Working through tough times

NEWPORT BEACH — When the building behind the Port Theatre became available in 2007, longtime Corona del Mar resident Ali Zadeh saw an opportunity.

Nevermind that the lack of public parking, economic woes and other issues affecting the space had closed out a handful of previous owners.

Zadeh, whose background is in computer engineering, had a plan for what became the Port Restaurant and Bar.

"Since I lived here for years and watched all these changes, I thought to myself, 'What if I put something here that the area deserves?'" Zadeh said. "It would have to be something unique in its own right."

His thought was to invest in the roughly 3,000-square-foot space, turn it around and sell it to a capable new owner.

But the recession had other plans.

"When it came to finding a good person in a downward economy, I was advised that my chances are as good as anyone else's," Zadeh said. "You do it yourself if you want it done right. It's been an interesting ride."

He survived. The restaurant on Heliotrope Avenue celebrated its fifth year in business in January.

The restaurant, which features a diverse international menu including kabobs, pizzas and handmade gnocchi, had a great opening year, Zadeh said.

Customers were attracted to the soft lighting and intimate indoor seating and bar area, while an open-air patio offered a third dining option.

However, problems with daytime parking and late-night sound kept the restaurant from expanding its hours into the lunch and late-night markets.

Zadeh even had to stop the music — local bands and acoustic performers — for about a year when the city required him to obtain a new permit.

During the silence, the restaurant that prided itself on ambient atmosphere and support of local artists lost some of its clientele, Zadeh said.

However, despite those setbacks, the restaurant tucked away behind the aging closed theater celebrated another year in business on Jan. 19. Plans for a similar concept restaurant, the Porthole, are also in developmental stages for a beachside location.

"The big challenge for all small businesses in Corona del Mar is to create sustainability," Zadeh said. "I stood by [the Port] day in, day out. That's what it takes — that amount of dedication and good intentions."

Zadeh developed his personal business philosophy, rooted deep in customer service, by launching his own medical services software company in Irvine, EDI Health Group.

"The business processes are the same: You deliver great service, deliver quality and it's knowing that customers are valued above all else," Zadeh said. "These are the core principles."

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