Life is Like a Box of Chocolates with Dan Zahir

February 9, 2021

Daniel Zahir is the Creative Director of Edelweiss Chocolates, a 5th-generation family run chocolatier, handcrafting confections in the heart of Beverly Hills since 1942. Daniel has enjoyed 20 years of growth and learning at Edelweiss Chocolates and is proud to commit to ushering in a new era of tradition that will take Edelweiss full-steam ahead into another 79 years in Beverly Hills.

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John: Welcome to another edition of The Impact podcast. I am John Shegerian. This is a very special edition of The Impact podcast because I have got my friend Daniel Zahir with us. And this is the Valentine’s edition of The Impact podcast. Welcome to Impact Daniel and welcome to the Valentine’s edition of this podcast.

Daniel Zahir: Thank you for having me, John. I am so excited to be here with you.

John: We are excited to have you. I am excited. It is a true honor. I am the CEO of your fan club and your family’s fan club and your wonderful store’s fan club. So I just want to say thank you for being able to share your journey today and your family’s journey and the Edelweiss chocolate family. Your family chocolate journey with us today. So before we get talking about Edelweiss chocolates and your family and you, I want you to share a little bit about your journey itself Daniel, and how you got involved? How your family got involved? and how you even got to where you are today?

Daniel: So, it has been an interesting and long road that led my family to being a part of this business. If I can take a step back and take you all the way back to my life in Texas, that was where I was born and I grew up in Texas. When my family moved from Iran, they moved just before the revolution happened in Iran in 1978. My father had caught wind of a potential political uprising. He was dating my mom at the time and he told her, he said, “I want to marry you. I want to marry you in 20 days and under the condition that when we get married within two weeks, we moved to the states.” And he told her why and my mom agreed and she said, “You know what? I am your ride or die. Let us do it. It will be an adventure. Let us make it happen.”

So they got married. A couple of weeks later, they were here in the states and then the revolution happened in Iran and at the time the reason my parents moved to Texas… I had an uncle who was studying in Arlington, Texas at the time. So my parents moved to Arlington so they could be around some family and have a little anchor and then slowly after the revolution happened almost all of my family moved to the states. Also, it took about 10 to 12 years before everybody was actually arrived in the States, but they all move to LA. Everybody who came after my parents moved here. Until I was about 15, grew up in Texas and without the majority of our family and my parents had been missing them for a long, long, long time.

By the time I was in high school, they decided you know what it is time to bite the bullet, make another move and we packed up and we moved the whole family out to Los Angeles, wherewith everybody was reunited again after about. At that point, it was about 20 years that they were all separated and kind of scattered, and everyone came together. My parents owned some gas stations and some real estate out in Texas and they thought that with the new change, they would retire. They thought they would retire early. They were in their early 50s, I want to say at the time. They thought wrong. They lasted a couple years and I think that the boredom kind of started to get to them and they were starting to drive each other a little crazy.

So they said after a couple of years that they wanted to look for another business. Something that they could throw themselves into. It did not have to be anything that they necessarily had experience with. And so they set fillers out and they heard about Edelweiss going up for sale. Now, because we lived in Beverly Hills. We were familiar with it and the friend who had tipped them off said, “You know what? Just go in. Do not let them know who you are, why you are here. Just try it more of their chocolates. Get a feel for the business.” And my parents had not tried the chocolates yet up until that point. They had only heard about it.

John: Right. Right, right.

Daniel: So they came in. They brought me and they brought my sister. We all came in. We tried the chocolates. They absolutely fell in love. We fell in love with the business and they pursued it from there. It was literally just tasting the chocolates and being given a tour of the business and learning about the history of that really made them fall in love with it and sold them on the business. That is how we got involved. They did not know anything about the confectionary process of the chocolate business prior to purchasing this business. So they literally threw themselves in headfirst and made it happen.

John: That is amazing. Now your family’s name and I love your family because they make everyone who walks through the front doors, just like you do, feel like family is. Steven Madeline or your mom’s, mom and dad, and then you have also your sister Renee who runs your Brentwood location, and your husband, Adrian who also works with you in the Beverly Hills store. Now your family name is here to pour to you though shorten the names as I hear. That is why our listeners and our viewers will see you as Danny’s a year, but I just wanted to tell our listeners or viewers the whole family name is that he reports which is a very Iranian name and therefore your immigrant shows your immigrant roots back to Iran.

