At Darya, 30 years of ‘good food, good company’


Stormy Waldeck eats lunch five days a week at Darya, an acclaimed Persian restaurant in South Coast Plaza Village.

The sales manger for a Tustin-based insurance company will head to the restaurant’s bar, order the boneless chicken kebob and talk with the waitstaff, cooks and clientele he sees on a near-daily basis.

It’s been his routine for 20 years.

“Getting to share a meal with the other regulars is part of the attraction,” Waldeck said. “Many are soccer fans, and the European professional soccer leagues play their matches during our lunch hour, so it’s good food, good company and enjoying a soccer match featuring the best players in the world.”


“Darya has an exceptional staff that have become like family over the years,” he said.

It’s been a family for some time as the fine dining, Persian cuisine and good times for Darya’s owners, staff and patrons will celebrate the restaurant’s 30th anniversary this month.

Back in 1986, Sam Salout and a partner opened the restaurant’s original location in Orange. With the kitchen’s authentic Persian recipes — boneless lamb kebab, borani and Basmati rice mixed with raisins, lentils, dates and saffron — Darya, meaning “sea” in Farsi, grew a following of Orange County residents and professionals.

So big of a following that loyal customer Henry Segerstrom, a philanthropist, entrepreneur, patron of the arts and leader of retail center South Coast Plaza, invited Darya’s owners to relocate to the South Coast Plaza Village in 1996.

Today, Salout’s former partner continues to operate Darya in Orange.

The Santa Ana location, which features a formal stairway, grand piano, wall-to-wall French doors, beveled windows and an upstairs private mezzanine room, seats about 200 guests and about 50 people on a patio that’s equipped with a large outdoor fountain.

“It’s about the quality of food, service and friendliness,” said partner Ray Esfahanian, who co-owns Darya with Salout, Ali Abedi and Mahmoud Parvari. “Our name was always good because we are dedicated to the customer.”

Customers, he said, range from out-of-state guests, traveling businessmen and women and residents of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

To further its success and community outreach, Darya added marketing director and event coordinator Arezou Hooshiarnejad to take care of delivery and catering, the website and social media.

Since Hooshiarnejad joined the staff in 2013, the restaurant has almost doubled the catering department, providing gourmet meals at off-site weddings, anniversaries and celebrations.

Darya, Hooshiarnejad said, has also become known to diners as a place to celebrate Persian New Year in March, as well as Western observances like Halloween and New Year’s Day.

Esfahanian, who immigrated from Iran in 1979 at age 18 and moved to Long Beach, where he found work as a dishwasher at Jack in the Box,always wanted to work in the food industry.

After moving to Irvine, he formed friendships with Darya’s co-owners, and together he and the team, including the restaurant’s chef for the past three decades, envisioned a family-run restaurant that offered spiced Persian foods.

To celebrate the restaurant’s milestone, Darya will close Sunday for a private party to thank neighbors, loyal customers and vendors for their 30 years of support.

It will reopen Monday and roll back prices for two of its most popular lunch and dinner items, the chelo beef kebab and boneless chicken kebab.

The restaurant will undergo a facelift with new carpet, new entree listings and a catering department expansion, Esfahanian said, but before implementing the touch-ups, the staff and patrons have one thing in mind:

A celebratory pomegranate martini.

Darya is located at 3800 South Plaza Drive, Santa Ana. For more information, call (714) 557-6600 or visit

Twitter: @KathleenLuppi