How a former fashion executive has reimagined the mall experience in Southern California – Orange County Register

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How a former fashion executive has reimagined the mall experience in Southern California – Orange County Register

Eternally hip at 67, Shaheen Sadeghi, founder and CEO of LAB Holding LLC, still dresses like a fashion designer, even while relaxing at home. Except for butterscotch-colored shoes, sans socks, today’s look is monochromatic: dark royal blue twill slacks, ending in a discreet cuff with matching shirt. The pocket square is visible about a half inch below the waist. Is it Gucci?? Pucci? Could it be his original design?

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Sadeghi can probably get any garment he desires. In his previous career, he was the head of product and design at Jantzen, then executive Vice President for Gotcha Sportswear Inc.

He joined Quiksilver in the role of president. He was tired of being a fashion executive who traveled the world and reached the pinnacle of action sportswear. He was always a trendwatcher and felt that traditional malls were starting to alienate young customers.

“They didn’t want teenagers hanging out. And I’m like, ‘Whoa, I just sold a couple billion dollars of this product to them,’”He said. “These teens, they’re into clean oceans, they’re into politics, they’re into the environment and music. I thought, ‘Okay, there is a cultural dichotomy that’s happening here.’”

He proposed the idea of creating a new shopping area for friends with sufficient means. Nobody took it seriously. He felt compelled, even though he had no prior experience as a real-estate developer, to create one.

He found a spot in Costa Mesa that was once home to night-vision goggles plants and opened a retail centre with a number of restaurants in 1993. In his indoor/outdoor collection of shops offering alterna merchandise, a traditional food court wasn’t a fit. Instead, he designed spaces for each eatery to exude their own style.

There were also snack stands, but the standalone restaurants quickly became popular. The Gypsy Den had a bohemian ambience reminiscent of San Francisco coffee houses of the ’60s. Habana celebrated Cuba — an exotic locale during the Clinton administration — where mojitos and sangria flowed. The patio was lit up with votive candles and surrounded by lush landscaping and flowers, it also contained a dragon tree centerpiece.

Although The LAB took a while to catch on, Sadeghi never lost his faith. “I just knew in my heart — again, I compare everything to music — the notes just felt right to me. And I used my own money.”

Soon everyone was singing his tune. The LAB quickly became a hot spot, where you could catch up-and-coming bands Sugar Ray and Sublime.

Sadeghi’s vision had caught fire, but he wasn’t done. In 2002, he continued the project with The Camp, just across the street. It was an eclectic center with SEEDPeoples Market (Sadeghi founded and owned that shop), a plant shop housed in an Airstream trailer and lots more artisanal retailers.

Tim Goodell, then one of Southern California’s trendiest chefs, opened The Lodge, and although the tenant mix has changed over the years, Sadeghi is still pulling in top chefs such as 2019 “Chopped”Rachel Klemek was the winner

The Camp offers many types of feasts. You have many options. Breakfast or dessert at Klemek’s Blackmarket Bakery, dinner with topflight wine pairings at Old Vine Kitchen & Bar or a quick banh mi and Vietnamese iced coffee at East Borough.

Today, Orange County is home to all manner of food halls: Collage at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza, SoCo in Costa Mesa, SteelCraft Garden Grove, Mess Hall Market in Tustin and Rodeo 39 Public Market in Stanton, to name a handful. But it’s still astounding that The LAB and The Camp were established before San Francisco’s trendsetting Ferry Building burst onto the scene.

On Friday, February 18, 2022 in Anaheim, lunchtime diners can sit along the railing at the Anaheim Packing House’s upper level on Anaheim Boulevard. Shaheen Sadeghi developed it. (Photo by Mark Rightmire/Orange County Register/SCNG).

Sadeghi isn’t done. The Anaheim Packing House celebrated their grand opening in 2014. Today’s tenants include The Blind Rabbit, a dark speakeasy; Georgia’s Restaurant, a soul food kitchen; and Adya, an Indian eatery by another “Chopped” winner, Shachi Mehra.