Daniel: Absolutely. It was a few years ago that I ended up changing it and my uncle the one that lives in Texas, he did the same thing about maybe 30 or 40 years back. He [inaudible] to Zahir and so I was telling him one day, “I am in the business now. I am working with the general public. A lot of people are very intimidated by my name.” And he said, “You know what? That is the same experience I was having.” That is why he decided to shorten it and he suggested that I might do the same and so I took him up on his advice and I said, “Why not? let us try it and see.” And it was made people feel more comfortable. I can tell you that.

John: I get it and I totally understand it. For our listeners and our viewers, to go find that Daniel’s great chocolates and why struggles? You go to www.edelweisschocolates.com, chocolates for all. I have the website up. It is an amazing website. The store is beautiful. Daniel also was kind enough to film a 17-minute tour as though you are in the store getting a whole tour of the behind-the-scenes and the front of the house of what is going on. So you feel like you have gone and come and met Daniel and seeing everything going on there. Thank you for doing that Daniel because that tour is just wonderful. I have had the luck and the blessing to also done the tour and person. I feel like they are watching your video, people will not miss a thing. The video is going to be up on our website, The Impact podcast next to your show. So people can click on the video and feel like they have a personal tour from you of your wonderful chocolate store.

Daniel: When I was talking with you guys about doing the interview, initially, one of the things I spoke with Paul about was that we used to do tours fairly regularly, nearly on a daily basis and it was something that we very much enjoyed doing it. It breathed life into this business and it allowed us to see our product and our business through fresh eyes on a daily basis because something as simple as when our customers walk in almost every one of them they say, “Oh my God, that smell. Wow.” It is like the intensity of the chocolate aroma which I do not smell anymore.

John: Wow.

Daniel: It is so interesting. So every time someone walks in and they say that it brings me back down to the experience that our customers have the first time they walk in the door. And it was one of the reasons I absolutely loved giving tours to people regularly, but in a sense, Covid happened, we had to stop doing that. And so when we started speaking with you guys about doing the interview, I thought how cool would it be if we could give your viewers and your listeners. Hopefully, your listeners will go on and see the video, put insight into the business and just a little sneak peek into the facility and the equipment. It is the equipment that is the most interesting thing I think about the facility because many, many, many of the machines that we have are original, they are antiques and I think about four of them are over a hundred years old. You just do not see them anywhere anymore. So it is really cool.

John: No, and you gave a wonderful history. You even said the original founders now. The store was founded in 1942, right? So you have about 79 years of amazing Beverly Hills history there. But one of the things that was fascinated by your tours, they bought a duplicate of what you already have there, but the machine was so sturdy, they have never even have to go get the duplicate. The original still works. You said just perfectly. Great.

Daniel: Absolutely. Is it not fascinating?

John: Yeah. I mean… It is great.

Daniel: We have bought several newer pieces of equipment. They are fully automated, electronic machines. Those need repairs far more regularly than the old machines do. The old machines knock on wood. They nearly never ever break down or nearly never ever need parts replacing or other than regular maintenance. There is not much to them. The newer machines, on the other hand, they do not make them like they used to. I mean, I can say that.

John: It is true. There is so many things that make your story unique. There are so many stories and I want to start with your family now is on this 21 years. Can you want to talk a little bit about the history? How many families owned it before your family bought the store?

Daniel: Absolutely. So, my family is the fifth family that owned this business. So, it truly has been a family business each and every step of the way. The first and original owner who owned the business was Mrs. Grace Young and she was from Montana and she moved from Montana just before she established this business down to Beverly Hills. I do not actually know the reason she chose Beverly Hills that has been lost to history, unfortunately, but in conversations with her granddaughter, earlier when we bought the business. She told us that the owner struggled and what was interesting about her was that she took on a massive amount of risk trying to start a confectionery business in the midst of World War Two where rationing had already begun in the states.

So to acquire the sugar and butter and cream and milk that goes into the recipes, she said it was a daily struggle but she persevered. She put her blood, sweat, tears, and her whole entire soul and being into this business. I kind of joke about it but I think that perseverance and that struggle and her putting her soul into this business, I honestly think that soul is still part of this business. It survived and this business has its own beating heart that it is outside of my family. It is bigger than my family and I really think that it was the efforts of the original owner that just enter thumbprint on this business that is made it as successful as it is. She owned the business for about 30 years. And then the second owner was Mr. Herman Schmidt, who was a Swiss gentleman and he brought a lot of the Swiss recipes with him and so the business. So each one of the owners have put their own unique stamp on it over the years which is kind of interesting. It is like a quilt that was built over several years.

