Published November 20, 2007
Volume 15, Number 11

Tor Koshani: Hacienda Restaurant the Realization of a Dream

By Barbara Lewis

At age 16, Toryalai Koshani arrived in New York City from Afghanistan to attend school, planning to return to his native country after a few years in the United States. “Often, people assume that life in my home country was very hard, prompting me to want to emigrate, but that was not the case,” Koshani says. “My father was a doctor and my family had a good life. I had money and a car, but I heard about the opportunities in America and wanted to come here and see for myself. I expected to study here for a while and then return home. Obviously, that didn’t happen.”

Koshani attended school for a short time, but the need to support himself led him to find work in a local pizza parlor. After making pizza for about five years, he accepted the invitation of a cousin to relocate to Colorado.

“I was lucky and found a job as a bus boy at Tante Louise, a famous five-star French restaurant in Denver,” he remembers. “I liked it there very much. I was very interested in the kitchen and, when I had free time, I would spend it there, watching the cooks and learning whatever I could.”

One day, Koshani received a call from a friend who worked at another premier restaurant in downtown Denver, Café Promenade. The restaurant needed a line cook. When he applied for the job, Koshani was told that he did not have sufficient experience for the line cook position, but would be hired as a prep cook. Within six months, Koshani had become a line cook and the dream of owning his own restaurant began to take shape.

“I learned a lot at Café Promenade, and, after two years, was hired by the owners of the renowned Italian Restaurant, La Fontanella, as their chef.

“I had no formal schooling in the culinary arts, but I had been fortunate to work with famous chefs at Tante Louise and Café Promenade, who very generous and taught me everything they could,” Koshani reflect. “Then, the owners of Café Promenade offered me a great opportunity and also treated me like a son.”

In the early 1980s, after 12 years, at La Fontanella, Koshani felt the pull of family and decided to join his mother, father and sister, who had settled in Southern California. “The owners of La Fontanella tried to stop me, asking what it would take to make me stay,” he remembers. “Finally, the owner’s wife told him that he had to let me go, just as he would if I were his own son. He still calls me, though, and continues to advise and encourage me.”

In Los Angeles, Koshani was offered positions at a Holiday Inn and Red Lion and was chef at Holiday Inn until it was sold to Good Night Inn six years later. He then became chef for the very large cafeteria at the Ronald Reagan State Building and remained there until 2006-2007. Throughout that time, Koshani lived sparingly and never took vacations while working toward the goal of owning his own restaurant.

“The owners at Ronald Reagan were very good to me and I liked Los Angeles, but when my niece called and asked me to come to the Bay Area to start a restaurant here with her, I decided it was time to take the big step. I trained my replacement at Ronald Reagan and started looking on the Internet for business opportunities in the East Bay. That’s when I found this location. When we called the agent and came to see it, we found Hacienda to be beautiful and clean and the people to be very nice. My niece said, ‘Let’s do it!’ We put down our deposit and started to work on making the dream come true at last.”

“Through the years, the two people who have been the most influential were the owners of two restaurants, La Fontanella and the Ronald Reagan Building Cafeteria. Recently, I spoke to my friend at La Fontanella about this new venture and he said, ‘Tor, you don’t know how good you are.’ That was wonderful to hear but of course, he never had said that to me when I worked for him,” Tor laughed. “My boss at Ronald Reagan said, “I know you can make it. Go for it. If you ever need any help, call me. I was like a family member to him, too. I’m where I am today because of those two men. They helped my dream come true.”

Koshani’s “dream”, Cypress Mediterranean Cuisine, has been open for a little over two months and is receiving excellent reviews from diners. “They love the food, which is a combination of my life experience – Mid-Eastern, Greek, Italian, American. They like coming here with a group of friends or coworkers with different tastes and finding a very diverse menu -- from kabobs and lamb shanks to seafood linguini and chicken-fried steak -- that pleases everyone.

“Sauces are a specialty and people like the original dishes I create that combine different flavors from different cultures, too. Of course, the best measure of success is when people come back -- and they do!”

In addition to opening for breakfast, lunch and dinner six days a week, Cypress Mediterranean Cuisine offers catering services and is also available to private parties outside regular business hours. Koshani often works from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm.

“I’ve worked with people who have become millionaires in this business. That would be nice, but I love what I do and the people around me. It’s my life. To do this and make a living is enough.”

His advice for aspiring business owners is simple. “Work hard. Save your money. Be honest. Learn as much as you can from the people around you. Believe in yourself and your dream will come true, too.”


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