Pan-Asian fusion restaurant and speakeasy Sei Less accomplished in two (mostly) post-pandemic months what most restaurants aspire to achieve within their first five years of opening. Since launching on Jan. 15, Sei Less has become the hottest venue in New York City for rappers and athletes alike. Behind every great idea is an innovator, envisioning and executing the steps necessary to achieve greatness. The secret behind Sei Less’ popularity is 10 years of hard work and networking by managing partner/co-owner Dara Mirjahangiry.
Dara came up with the concept of Sei Less during quarantine, “a members-only, exclusive restaurant for the culture” — and with the help of his talented business partners, he was able to make his dream a reality. “We all come from different backgrounds in hospitality, but we have a tremendous team of partners,” he says.
Sei Less is the product of an elite team of hospitality executives, including Dara Mirjahangiry and Ivi Shano (Jue Lan Club alumnus), Harbor Rooftop Nightclub owners Joseph Licul & Dennis Turcinovic, and Dream Hospitality’s George Karavias. Sei Less has made headlines for the infinite list of A-List artists they’ve hosted, including Kanye West & ex-girlfriend Julia Fox, 50 Cent, Cardi B, Quavo, Gunna, Lil Baby, Meek Mill, Travis Scott, and more.
A few notable moments since their January launch include Gunna’s album release dinner for his Billboard 200-topping album DS4Ever, NBA superstar James Harden’s birthday dinner with Lil Baby and Travis Scott, and Fivio Foreign’s joint Grammy nomination and birthday celebration. The very first customer to attend Sei Less was Dara’s friend, Milwaukee Bucks basketball player Bobby Portis. “He was in town, and we literally finished construction that day,” remembers Mirjahangiry. “He came in and we cooked the first meal for him.”
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Sei Less is open to the public; however, weekends are usually booked a month out and weekdays, a few weeks out. Mirjahangiry emphasizes that while there are ways of getting access sooner, their team focuses on “letting the right people in, keeping a tight door, enforcing a dress code, and keeping things elevated and premium.” Regardless of what field someone’s in, Dara says that “people who are at the top of their game want to be around other like-minded individuals” — a concept that is the driving force behind maintaining exclusivity at Sei Less. “It’s about surrounding yourself with people that give you the motivation to be better and do better.”
Any given space in the restaurant is Instagram-worthy, and the branding lends itself to never-ending photo-ops for social media. Entering Sei Less feels like a reflection of Mirjahangiry’s diverse and multicultural upbringing as well as his business savvy. While dining you’ll find the Sei Less logo on their napkins, chopsticks, coasters, wallpaper, murals and dishes, allowing for maximum brand visibility at any given moment. Best known for their signature chicken satay and lychee martinis, Sei Less also gives guests an opportunity to get their picture taken by a photographer, who prints and frames them within five minutes for an affordable fee.
After immigrating to the United States from Iran, at the age of two, Dara and his family settled in New Jersey. Growing up in an ethnically diverse area, it wasn’t until much later that Dara realized that not all of America was as diverse as his neighborhood: “My group of friends are from all different countries, and I think growing up in an environment like that really enabled me to do what I do now.” Mirjahangiry notes that while most people tend to grow apart from their childhood friends as they grow older, he has maintained those relationships over the years, a trait he developed at a young age that continues to benefit his business ventures today. Coming from a “traditional Persian family that values professions like law and medicine”, his family struggled to accept his endeavors in hospitality — that is, until he launched Sei Less.
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Although Mirjahangiry is no newcomer to working with upscale clients, Sei Less is his first time reaping the rewards of his hard work and success in an ownership capacity. “It’s something that I’ve done always for other people, so it’s very gratifying doing it for myself.” Maneuvering and establishing a prolific clientele at Sei Less came naturally to Mirjahangiry, as he formed organic relationships over the years, “being genuine, honest with people, and not trying to take advantage of anyone — that’s really what’s helped me transfer my network.” Restaurants drastically suffered during Covid, but Mirjahangiry took that time to plan his next move. “Sei Less was my brainchild during the pandemic,” he says.
