About Boardroom

Boardroom is a media network that covers the business of sports, entertainment. From the ways that athletes, executives, musicians and creators are moving the business world forward to new technologies, emerging leagues, and industry trends, Boardroom brings you all the news and insights you need to know...

At the forefront of industry change, Boardroom is committed to unique perspectives on and access to the news, trending topics and key players you need to know.

All Rights Reserved. 2022.

Sei Less: Hip-hop’s Culinary Haven

Sei Less has become home to some of the biggest names in hip-hop. As the Asian fusion restaurant celebrates hip-hop’s 50th birthday, Boardroom speaks with one of its founders.

From having perfectly curated ensembles to the finest jewels money can buy, celebrities understand the finer things in life. That trickles down to food, too. While there remain some of the tried-and-true spots servicing A-listers for decades, a new one has emerged in New York City over the last year that has attracted some of the biggest names in the industry.

Nestled in Midtown behind an enigmatic mural, Sei Less is an Asian fusion spot co-founded by Ivi Shano and Dara Mirjahangiry. It was the inspiration behind the hit song “Say Less” by rappers Fabolous and French Montana, and since opening its doors in early 2022, has fed the likes of Travis Scott, Cardi B, James Harden, and Future.

In celebration of hip-hop‘s 50th anniversary, Sei Less unveiled an innovative spread named after some of their favorite guests and the shapeshifters of the genre. The prix fixe menu boasts an appetizer that pays homage to Nas, a main named after one of Fat Joe and Remy Ma’s biggest singles, and a tasty chocolate dessert dish that gives Busta Rhymes his flowers.

As more become familiar with the eatery, Mirjahangiry spoke with Boardroom about how he leveraged his decades-long experience in hospitality to succeed in this venture, hip-hop’s continuing impact in food, and whether he faces any pressure to keep evolving as the name keeps growing.

Sign up for our newsletter

Get on our list for weekly sports business, industry trends, interviews, and more.

VINCIANE NGOMSI: Do you mind sharing a little bit more about your background, how you got into the food industry, and how that experience eventually led to opening Sei Less?

DARA MIRJAHANGIRY So I went to college, studied finance and marketing, and worked a corporate job when I finished school in 2008. Then the financial crisis happened that resulted in people being laid off. I had been a waiter when I was in college. I thought it was just a way of making ends meet while I was a student. But I got back into the hospitality world and worked at a restaurant in New York, this was about 13 years ago. But as a waiter, I would go out with a lot of the clients that I would meet. Over time, I’ve built my network by doing that and Sei Less is the fourth restaurant I’ve had since then.

So it’s kind of just been a progression over the last 13 years in Manhattan where I’ve really immersed myself in the culture. And when I say ‘the culture,’ I mean sports, music, entertainment, and even real estate. I’ve kind of just built a name through the years of being the go-to guy in New York when it comes to hospitality. That could be eating at one of my venues or if they want to go out after dinner to another venue, I help facilitate that process.

VN: So when you started in hospitality, the goal wasn’t to necessarily be affiliated with famous faces, you just really wanted to share your love of food with everyone.

DM: Obviously it’s great having celebrities and high-profile people. But at the end of the day, we want to treat everyone as a regular person. We all eat the same food and we share the same experiences. People come to the restaurant because they want a culinary experience as well. There’s obviously a vibe that goes along with the restaurant.

VN: How did you come up with the structure of the hip-hop 50th anniversary menu and how did your love for the genre play a role in that?

DM: So I’ve been working with Asian fusion cuisine for almost 15 years, and I know what are some of the menu items that really make people tick. But we also try to introduce some new dishes that are different than what diners might have had before. We try to set our menu apart from some of the other restaurants in the space. But it’s a little bit of trial and error.

We do have hundreds of artists that come to the restaurant. But we really tried to pay homage to New York artists from the past and present that really formed the culture of hip-hop over the last 50 years, not just in New York, but also worldwide. A lot of these people that are on our hip-hop 50 menu are patrons of the restaurant. So our goal was to highlight some of their experiences and some of their favorite dishes when they come in to eat. But these musicians have dined at my previous restaurants for several years, going back probably over 10 years. So, I’ve gotten to know them on a personal level and really understand what their palettes are. But there’s something for everyone on our menu. Keep in mind, people become creatures of habit and they order the same dishes every time they come to Sei Less. The hip-hop 50 menu was a way of highlighting that.

VN: Hip-hop has shaped the way we discuss a number of things, whether it be fashion, sneakers, or film. But I don’t really see it a lot within food. When you see these artists come through your door, how do you think you play a larger role in the conversation of hip-hop’s lasting legacy?

DM: Yeah, I think you’re definitely right. Hip-hop definitely drives a lot of trends and I think food is something that’s kind of forgotten. But food is such a big part of hip-hop culture in many ways. The artists really support us. And I’ve tried to really give them a menu and an experience that really speaks to them. When you’re dealing with celebrities and high-profile individuals, there has to be a balance between making sure that they’re happy as well as showing regular people that are coming in the same experience. I think in the next 50 years, food will definitely play a bigger part in hip-hop’s legacy.

I think that’s really the best way to pay homage to some of these people, is just to give them a place where they could call home and feel comfortable. As time goes on, it just kind of grows even more because as well-known as we are and as much momentum we’ve had in our first year of business, it’s still growing. And that’s the beauty of it is that I don’t think we’re even close to being where we can be as a brand.

VN: With how popular the restaurant has become in just a year and the A-list following it has attracted, do you feel any pressure to maintain relevancy, or have you reached a level of comfort?

DM: You know, it’s not pressure really because we have a great staff, from the culinary team to the front-of-house staff. A lot of our team members are people I’ve worked with probably for almost 10 years. So they really understand the brand and what we’re trying to do and they keep us good. So I don’t think of it as pressure, but rather something that I enjoy doing and want to keep growing. I want to give the experience of when I go out to eat what I want as a diner. Even if you’re not eating Chinese food or Asian fusion food, you know, you want to give people the experience that resonates with them and they tell 10 people when they leave who also want to come visit.

Read More:

About The Author
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi is a Staff Writer at Boardroom. She began her career in sports journalism with bylines at SB Nation, USA Today, and most recently Yahoo. She received a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Truman State University, and when she's not watching old clips of Serena Williams' best matches, she is likely perfecting her signature chocolate chip cookie recipe or preparing a traditional Cameroonian meal.