John: Such a nice way of putting it in. I have to tell you, not only does all your great family members who have all come to just love and adore make you feel like family when you walk through the front door, but even all the employees of the first employee I met when I walked in two and a half three years ago is Lisa. She also makes me feel like family. She… all of your people, you have surrounded yourself in curating the group of employees, and your family itself makes everyone feel like family. I will tell you it is even though it is one of the smallest retail shops I have ever been in, when you think about retail it is also one of the most warming and cozy places you could ever go and feel just like you are at home the moment you walk through that front door. So you guys have put a stamp of the family on it that I have never felt before in any other retail shop I have been in.

Daniel: Thank you. That really means a lot to me. I can tell you that from our perspective. I think that our Persian heritage has brought a lot of that to this business because you know for your viewers and listeners who may not be aware of Persian culture. It is very much grounded and rooted in hospitality. When you get invited into a Persian home, the guest is King, everything for the guests. It is the biggest honor as far as my family and all the other Persian family is I know. It is the biggest honor you can give a family is to come into their home and we will do everything for you and so that translates into our business as well. Every single person who walks through that door, whether they are here to purchase something or just to browse or you know these days sometimes it is that they are lonely and they have been a little isolated and they want to chat with somebody. Every single person is welcome. We have trained the staff that each person needs to be greeted with a heartfelt “Hello” and take the time to get to know your customers and to serve them well. I mean if we are a part of the hospitality industry in the end and so we must be hospitable.

John: Talk a little bit about it. For our listeners who just joined us, we got Daniel Zahir. He is a family member and of course the creative director and chocolatier at Edelweiss chocolates. You can find them at www.edelweiss, E-D-E-L, weiss, W-E-I-S-S chocolates plural.com. It is a wonderful website. You can order some now for Valentine’s or any other time in the year. And guess what? When that box comes to the people that you are sending it to, it is a piece of happiness coming to their front door. I will tell you. Everybody I have ever given Edelweiss chocolates says the best chocolates they have ever put in their mouth and their tummy. So talk a little bit about, Danny, about what makes Edelweiss so special? I grew up eating choco… That is my one little vice that I just love. It is my… The little room I give in my diet for something really sweet as chocolate was in your chocolate. Thumbs up. How did that happen?

Daniel: Absolutely. I would honestly say that this year with all of the different difficulties have really enlightened me as to what it is that has made our business special. I have heard a lot of feedback from the customers. Many of whom are multi-generational, you know their great grandparents bought the grandparents brought the next generation and so it has been ongoing since the start of the business and many of them have been reaching out to us and I have realized honestly that it is twofold surrounding tradition. Tradition is really the thing that sets aside our business. Number one, the tradition of honoring the old European style, techniques, and recipes of chocolate work. We dip… I would say more than half of our chocolates, they are dipped by hand and it takes a long time to train somebody to be able to gain those skills.

Many of them have an initial or a marking on the tops of the chocolates. That is also done by hand and again it takes about a year to a year and a half to fully trained somebody to do that. Now, we have made a commitment that we would carry on this tradition because we feel that it is an art form. If businesses are abandoning these art forms, they will not survive for the future generations. So the tradition of the manufacturing processes, one aspect of what has made our business successful – the traditions that our customers and our clients have built around our business is the other aspect that has made our business so special and so unique. A community has been built around this business. We see people running into each other all the time here in the business. They have not seen each other for years sometimes. The messages on the note cards that come through are just the sweetest things, especially over this last year.

I could publish a book with the heartwarming messages that we have gotten this year and that we have seen passed through our hands. And so those traditions that our customers have are also very special. Especially because we have been around for so long and the customers have maintained these traditions for as long as they have. It is something very unique in this world. Especially in a state like California, we do not have too many old institutions.

John: Right.

Daniel: It is something very interesting.

John: It is true. 79 years is a long time for any business in United States, but especially in LA which in many ways is like a transient City, a set of movies film is you break the set down and a new set is built for new movies, but your store has lasted the test of time. Since you are in the middle of Beverly Hills and Hollywood in many ways. It is also fun to note that many people from Hollywood or the entertainment industry, are your customers historically have been and still are your customers.

