The Nelson community is a wonderful melting pot of people from all corners of the globe and writing this column has given me the opportunity to meet people who have chosen to make Nelson their home.
One such couple is Amir Rahsepar and his wife Steffi who own Pizzeria Bella in Bridge St.
They have previously owned a business in Nelson and sold that to take their family to Australia so they could experience a different lifestyle but found they loved Nelson too much so moved back and bought Vanilla Café located on Bridge St opposite Westpac bank.
Amir is from the Persia or, as it is usually referred to, Iran; historically all ethnic groups in Iran were collectively referred to as Iranians or Persians until 1935, when the rulers of the time formally required foreign countries to call Persia by its native name, Iran and then in 1959 the government announced ‘Iran’ and ‘Persia’ could be used interchangeably.
We spent some time talking about his old home land and Amir has some firm thoughts around all of the trouble in the Middle East.
He says he had a very good family life growing up but from the mid 80’s it has been very unsettled and the main reason he and the rest of his family left was because of the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq, they simply didn’t want to be involved in the war.
He says he believes the wars have been driven by weapons companies, they have lots of money and power and they make more money if there is war. Obviously it is a very difficult political situation but when you look at all of the conflicts in recent times they have all been about oil, money and power not about having a better life.
Amir and his siblings moved to Germany in the mid 1980’s because they didn’t like the way the new regime had a focus on making money from oil reserves and fighting to get what they wanted, his family didn’t like living in a war-torn country.
In Germany he met an Italian family who had a restaurant and pizzeria there as well as well as in one in Italy, he started working for them and they took him to Italy where he learned to make pizza and ended up working in their restaurant in Italy for a couple of years before moving back to Germany in the early 90’s.
Amir continued working for the family until 1994 when he opened his first pizza place in Bochum Germany, he opened second one a couple of years later and in 2001 opened a third pizzeria but his little business had grown into a big business and he was spending all of his time running the business.
He decided it was all too much so he sold the three shops and moved to New Zealand in 2004 to change his lifestyle.
Steffi who is German, came to New Zealand 16 years ago and almost unbelievably met Amir in Nelson. As well as working in the pizza business she has her own business that she operates from home and that means one or the other of them is always around when their two children get home from school.
After they sold their business they moved to Australia so the kids could spend more time in a place they loved and so they could build a bigger business than seemed possible in Nelson. They went to the Gold Coast, a place they had been to for holidays many times, but living there turned out to be a lot more difficult than they expected.
It was very hard to find a house to rent, they would go to a viewing and find a queue of people wanting to rent the place and some of these people were offering more than the asking rent, housing was in very short supply.
Amir says “as well as not being able to find a house the kids didn’t like it, we went to the Gold Coast because in the Sunshine Coast business getting slower, there lots of empty shops and the Gold Coast was more fun for the kids with theme parks and great weather but it turned out to be the wrong time and wrong place.
“We thought we could make a business that was busier but starting a business in Australia is very difficult, there are so may rules and regulations compared to New Zealand and the kids were just disappointed, they missed their mates here so before we committed to a business and a house we turned around and came back to Nelson, the place we call home.
The toughest thing for our kids was school where they just didn’t settle in and weren’t made to feel very welcome, I guess we didn’t understand what it would really be like for them, they are very happy to be back in Nelson.”
When they returned to Nelson they took over running Vanilla Café for about a year before converting it to a pizzeria. The style of food prepared and served at Vanilla Café wasn’t the sort of food he liked making so Amir wasn’t very happy and as Steffi told me with a smile “it is much better for everyone to have a happy husband who is doing something he loves.”
Pizzeria Bella pizzas have been favourites at our place for some time and when I asked him what he loves about the food he has been cooking for 30 years he told me “pizza is not only the taste and flavour, it is the fantasy, you can do whatever you want, it is unlimited”.
“I like to create great flavours, create happiness that comes with wonderful food and sharing food with people is something Persian people have done for centuries – great food, nice wine, friendly people, what more do you want.”
Photos courtesy Nelson Mail