After working for 25 years, seven days a week, Tuscany Gardens owner still loves what he does
Tuscany Gardens, Grass Valley
491 Sutton Way, Grass Valley
Tuscany Gardens, Penn Valley
11370 Pleasant Valley Rd., Penn Valley
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dinner starts at 4 p.m., seven days a week
While most of us head home at 5 p.m. exhausted after a long day’s work, Mohsen Afshartabar is nowhere near finished — and he likes it that way. Seven days a week.
“Why would I go home and accomplish nothing?” he asked, with a smile. “A hard day’s work feeds me, and of course I love what I do.”
Twenty-five years ago, Mohsen took a leap of faith and bought a small take-out Penn Valley Italian restaurant, Tuscany Gardens, and poured his heart and soul into it. He expanded the menu and opened up space for on-site dining.
It paid off.
“I had a lot to learn about Italian food,” he said. “But if you’re passionate about cooking like I am, it’s exciting.”
In 2006, he opened a second Tuscany Gardens on Sutton Way in Grass Valley and has never looked back. Today his wife, Afsaneh, spends most of her time overseeing daily operations at the Penn Valley eatery, while his nephew, Omid (whose last name is also Afshartabar), manages the Grass Valley restaurant, alongside Mohsen.
When harsh weather means more empty tables or a waiter doesn’t show up for work, Mohsen said they don’t get discouraged.
“We just roll up our sleeves and get to work,” said Mohsen. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s 10 tables or two — once you do this for a long time, you love it. You just stay focused on the freedom that this country offers you and go for it. I came here willing to work for the life I wanted.”
Land of opportunity
At the age of 22, Mohsen said he was one of a few hundred people able to get out of his native country of Iran in Feb. of 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini returned from abroad to become the “supreme religious leader,” following many years of resistance to Shah Pahlavi.
“The revolution happened and only about 350 people were able to get out before they closed the airports,” said Mohsen. “It was total chaos. I had wanted to come to the U.S. because there were so many opportunities here and so much uncertainty in Iran.”
Young Mohsen arrived alone in the dead of New York City’s winter, only to be robbed at gunpoint by a cab driver. Five days later, having already landed a job at a fried chicken establishment, a man held a knife to Mohsen’s neck and dragged him into the restaurant to rob it. But Mohsen wasn’t deterred.
He went on to work as a New York City taxi driver for a full seven years before moving to Los Angeles, where he worked as a house painter and met his first wife. On one vacation they took a trip to Lake Wildwood to visit her aunt and uncle.
“We loved it,” said Mohsen. “We moved to Penn Valley two weeks after we came home from vacation.”
While buying Tuscany Gardens in Penn Valley may have appeared to be a random decision, in fact, for Mohsen it was like coming full circle. Throughout his childhood he had worked in the restaurants of his grandparents and uncles in the large Iranian city of Qazvin.
“I began clearing plates when I was 5 — my brother worked with me,” he said. “I would go to school during the day and work in the restaurants at night — I did that until I moved to the U.S.”
In 2004, Mohsen married his current wife, Afsaneh, after a long courtship that was arranged by their families in Iran.
“It was arranged, but entirely up to my wife — I called her and we’d talk for an hour every day for at least six months to make sure we were right for each other,” said Mohsen. “After we were engaged it took a year for the paperwork to come through.”
Today, Afsaneh and Mohsen have one daughter, Ariana, who is 10. Mohsen also has two grown children from his previous marriage and two grandchildren. Over the years, all — including Omid’s children — have been known to help out.
Popular dishes at both restaurants include 10 different kinds of raviolis, 10 pizzas, five calzones and homemade lasagna — all made from scratch. Pizza crust is made daily. Also popular are the 10 different kinds of salads and nine pasta dishes. A longtime crowd pleaser is their signature sandwich, “Mario’s Ultimate Original,” which boasts fresh baked bread brushed with Greek sauce and balsamic vinaigrette and stuffed with roast beef, turkey, lettuce, tomato and avocado.
“I chuckle when people spot me and say, “You must be Mario,” said Mohsen. “Even people from Italy come in and say, ‘This is so Italian!’”
Omid, who moved to the United States in 1998, said the foundation of any successful business comes down to integrity.
“We do this because we love people and we have a passion for food,” he said. “An elderly gentleman came in recently and told me that we make the best eggplant Parmesan he’s ever had. When you get comments like that, it encourages you — it doesn’t matter how hard you work.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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