Daniel: Yeah. We have a very long and interesting list and I can tell you dating back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. We had notable celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor who is… We only recently discovered and we have these archives and every so often a new piece falls out of the archive or our gaze lands on a detail we had not noticed before and we recently discovered Elizabeth Taylor’s favorite chocolates were the Swiss truffle. We had heard about it from my customers like an oral history, but now we actually found her card where it included all of her favorites and our information. And so it was a really unique find and once in a while, we do come across these things. So she was a very famous notable, Katharine Hepburn wrote about us in her autobiography. Her favorites were the dark chocolate turtles. Frank Sinatra’s favorites were our Maple creams that they are good.

John: Those are really good.

Daniel: His family still buys them.

John: Really?

Daniel: They still like them.

John: [inaudible].

Daniel: Yeah, and then more into the modern-day, we have a lot, Reese Witherspoon is a regular. It is funny. She just comes to know my father and they are on a first-name basis. She just pops in and says hi to him all the time and from what my dad tells her. I have not had the opportunity to meet her yet, but she is a really lovely and a very sweet and personable person. You know Jennifer Garner and [inaudible].

John: Madonna?

Daniel: Madonna. Her favorites are the dark chocolate plain vanilla. marshmallows.

John: Oh, those are so good.

Daniel: Former Governor Schwarzenegger, actually, I keep that little white framed. No that was a letter he wrote to us to thank us for our service to the state and for keeping the tradition alive and so he is a customer still and we have had our chocolates serves to Jimmy Carter, President Obama, the Saudi Royalty, British Royalty. So I mean it is kind of the sky is the limit. But having said all of that, we do not gear our business towards the elite and the who’s who of wherever. Ultimately, everyone… we are an equitable business. Everybody who walks on the store, everyone who calls us, everyone who places an order gets the same treatment.

John: Danny and how I know that is true. I was in the store once. Before I met you knowing… I knew your mom and I knew, of course, your dad and Lisa and now I am in the store and is packed and it is a holiday time and there was a celebrity in the store. But there was other people to store, this is pre-Covid obviously. So the store was packed. And everyone in your family, you and Adrian, everyone was all hands on deck and everybody got treated the same. With the same big smile with the same big heart. And even with the celebrity there, everyone was on even footing which really goes to say so much about you and your family and everybody who is part of the Edelweiss family. It is just really really special stuff. But I do know, I do not want to leave Hollywood behind and because we are going to go on and talk about Valentine’s of all the great things you have here at up of Valentine’s week.

And before we get into the Lucy story, please share. I know you did it in the video, but I want you to do it again and it bears repeating because it is really my favorite Hollywood part of your story.

Daniel: Absolutely and I can tell you that you know one might expect that the newer generations of kids for instance may not know who Lucille Ball is but you would be surprised there are so, so, so many people who still walk in through this door and they asked to see the machine that inspired that famous, I Love Lucy Chocolate Factory episode. And so, it is just a testament to Lucy’s art itself and that it lasted as long as it has. You can still watch it on TV. It is all over the place. Most people are familiar with her and the TV show. And so what happened in our little bit of that legacy is that Lucy used to be a customer of ours and she parks in the back parking lot that we have here on-site and she would walk through the factory to get into the front store and one faithful day as she was passing through we have this, not to get to into the terminology, but we have this thing called an enrobing machine.

And the way that operates is any of the centers that are too delicate for instance to dip by hand. We passed them through this machine that creates like a little curtain of chocolate and then the center is passed through the chocolate, they get fully coated and then they come out of the belt. There is this open space in the belt before they enter the long cooling tunnel. Now, the reason I mention this is that open spaces where the magic happened that day. We were training like I was telling you a little bit ago, one of the staff members to learn how to do the initial on the tops of the chocolates. So when they come out of the enrobing portion, they are still wet and you still have an opportunity to do the initial work. Now, it was a messy, messy day as I was told. Chocolate was flying through the air, the poor woman was struggling to keep up with how fast the confections were coming off the belt and so she was really struggling.

And the chocolate was covering. She was covered in it. It was flying through the air. The machine was covered. The walls were covered and Lucy happened to be walking by just by chance at that moment and a light bulb went off in her head. And she thought that this was one of the most hilarious things she had ever seen and so what a lot of people do not know is she actually physically spend three weeks here in our facility, researching.

