Taking a walk through Portland, one can’t help but notice the abundance of color and diversity on proud display around every corner.
Shahin Khojastehzad (born Alireza Khojastehzad), co-owner of Novare Res Bier Café, wouldn’t have it any other way. Recently voted one of the top-five best beer bars in the United States for 2019 by the readers of USA Today, Novare Res is popular precisely because of its exceptional commitment to diversity, a testament to just how much success the intentional blending of diverse cultures and ideas can bring.
Shahin’s immigration story starts a year after his birth in 1984, in Tehran, Iran. Religious persecution had been rising since the 1979 revolution, and his father, a flight engineer for the
Shah’s air force, had already helped several western families escape the country when he received a tip that they were themselves under investigation for their own personal values. With their savings rolled up in a tea thermos, the Khojastehzad family took what they could and left for Germany. But they hadn’t been there long before they ran into heavy racism.
“During this time,” says Shahin, “There was a lot of racism towards Turkish immigrants, and my birth name, Alireza, was a Turkish name. From what my mom told me, a group of skinheads essentially tried hitting my baby carriage with a car.”
His name was changed to Shahin to keep him safe, and the family stayed only a short while longer before moving to Bath, Maine, where a sponsor family took them into their care. Soon after, the Khojastehzads found themselves establishing a new life in Portland.
Fast forward to today, and Shahin can be found exploring every possible bit of world culture, with a passion few can match. Novare Res, the brainchild of Eric and Julie Michaud, first opened its doors back in 2008, launching as a collective offering of brewing knowledge from their extensive worldly travels. Khojastehzad was hired that first summer as he pursued a hobby for brewing craft beer, and in short order he was given a managerial role — with much more to come in years to follow. Soon, says Khojastehzad, he was “a small minority share owner, and then officially I became a partner here. It’s nice to have some ownership of something, and to get to represent craft beer — just as a human being, but, also as an Iranian; It’s kind of nice because there’s probably only a handful of us.”
Now, he finds himself continuing the Michauds’ unending mission to circle the globe for the most authentic, culturally-distinct experiences they can enjoy with beer. Take Khojastehzad’s current favorite beer, a Czech Republic-inspired brew called Bobo Pivo: “We have Czech-style hops, a Czech lager yeast strain — we even just imported in a beer faucet that was from the Czech Republic that specifically creams it, and also Czech dimpled mugs, just so we can try to be authentic about it. If you’re going to be educational and show somebody else’s culture, don’t water it down and just make the American version of it.”
More than anything, Khojastehzad feels what makes him happy is making other people happy, and the best way he knows how to do that is to introduce them to what is going on beyond Portland and Maine’s borders. He believes strongly in he value of expanding your horizons and opening your mind, taking in the greatest things humanity has to offer on a level plane.
“That’s the best thing about beer in general,” he says. “It’s a cool common denominator where a lot of people can get together from all classes, from all walks of life.”
Candidly, Khojastehzad says his love for variety in beer is matched only by his love for variety in humanity, and ultimately, this variety is what Shahin and Novare Res are doing their best to bring to Portland. It doesn’t matter who are you are, or whatever your background may be, they want to hear your story. The only rule is that you accept the unique character traits that everyone around you brings to the environment: What you say matters, where you come from matters, and the grand sum of what everyone brings to the table is a worth far more than than it would ever be apart.
And in similar fashion to the hard-working, culturally-expansive example that his own immigrant parents set while he was growing up, Khojastehzad feels that the best advice a new immigrant can take from his life experience is to get out there and work hard enough to be proud of everything you do, and to contribute as much as you can back into the city by being your own unique self above all else.
“I think the melting pot of the U.S. is a fable,” finishes Khojastehzad. “I think the U.S. is more of a stew. And there’s little carrots, there’s little peas, and they’re all in the pot together. And all of the flavors work together, and everybody works together.”
In the meantime, Khojastehzad can be found working regularly at Novare Res Bier Café, bringing more and more flavor to the city of Portland every day.