planned to study architecture. Getting a restaurant job, he says, made him realize working in hospitality could be a way of life. “I love it and I know how to do it,” he says. “The hardest part was delivering that message to my parents who were still in Iran.”
Five years later, and after rising to assistant general manager, Kargar left his first restaurant job to expand his horizons. “I knew how to run a restaurant,” he says. “I didn’t know how to own a restaurant.” A friend convinced him to apply for a server position at Rumi’s Kitchen, which gave him the knowledge he sought. Working at Rumi’s inspired Kargar to open his own Middle Eastern restaurant.
During 2018 and 2019, Kargar began to realize there was a growing appreciation for Middle Eastern food and restaurants in Atlanta. He knew it was time to leave Rumi’s and open his own place — not just serving Persian food and dishes he grew up on, but also dishes he experienced traveling around the Middle East. “We wanted to bring Persian food and Middle Eastern food in a way that wasn’t presented before,” he says. “Not just kebab and rice on a plate. Rumi’s put Persian food on the map [in Atlanta]. But everybody was doing everything the same way. I just didn’t want to be part of the same [band]wagon.”
The responses below were lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Who inspires you as a chef?
As a restauranteur, Ford Fry. His concepts are very well-done, from design to food to execution to hospitality. I try to get a lot of inspiration from Daniel Meyer’s books. I’m more interested in the entrepreneurialism when it comes to the restaurant business.
For food, I go back to the classics: my mom, my grandma, how they cooked things and did things. Sometimes I call my grandmother [and ask], “How do you make this dish? How do you make it come out that way and get the flavor?” I try to learn things [from watching YouTubers]. Locally, my inspiration is Ali [Mesghali] at Rumi’s, because he created something out of nothing, basically.
Favorite off-the-clock meal
My go-to is usually pizza. I have an Ooni oven at home that I make wood-fire pizza. For a while, it was tachin. I used to make lamb tachin a lot. One thing I love making is breakfast. I can eat breakfast 24/7, so shakshuka is a very big one for me.
Favorite restaurants in Atlanta
There’s a lot of restaurants I go to in the city for different reasons. My favorite food truck right now is a taco food truck called Vice, they make my favorite tacos in the city. [I also like] Hal’s, The Optimist, Rumi’s, Hen Mother Cookhouse, Buttermilk Kitchen, Panache, Houston’s, Umi, The Iberian Pig, Cooks and Soldiers, and the Storico restaurants and BoccaLupo.
Favorite restaurants while traveling
When I’m traveling, the only part of my agenda that I know is what restaurants I’m going to. I stay in the cities for the food they offer. I have a cousin who used to live in D.C. and I used to see him every weekend just to go to Maydan or Cava.
What are your future plans in restaurants?
To have Delbar open up almost everywhere. I’d love to keep expanding Middle Eastern cuisine and keep offering more and different concepts when it comes to Middle Eastern food.
What do you want to see more of on the Atlanta dining scene?
More authentic food. I feel like for a lot of parts in Atlanta, concepts are just a copy and paste of each other. That’s why I love Buford Highway, because the authentic foods are attentive, and a lot of times they’re just different foods. Nothing excites me more than eating new foods. I’d like to see smaller restaurants, like mine, grow up and serve more things that are unique.
Most underrated chef or chef to watch in Atlanta
Sean Park of sushi restaurant NoriFish. I was very surprised by the experience, and I found out other concepts were opening around Atlanta. I have a very good friend who has a breakfast restaurant [Hen Mother Cookhouse], her name is Soraya [Khoury]. If she ever wants to do a different concept, that’s what people should watch out for. Her food is a work of art.
Sarra Sedghi grew up in Georgia and is now a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Alabama, She graduated from the University of Georgia with a MFA in narrative nonfiction in 2017. Her work has appeared in Eater, Atlas Obscura, MyRecipes, Polygon, Taste of Home, Tasting Table, and Thrillist.