Jabbar Pourbahman will quickly divulge the secret to success at Café Thomas-Martin.
“My wife makes everything here,” he says, as he slices chicken breast in the kitchen.
“But I help her,” he adds with a smile.
Jabbar and his wife, Farah Jahandideh, have owned this downtown Charlottetown café since 2015. Glass cases and containers at the counter tempt visitors with baking from Farah’s kitchen.
Today, customers can indulge in peach-mango or raspberry muffins or molasses spice, peanut butter or “everything but the kitchen sink” cookies; or order salads, all-day breakfast, or sandwiches on Farah’s homemade bread.
“I’m too busy,” Farah says with a laugh.
Farah and Jabbar took over the café the same year they moved to P.E.I. from Iran. Daughter Narges, who helps with translation during an interview at the cafe, explains the reason for the move: “It was mostly for the children, for me and my brother. We thought we could get a better education here.” Narges says the university admission process in Iran is quite competitive, and the family saw Canada as offering higher-quality education overall.
Farah and Jabbar first visited P.E.I. based on a lawyer’s recommendation. They checked out the education system, business opportunities and living conditions. But the appeal of a small city like Charlottetown also played a role.
“They felt like they could connect to a lot of people and get to know them, whereas in a bigger city, there might not have been so much opportunities to talk to the people and actually become friends. People actually were willing to help out if they needed any, and they were really kind to them,” Narges explains in translation. “They thought it was a really good and sweet place to live.”
Opening a café was a natural choice, since Farah is a chef who managed a restaurant in Iran.
“Now she is my boss,” quips Jabbar, who had been a partner in a construction business in Iran with two of his brothers.
Since taking over the café, the couple says they’ve built a regular following and a profitable business.
The most important factor? They say it’s the fresh, homemade food. Narges offers the muffins as an example. “It could be like five minutes ago; they might be hot from the oven.”
The couple also moved the café from Homburg Tower to the more high-traffic Confederation Court Mall food court, and they doubled their menu. Their future plans include hiring another chef and featuring more Iranian dishes.
After coming to the Island under the Provincial Nominee Program, the family says they intend to run their café for the long term.
“We set up this business because we wanted to, not only for the program,” says Narges, translating for her parents.
Narges, who is in Grade 12, plans to study medicine in Canada, and her older brother now works in Iran as an entrepreneur. Jabbar himself hopes to work again in the construction business, but that doesn’t mean giving up the café.
“He really ended up liking this place, and he doesn’t want to sell it to anyone,” Narges says.
For her part, Farah says she enjoys working with her husband, interacting with people and practising English.
“She found a lot of new friends among her customers,” Narges explains in translation. “She’s happy that she can make someone’s lunch and make them happy.”
“I love my job,” Farah agrees.