by Theresa Kuhlmann
Restaurateurs Shannon McClure Shirvan '87 and her husband, Ali, have owned the Waterloo Pizza and Sub shop in Columbia, Maryland for almost 20 years. Two years ago, they sensed that Columbia residents were ready for something distinctive and opened Parsa Kabob, an Iranian kabob restaurant.
Shannon graduated from Knox with a degree in international relations and economics. While attending graduate school, she worked in a local pizza house in Columbia, where she met Ali, a native Iranian who moved to the United States to study, but, Shannon says, "his plan was always to open his own restaurant."
While Shannon continued her studies, Ali continued to work in the restaurant business, honing his skills. Shannon helped on the weekends, and, in 1997, she quit her job as director of the International Student Center at Towson University to be a stay-at-home mom. For the past few years, she has helped Ali daily at their two restaurants.
"It is quite a change from the academic setting and can at times be interesting to work for your spouse," she says, "but it enables me to be home with our two daughters."
Both restaurants are small and tucked away, only separated by several feet in the same Columbia shopping center. You can dine in or take out at either eatery. The menu does not change daily, but, over the years the Shirvan's have responded to customer needs by changing selections or by adding smaller portions for lunch. Any seasonal changes reflect the delivery of products from some of the local vendors that the Shirvan's support.
Sales have grown over the last year for their new restaurant, which serves kabobs made of steak, chicken, lamb, vegetables, or salmon. "We use a lot of rice and saffron and bake bread almost hourly," she adds. Their appetizers include grape leaves stuffed with rice and seasonings and served with olive oil, hummus, feta cheese, and olives. A meal at the restaurant would not be complete without baklava from a Baltimore bakery.
While Ali applies his culinary skills in the kitchen, Shannon puts her people skills to work, frequenting two local vendors located within a few miles of the restaurants. They buy their vegetables from Frank's Produce, a produce market just around the corner from the restaurants. "We have been doing business with him for almost 20 years. We get most of our vegetables from him. The food is better with fresh vegetables," Shannon says.
The Caspian Market, an Iranian grocery, is another local business that they support. Shannon goes to the market once a week to buy, on average, 60 pounds of hand-ground sirloin and another of chicken and lamb that are used to make the kabobs.
The one exception to local shopping is Ali's annual, month-long trip to Iran, where he stocks up on Iranian spices and other ingredients not available locally.
With the Waterloo Pizza and Sub shop established in the community and Parsa Kabob just a couple of years old, Shannon concedes that running a restaurant involves a lot more than smiling at customers. "It was a real dose of reality. It's a hard job running your own business. I can tell you that," she says.
She attributes her leadership roles as a resident's assistant at Knox, as well as her involvement in her sorority and the organization of International Fair, as good preparation for her new role in the family industry. And it's clear that the Shirvan's dedication to quality ingredients and preparation have contributed to their success.
"I think that when our customers see the owners on site, they can see our dedication to excellence. It is obvious the food is prepared from scratch, and we don't skimp on ingredients," she says. "People keep coming back."