John: You said that in the video, I had never heard that before but that just goes to the level of greatness people think. The great ones just show up and they are great. I just read yesterday that Tom Brady’s family left his home so they could give him 12 days prior to Super Bowl to sit at his desk and watch film. Brady is not GOAT [inaudible] at 43 years old because of lack of preparation. He is the GOAT for a reason. She is arguably the what female comedian GOAT of all time or one of them for great reason. So when you gave that part of the story on our prep work, the lightbulb went off to me and said, “There it is.” There is the key part of the whole story. She just did not see that as a funny moment. She wanted to study it sure. She got it right when she did it with Vivian Vance on camera.

Daniel: Exactly. We did not know the full history of that episode for many years. Again, It was passed down almost like folklore by our customers until we had William Asher who was the director of the series reached out to us. This was several years back. He was celebrating his 87th birthday, and he wanted to come to our facility and celebrated he lived in… I want to say he lives in Pennsylvania at the time, but he wanted to come here and celebrate his birthday at this site that inspired his most successful episode he ever filmed in his entire career.

John: Wow.

Daniel: Yeah. So he came here with his lovely wife and he told us the whole history about exactly how everything transpired and what he told us that really blew my mind and like you said was the key to Lucy’s comedic genius was that she did not leave anything a chance. A lot of people think, “Oh if you know she was a good ad-libber or improvisational artist.” But she was not. She was a workhorse and she rehearse and rehearse and rehearse and she was more of a perfectionist. She again did not like to leave anything to chance. She spent three weeks here in the facility. She wanted to see everything that we do that way with an eye towards what would be funny on camera. Now, what I can tell you is what she ended up doing she tweaked our process. When if you think back to that episode, they would pick up the chocolates and wrap them and then put them back on the belt.

John: Right.

Daniel: Now, we do not do that here because as I was explaining. When they come out of the enrobing machine, they are still wet. The chocolate had not hardened yet and that is when they do the marking. Now, as Mr. Asher explains to us, Lucy tried to make it funny doing the markings but he said that there is a fine line between funny and messy and Lucy just did not have the skills that is that difficult to get it done right. She said it was just too messy. So they spent some time trying to figure out what can we do to tweak their processes to make it funny for the camera. And so that is the reason she spent that much time here.

John: By the way, what was her favorite chocolate? Do you guys… Was that part of the history too? You know, what…

Daniel: You know what? I get asked that question a lot and it pains me to say we do not have that.

John: Okay. That is how it goes. And I never saw one. So I just wondered if I missed it when I have been in your store so many times where I missed that part of it. Let us move from Hollywood now to Valentine’s because this is the Valentine’s special and for our listeners and our viewers. We have got Danny. See here. He is part of the family that owns Edelweiss chocolate. He is the chocolatier and the creative director. You can find and order your chocolates for Valentine’s Day or any other day of the year at www.edelweiss, E-D-E-L, weiss, W-E-I-S-S chocolates with an s.com. It is a great website. Go on 24/7.

Danny, it is Valentine’s Day. Is that the busiest holiday of the year for you guys?

Daniel: It s funny. Most people think that it is. It is not necessarily the busiest. I would say that Christmas is definitely number one and what a lot of people do not realize is that Easter is actually the second-largest holiday, and there is a long tradition that dates all the way back to Europe tying chocolate to Easter because many people would give chocolate up for Lent. Once Easter rolled around, chocolate is really just evolved into a major, major part of the Easter culture. And so it is a big, big holiday for us as well. Valentine’s not to say, the Valentine’s is not. Everyone knows Valentine’s goes hand-in-hand with chocolate. But Valentine’s is more of a… I am not going to get into speculating here, but it is more of a last-minute holiday [inaudible]. Your audience to decide why that might be but it is more of a last-minute holiday.

John: So talk about what wonderful gifts that you have for Valentine’s teed up. So people can email you or call you and make some orders and send someone they really care about or a loved one or the romantic interest one of your beautiful boxes of chocolate, which I always say is just happiness in a box.

Daniel: Absolutely. So we have several fun items that we are doing for the holiday. We make our a very delicious organic berry bar. It is the base of the bar is white chocolate and ruby chocolate and then we flavor the chocolate with organic raspberry and freeze-dried strawberry powder. So that makes this really beautiful pink color and then we decorate the top of it with the fruit as well varies. So, that is really lovely. We do a raspberry and also a rose marshmallow. So we sell those in raspberry and rose assorted box that is really fun for the holidays. We do a separate raspberry heart. It is like a marshmallow heart. Those are really fun. We have chocolate roses and… We do that is really fun also for the holiday aside from what we make here in sho and we work with the company that does custom heart boxes. They come in…

John: [inaudible] boxes?

