“It’s been a long journey,” Dara Mirjahangiry tells HollywoodLife in an EXCLUSIVE interview about the rise of his restaurant, Sei Less. Conceptualized in the quarantine as a member-only eatery celebrating hip-hop culture, Sei Less has quickly become the must-go destination for A-listers in New York since opening in January 2022. Quavo, Kevin Hart, Gunna, Meek Mill, Cardi B, and Travis Scott are some of the names that have eaten at Sei Less, but the true cosign came when Fabolous and French Montana dropped “Say Less.”
“Fabolous was actually the first celebrity that I ever met in my restaurant career in New York City,” Mirjahangiry tells HollywoodLife. Born in Iran, Dara and his family immigrated to the U.S. when he was two years old. Growing up in America, Dara pursued a career in the hospitality industry, and that allowed him to connect with A-listers before they blew up. He tells HL he was “building these relationships for years,” with one being with the “Into You” rapper. “So, it came full circle by having [Fabolous] shout me out in one of his songs. Having a song about the restaurant that I opened in January was just one of the most gratifying things that could’ve happened,” says Mirjahangiry.
The food – a dynamic Asian Fusion menu prepared by Chef Allen Ma – is just one reason why Sei Less is a premiere destination for hip-hop titans. The restaurant is also a place where the culture, and those who create it, gets the appreciation it deserves. “When we say the culture and hip-hop culture, it doesn’t mean music artists,” explains Mirjahangiry. “We’re an ecosystem of like-minded individuals that support each other and values each other. I think that’s what we’ve created; a hub in New York City where people from out of town, when they come to New York, they want to hold their meetings there. They want to film their podcast there. They want to have their album release party there. It’s a place where people are comfortable – we don’t judge anyone.”
In an EXCLUSIVE interview, Dara discusses what it was like filming the “Say Less” video in the restaurant, how Sei Less drew such a clientele, and the first dish that the restaurant ever served.
HollywoodLife: What was your first reaction to hearing Fabolous and French Montana’s “Say Less?” Or hearing your name in the lyrics?
Mirjahangiry: It’s been a long journey. I’ve been building these relationships for years. Fabolous was actually the first celebrity that I ever met in my restaurant career in New York City. So, it came full circle by having him shout me out in one of his songs. Having a song about the restaurant that I opened in January was just one of the most gratifying things that could’ve happened.
How was it filming the music video in the restaurant?
It was pretty seamless. Fab and French are both professionals, they had a great crew with them. They got everything done in one day. I think it was great energy and it was a pleasure working with them.
You said the first meal you cooked was for Bobby Portis. What did he order, if I may ask?
When Bobby comes in, I know his order. I order for him; he doesn’t even look at the menu. He had some of our signature dishes: the chicken satay, the shrimp satay, rock shrimp tempura, chicken wonton dumplings, lobster spring rolls, salt and pepper lobster, salt and pepper shrimp, lobster fried rice, Beijing chicken and sweet and sour chicken.
I read that you’ve maintained your friendships with your childhood social circle. Has that attitude, that loyalty, been a key factor in Sei Less’s appeal to its hip-hop/sports clientele? There seems to be an emphasis on such bonds in those fields.
I would say one thing that I think is unique about my upbringing is that I maintain the relationships with my core group of friends for the last 30 years. I grew up with a very diverse group of friends. I think my exposure to so many different cultures at a young age, and being an immigrant myself, allowed me not to judge people for where they’re from but who they are.
I think that’s something that really resonated with a lot of hip-hop artists and a lot of athletes. They’ve grown up in these situations where a lot of people are trying to take advantage of them or maybe expose them or use them for something. They quickly realize I’m not one of those people. I genuinely build relationships based on trust, values and friendship, and those relationships have evolved over the last 10 years.
Sei Less has been described as a restaurant “created for the culture.” How does the restaurant embody that ideal/gravitate toward hip-hop culture?
When we say the culture and hip-hop culture, it doesn’t mean music artists. I think there’s obviously a big emphasis on the culture amongst different brands across the country. It can be some of the biggest fashion retailers in the world, some of the biggest liquor brands, and then with the culture, that’s filling into ownership of big brands. I think with the restaurant and how we’ve embraced the culture, it’s not about music artists and athletes. It could be the crypto billionaire, it could be the tech billionaire, the real estate guy that’s investing in section 8 housing or someone that’s investing in properties in Atlanta or Houston.
We’re an ecosystem of like-minded individuals that support each other and values each other.
I think that’s what we’ve created; a hub in New York City where people from out of town, when they come to New York, they want to hold their meetings there. They want to film their podcast there. They want to have their album release party there. It’s a place where people are comfortable – we don’t judge anyone.
What is it about Sei Less that has attracted this A-list clientele? Every restaurant dreams of being a celeb hotspot, but few pull it off. What would you say Sei Less does that not many others don’t?
We have a built-in clientele that I’ve worked with for over 10 years. And, some of my partners doing hospitality have certain relationships, too. We bring all of that together at Sei Less. I think what makes Sei Less unique is that we have these private dining rooms where celebrities feel comfortable coming and being themselves.
We never expose these celebrities; what they’re doing, who they’re coming with. It’s just about making them feel normal. We try to treat them the same as any of our clientele. I think that’s why the celebrities resonate with us; we’re not starstruck and we’re not really trying to be extra. We genuinely try to provide a service and an atmosphere that they enjoy. I think that’s something that has worked in what we’ve done in eight months at Sei Less.