After feeling pressured to go into a career in investment banking or medicine, Somann found his calling in the hospitality industry. He tells the serendipitous story of how he came into his profession, and encourages others to find what they love and pursue it whole-heartedly. This story was produced in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.
“So I was born in Carbondale, Illinois, and my parents are both from Iran and they came over here during the revolution. My journey really starts with just being raised in an American-oriented family, but with a very Persian, Muslim background in Illinois. Being a Persian-American, and having parents who came here during the revolution, you know, it was very ‘hush-hush;’ they wanted me to be as American as possible.
When my dad first came to the United States…well, it kind of starts with my grandparents, on my father’s side. My grandparents both worked in education underneath the Shah, and during the revolution, they were in northern Iran, and they were in a position where there wasn’t as much political tension, so they were able to get [my father] out. One he came to the United States, he was staying with his uncle but there was no ability to send money over, and stuff like that. So I had a father who was very pampered and very wealthy and came to the United States, and literally had nothing.
I never really thought that I would go into restaurant management or hospitality. I enjoyed business development, and kind of like my ‘operations analyst’ role, and I thought that I wanted to go into Operations. To a certain degree I did, but I think when I was looking for jobs towards the end of graduation I realized, what is my skillset, what am I good at? What can I develop? Everyone around me was going into private equity, investment banking, finance…and I kind of felt compelled to go into the same industry, just for namesake. But I knew I was really good at planning events, I knew I was really good at relationships and partnerships and stuff like that.
I was hosting a lot of events at this one venue downtown called Hubbard Inn, and as a coincidence I actually met the owner, and he also was Persian–Chris Bader, phenomenal guy. We had met a few times, and he basically was like, ‘you know, I don’t really have university of Chicago or Northwestern students working for me and this hospitality management group.’ That was kind of a cool opportunity for us to create a position together, and we really worked out the kinks around that. Currently, I do business development for that company; so I do a lot of outreach sales and partnerships and stuff like that as well. You know, it’s interesting: I didn’t really think I would end up in this career, but I’m enjoying every second of it, it’s phenomenal.
It’s so interesting, there’s this facade of investment banking: you’re working 100 hours a week, you’re working for Goldman-Sachs, you’re working for J.P. Morgan, you’re hustling and grinding in New York…for what? Why? I just never really understood. Why would I want to push myself so much, to the point where I’ve degraded my own lifestyle? Not to say that investment banking, as an example, is a bad career choice; I have friends that are killing it, and all power to them. Huge respect. I just don’t really see that being my calling.
I think that I really enjoy working with people, and I really enjoy my job. I think I could do equally well for me by following a different career path. Investing stocks, and stuff like that will always be interesting, but doing private equity investment banking is just not really going to be my end goal.
When you really think of what is hospitality, it’s not oh I work in a hotel, or a restaurant, or a nightclub, or a bar, it’s the concept of working with people. Relationships. Taking care of people. If I have a client and I shake their hand and I’m taking them into my venue, I’m checking in on them and just making sure that they are having a phenomenal time, that they and their guests are having an enjoyable time. I take value in that, that’s my reputation. I want to make sure that they’re having the best time possible so that, perhaps, we can invite them back. I can retain them. I can maybe develop them. I can hope that I can get a referral of some sort: that’s what matters. That’s what hospitality is. I don’t think it’s, let me get this sale in, or, you know, make sure that their food is hot, or make sure that they just have a good time this once, and oh great they’re gone, I can close my doors now. It’s so much more than that; it’s about relationships.
I think for advice to people in their youth, who are figuring themselves out and what they want to do further on, you need to find something–first and foremost–that you enjoy. I am very happy and lucky to be able to find a career or a calling that is going to be able to give me financial success, but also that I really enjoy. If you really enjoy education, focus on education. If you really want to be a professional athlete, give it one hundred and ten percent–do it! If you really want to become a doctor great! Do it.
I was very conditioned towards medicine, and the idea that becoming a doctor is the end-goal. I really was interested in medicine, but I was entirely conditioned by my parents–I was pushed by them. Ultimately, it wasn’t for me. I think when you’re in a position where you’re being forced to do something, it’s not going to end well. You have to figure it out for yourself. You really do. But if you find something you truly enjoy that you’re passionate about, don’t be scared. Go for it. Give it one hundred and ten percent.”