Daniel: I think beautiful.

John: Oh my gosh. Your heart boxes are just over the top end. For our listeners, go on the website everything Danny’s talking about, you can see on the website, the berry bar, the heart boxes are all there. It is gorgeous. Go ahead Danny, I interrupted you.

Daniel: Yeah. No. Not at all. I know that you are a big fan of the heart boxes. I know that is something that you purchase all year round and those boxes what is unique about them, they are all handmade. Again, we decided that if we are going to bring something into this business. We want to highlight businesses that do things by hand like we do. We think that it is a very special thing to still be able to manufacture that way and so we want to support those businesses as well. Now, the boxes are made out of real materials, real leather stacked and velvet [inaudible] and sashes and flowers. We have one for the gentlemen, the ladies really love. It is newer this year. So it is in the shape of a heart but it is decorated as if it is a gentleman’s suit with a vest and a tie and it is a real fabric vest with the real fabric and tie on it. I think we have about maybe 25 to 30 different varieties of heart boxes. And they are very interesting and they are very unique, I think.

John: That is some great and the nice thing also is when someone calls in and speaks with you or one of your great family members at your chocolate store, you guys can curate almost any gift to the needs of the customers. You guys always figure out a way that to make the experience super special for the gift giver and the gift receiver. So, if you do not see it on the website, I just would say call on in and speak with Danny or one of his family members or colleagues because they always figure out a way to get it done and they have for our family for years now, and it is just always goes so well. Danny, talk a little bit about your stores. You have one in Beverly Hills. You have one in Brentwood at the Brentwood Country Mart and you have the online, the website, and people could email you or also calling. Is that the best way for our listeners and viewers to access your great chocolates?

Daniel: Absolutely. So, anybody is welcome to walk in we are open now. We have a limited capacity and as all businesses in LA do retail shops, but absolutely more than welcome to come in. You can call us, the numbers on the website or like you said visiting our website to make a purchase. What I will say though is for the Valentine holiday because it tends to be a bit of a last-minute holiday and Covid being what it is in the situation being what it is. Because we have limited capacity and store. We are anticipating very, very, very long lines the week of Valentine’s Day. So what I would suggest to your listeners, if possible, order early, do not wait until the last minute and if you are local, we have really really great rates. We are doing specials on messengering, we can cover most of Los Angeles. I would highly recommend messengering it. Because if you wait close to the holiday, even if you are just picking up the order, you may wait in line to get it. So please do not wait. Place your orders early and we will make sure to get it done.

John: That is awesome. You know, Danny, beyond chocolate, in your… personally speaking, you also are the chairman of the board of directors for Raha International. Can you explain to our listeners and viewers a little bit about what your work is at Raha?

Daniel: Absolutely. Raha International is a nonprofit organization that was established by my co-founder Shervin [inaudible] and it is our passion project. It has been for several years now. It is for LGBTQ Iranians whether you are here in the US or you are in Iran or anywhere else in the world, to build a community and through that community to be able to support one another. There really had not been an LGBTQ Iranian or Persian community at all. And you know what I can tell you just being in the Persian community and I am also Jewish, you know being in a Jewish Community separately. I know that there is a lot of strength that you can derive from being a part of a community. You can make connections, social connections, business connections, a lot of opportunities come through these personal connections, and we notice that a lot of the LGBTQ Iranians especially the ones who are coming from Iran who do not have family here, where did not have any friends here. They were without a network and they were kind of left to just fend for themselves. We know how difficult that can be. So we wanted to create a space and an environment for all of us to come together and really start building that connection and that community [inaudible].

John: How many years ago did you guys founded that?

Daniel: We established it in 2017.

John: How can people donate or join or be become a member of Raha International?

Daniel: Absolutely. So we are currently working on our website. We are tweaking it. So where it is a little rough around the edges at the moment, but you can totally visit our website at Raha, R-A-H-A, intl.org. You can also find us on Instagram by the same handle. We are also on Facebook. We find out about all the fun and unique different things that we are doing. We also host a support group that meets once monthly. Now because of Covid, we are doing it online and virtually at the moment. But once all at once, we go back to normal. It will be met in person. And that is another important aspect of the work we do. We do not only want to focus on social interactions. We really want to help people with fostering better mental health. We do a lot of educational programming where we teach people about sexual health, mental well-being, what the refugee experience is moving from Iran to La. How to find jobs, begin that job search, and how to build a new life in a new country and a new town in a new city where you do not know anybody.