Mirjahangiry shared his ideas with his good friend, former NBA MVP and two-time champion Kevin Durant. “We had conversations about creating something for the culture that was members-oriented,” he recalls. “Sei Less as you see it now is the first rendition of that. Down the road there could be a member’s club, a boutique hotel, more sophisticated concepts — but the restaurant is what brings everything together.”
Mirjahangiry always had entrepreneurial aspirations, which is why he majored in Finance and Marketing at Syracuse University. He knew one day he would own his own business, but never predicted that his path would lead him to hospitality and entertainment. Post-graduation, Mirjahangiry worked in finance until the 2008 financial crisis hit. He then transitioned into the restaurant world to work as a waiter for Philippe Chow. He was quickly promoted from waiter to manager within a year, setting the precedent for his future.
Mirjahangiry had the foresight to leverage social media to market the restaurant. “At that time, EDM was big and hip-hop wasn’t at the forefront of the music scene, and I just gravitated towards hip-hop artists because I just felt they’re much more real,” he says. “I built a lot of relationships with artists that are superstars now, that maybe ten years ago weren’t superstars.”
What made him stand out as an individual was his proclivity towards networking. “I did what I did at the restaurant, but then I would go out every night with the clients and really network and build my personal brand,” he says. “When different artists were in town, they would ask me where to go, what clubs, what venues, what hotels to stay at — and I would do a lot of white-glove service for artists and athletes and labels, outside of my day-to-day responsibilities at the restaurant.”
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Being involved in both upcoming and established artists’ journeys by providing them with an environment to celebrate momentous occasions has been another highlight for Mirjahangiry. A major part of how he’s built brands such as Sei Less is by creating a hub for hip-hop specifically. “I’ve done so many different signing parties and album release dinners, and then a lot of times I have multiple artists in the venue at the same time and I’ll introduce them,” he explains. His two favorite moments so far were when “Kanye showed up at the restaurant unexpectedly and played Donda 2 in the private room, before it was released, and the second one would be Gunna coming to the restaurant for a private lunch with Young Thug when DS4EVER came out.”
Providing comfort and close attention to detail are some of Dara’s biggest strengths where his clients are concerned. “I know their orders personally, so they don’t look at a menu. There are a few people I haven’t seen in years due to the Covid, and now that they’re returning to New York I still know exactly what they want — and when they sit down, it’s an elevated comfort level. Paying attention to details and what makes people happy is part of what I do.”
Working with brands to host activations is another innovative way in which Mirjahangiry has taken Sei Less to the next level. “We work with a lot of brands, a lot of partnerships and bringing different brands of the culture into the space. Those brands that reach out to us, they are our clients, we do a lot of different collabs – we just did something with Moose Knuckles with our whole security team,” he explains. “I’ve worked with Team Jordan in the past and got Jordans for my whole staff. We take care of a lot of the executives that work for these brands, and they understand the cultural impact of the venue and what we do at Sei Less. I think we’re just at the forefront with some of those relationships – there are a lot of things in the works that are going to be happening in the next few months.”
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Not only that — about four years ago and his partner, Jason C. Johnson, Audiomack’s vp of marketing & brand strategy, launched Culture Impact Agency, an agency that organizes activations for brands, artists and athletes, from album release parties to pop-ups in various cities. In fact, they launched during the 2017 Super Bowl in Atlanta, where they organized a branded dinner with Offset and have continued ever since. Mirjahangiry plans to utilize Culture Impact Agency and Sei Less to host and curate more events in the future.
While Mirjahangiry is one of the faces of Sei Less and knows his clients personally, he also takes pride in his ability to seamlessly transition between front of house and back of house. “One thing I pride myself on is the business and the economics behind running a restaurant, some people just worry about the image and the look and fail to focus on running the business,”
he relates. “You have to be able to put together a great product, but also make it economical. I think the back of the house is really what drives the restaurant. My experiences in different fields and my studies at Syracuse really help me put that all together. That’s something I think that really separates myself in the business.”
Sei Less has received an overwhelming amount of support, and while Mirjahangiry is proud of the positive response, he says that this is only the beginning. “It’s definitely rewarding, but we don’t get too excited about what happens in the first couple months,” he says. “It’s great, we love it — but we’re going to keep our heads straight and focused, and we’re working on really building a brand and expanding.”