So we want to be that resource for people who are really looking for that type of help and because Covid has stalled or put an end to a lot of the programming for this year that we had. A lot of our donations have also stalled. We would gladly accept any donations any of your viewers or listeners might want to pass our way and they can absolutely do that by visiting our website. Again, it is rahaintl.org and there is a big donate button right at the top banner.

John: Danny, first of all, that is so important that work you are doing. There is a passion project and I really congratulate you and support your mission and your passion. Talk a little bit about being an immigrant. Talk about how hard is it still to be part of the LGBTQ community in Iran versus hopefully a more open society like the United States. Is it still part and parcel persecution and shame that comes with that in Iran or other countries that are similarly situated and coming to America offers some more opportunity for relief on these issues or is it even still difficult here in America?

Daniel: It is interesting and that is where the organization was born. Actually, let us a flashback to maybe five to ten years ago. Our executive director serving for [inaudible] who co-founded the organization with me. We built Raha at the back of his work actually. He has been a long time advocate for Iranian LGBTQs to come out of the closet to normalize it. He has been fighting for this for 30 plus years along with a couple of good friends. We have Joseph Jarunyan, is another trailblazer. And so this was built on the back of their work and it started actually. Shervin started doing an enormous party which was instrumental because that party brought people together. It was the seed that started building the community and after a couple years were that took off he started a panel serious. This was very innovative in that… He brought Persian parents and Persian LGBTQs together on a panel to share their experiences either coming out in the persecution they face for as the parents of an LGBTQ, parent-child. What the experience was like having their child to come out to them and this was instrumental because nobody had spoken publicly about it because of the shame that permeated our society in our community.

So that was the reason he started this work was to build, sorry, to break down those walls and to break down those barriers. Eventually, it went from just programming to the need to actually build an organization around this program. So that is when he came to me. We are good friends, and he knew that I was looking for something to really dive into and really give my all to. I was looking for something outside of my personal life and something outside of my business life that I could give back. And so when he came to this I said, “You know what? Let us do it. Let us go for it. Let us make this happen.” It has been a blessing ever since.

John: It always a blessing when you can find projects outside of our day-to-day paying the bills, making a living, and their passion projects because they are actually personal. They are filling voids that exist. So that is so wonderful. I am a native New Yorker, Daniel and yesterday and Howard Stern’s always been larger than life and someone I listen to especially in later years where he is gotten really amazing at interviewing people that mean something to him and doing a real great job. And yesterday I listened to an episode. One of my favorite episodes of the last year. We listen to the Anderson Cooper episode and I wanted to just bring up an interesting point that I did not focus on the first time. I listened to it. He talked about Howard brought up to him that Tim Cook, the legendary operator business guy who runs Apple. Who has been with Apple while Steve was alive and then was handed the keys to Apple when Steve passed on.

Tim Cook reached out to Anderson Cooper and they ask for advice and support when he was coming out. When a legend like him with his experience in the media, in the public forum, in operating huge corporations with total deafness and aplomb needs support and needs guidance. Who does not need guidance and this kind of sensitive and important issues I really applaud you more than ever because it is obvious that it is still a very difficult and hard subject for most to navigate.

Daniel: Absolutely and you note to go back. I realize it I quite answer your last question about the stigma that [inaudible] Shervin began the programming and we continued it under under Raha, but I can tell you that here just in our own little microcosm of Los Angeles, it is made so much of a difference. The community has become more open and more accepting, more of our members are coming out to their families. Their families are embracing them. They are celebrating them which is what we are starting to see and we want to expand this because we are lucky here in Los Angeles. We have a big version, you know Iranian community and so it was a little easier to tackle that here but we have a significant number of LGBTQs in Iran. We have all over the world and they are still going through what we were going through 10 years ago here in Los Angeles.

Living under that type of stigma with that level of shame because you have to hide who you are is very difficult and it leads to a lot of mental health problems. And that is the work that we are also looking to focus on is trying to reverse all those years where you know who you are has been buried, buried, and buried, and buried. You have not been able to live your truth. And so that is really the next phase that we are working on is to bridge that gap and take our work and catapulted as servant[?] always has catapulted into Iran. To try to make those changes. So some of the things that we have uniquely this year been able to do, it is finding a silver lining and pivoting. Given this crisis that we have had but the gem of a tool that zoom is we have been able to design some programming. For instance, we do poetry readings. Poetry is there is a long tradition of poetry in Iranian culture that dates back thousand something years.

So, we do poetry readings. We do discussions about them. Many of the conversations center around being LGBTQ. Many of the famous poets. We were suspected that they were LGBTQ, but we are hiding it, you know centuries ago. And so we talk about these things and we have had members from Iran joining. And so now they have been given an opportunity to join the conversation and to reach out and talk to us and see if there is any way that we can communicate with them and help them and how we can support them. And so we are starting to incrementally be able to permeate that barrier. That is kept us from doing our work in our own.

John: That is awesome. Well, continued success with your passion project.

Daniel: Thank you.

John: It is a really important work Danny. Back to Edelweiss chocolates. Now, of course we talked about Valentine’s Day. Let us just look a little bit at a crystal bowl though. When I knew we were going to do this interview this Valentine’s Day special edition of The Impact podcast, as I was one of my news feeds came through and I was sad to see one of my favorite brands that I used to grow up going into their stores in Manhattan all the time, the [inaudible] chocolates closed all of their stores about 10 days ago. So I started thinking a little bit I said, “I want to ask Danny about the future. Does the future hold any possibilities for Edelweiss.” Because you are a young man, your sister Renee is young, Adrian is young. Are you thinking of potentially filling the gap in retail down the road and expanding Edelweiss beyond online and on the phone and the two great stories you have in LA. With retail now vacating the chocolate space and Godiva closing approximately 128 of all of their stores. Does that open up a market opportunity for you? Especially in tourist areas or big cities around the United States?

You know, it is something that outside of Covid. We had been thinking about for a long time. We have… One of the benefits of being in business as long as we have, our clients have either sent gifts all over the world or they have moved all over the world. And so we have hubs all around the US. And around the world where people are buying our chocolates and we are shipping it to them. And so we get people reaching out to us all the time asking us, “Please open any otherwise here in Manhattan and Miami.” You name it and we get the request. Part of our consideration and we are open to expanding but we want to tread lightly because one of the things we do not want to do is diminish how special the brand is and part of that has to do with its exclusivity. In a world that is completely globalized where you know with this phone, I can get almost anything I want to be shipped to me within a couple of days from the farthest corners of the world. Many manufacturers in the farthest corners of the world.

Daniel: There is something special about only being able to get certain items locally. Like for instance, are our chocolate covered cherries. We do not ship them. We do not ship them because they are so delicate. We have tried it, they break and shipment and they leak all over the place, they have a liquid center. So that is something very unique that you can only find here when you walk into our store and you carry it out. We do not want to ruin that. It is something very special and it is not lost on us that it is so special and so unique. One of the things that we decided this year because retail, brick and mortar had taken such a big hit. Our own business is not excluded from that. For the first six months of this pandemic understandably, our normal regular customer base was not ordering as much from us as they had been because there are no events. People are not going to each other’s homes. And so naturally that you will see a decline in sales. But what we did was we pivoted very, very quickly. We focused all of our attention and effort and energy and our budget into building our online platform and advertising it and really throwing everything at that sales channel and we have seen tremendous growth through that business.

So, I think that one of the things that we can do best to allow our chocolates to reach more consumers hands is to really focus on that e-commerce business, for now, [inaudible] and then you know when the dust settles and we know exactly what the landscape looks like after this, these this last year. We can make some decisions.

John: I love it. And you know Danny this has been special. This is our Valentine’s edition. I am so glad you came on today. You are always welcome back on The Impact podcast. You are making an impact with Raha International, of course, you making an impact all around the world with your Edelweiss chocolates for our friends, family, and all of our listeners and viewers around the world, order the handcrafted, we glanced over that a little bit, they are handmade chocolates and you are never going to be disappointed. Please go to www.edelweiss, E-D-E-L, weiss, W-E-I-S-S chocolates with an s.com and order, call up, email Danny, his family and order these for Valentine’s Day or sometime in the near future either for yourself or a family member, for a friend, a romantic interest. You are going to make their heart just so big when they get this box of happiness that tastes delicious. They are handcrafted chocolates. Thank you, Daniel Zahi. You are making an impact. You are making us all happier. You are making the world a better place and I am grateful for your time today on The Impact podcast.

Daniel: Thank you for having me. It has been an honor and a pleasure.