Most recently, Michael Reed was lured away from Los Angeles for his second restaurant, drawn to a jewel of a glass building constructed in 2018 by Sadeghi. It was designed by Olson Kundig of Seattle and placed in Farmers Park in Anaheim Packing District. It looks like a greenhouse. “So you will have the wonderful option to open up all the side doors and have that indoor/outdoor feel,”Reed spoke to the Register shortly after opening Poppy & Seed 2021.

Sadeghi continues to be a hit. His list of projects includes:

  • Three blocks of Anaheim’s Center Street were purchased in 2010 and redeveloped with outdoor cafes, boutiques and a local farmers market.
  • San Clemente Casino is an event space that includes a ballroom and a garden. Purchased in 2006, it’s a fully restored historic building.
  • Leisuretown is a 33,000-square foot Anaheim playland that opened in 2020. It includes a brewery by Modern Times as well as a restaurant and beer garden, event space, and a swimming pool.
  • The Beat: 14 townhomes will be built with artist facilities called The ARTery in North Long Beach. Construction has already begun for 84 additional residential units called Rhythm. There will also be three blocks of shops and restaurants, which include a jazz museum.
  • The Marcos: Grand and Linda Vista in San Marcos will have artisan shops, restaurants, and breweries within a year.
  • But few of his fans know that the dude who stays one step ahead of us all wasn’t always the coolest kid on the block.

    Unraveled

    Shaheen Sadeghi’s grandfather built a retail and real estate empire and his father, Ali Sadeghi, was a successful businessman. Shaheen was born and raised in Tehran, Iran. He had an older brother and a younger sister who came 11 years later.

    His mother, Dee Hamidi Sadeghi, was selected as one of the top women in education by Farah Pahlavi, Iran’s queen at the time. Dee was granted a scholarship under a program to encourage women in education in Iran. She chose to study at Michigan State University. Shaheen, 11, was suddenly dropped into the American Midwest.

    His new home was just a few blocks from his school, but he was far from all he knew. No more driving the family around in a car, no more domestic servants or drivers to take him to Europe.

    Worse, Sadeghi faced the challenge of making friends at an age when it’s all about being cool. He recalled that it went beyond culture shock. “Back then they called us aliens.”

    The neighborhood was “100 percent African American. It was where Magic Johnson grew up,” Sadeghi said. “I was the only brown kid in an all-Black school, and I barely spoke English.”His academic environment was quite different from his homeland. “In Iran it was very strict. They literally paddle-spanked you … they were almost like military schools.”

    Welcome to America 1965. “These kids had their feet up on the desk and they were chewing gum and sitting with their legs open and I’m like, ‘Oh my God! You would get murdered if you did that at schools in Iran.’”

    Young Shaheen couldn’t break the ice. Even with sports. He played soccer back home; in the U.S., it was football, basketball, and baseball. “I had embarrassing moments that I’m very clear on,”He admits it.

    He was finally invited to shoot hoops one day with the guys, and he hit a perfect three-pointer. “I had no rhythm, no idea what I was doing and I just thought, ‘This is it! I’m gonna seal some friendships right here!’ But as soon as that ball went in, I turned around and my teammates were ready to kill me.”

    He had sunk it in his own team’s basket. He gave up. “Swear to God,”He said. “I never even showed up on a field after that.”

    His tight-knit family remained committed to supporting his mother’s goal of pursuing her doctorate. His father initially planned to remain in Iran, but decided to keep the family together. He also came to the U.S. for a degree from Michigan State.

    His parents led a rich intellectual life at the university and made friends with Farsi-speaking grad students. But their son struggled. These were the days before ESL classes were common. Public schools placed foreign students in mainstream classes and expected them either to swim or sink. Sadeghi finally found a way out.

    “There was a white teacher, Mrs. Smith. She kind of took us in. She was just an amazing woman. You know how they say one teacher can change your life?”He said that, stopping for a moment and taking a deep breath as the tears welled up in his eyes. “We loved her.”

    Mrs. Smith — he can’t remember her first name — invited the family to her home for Thanksgiving. They attended her church. She visited his family and cooked together with his mother. They shared recipes from Iran and Texas, as well as homestyle dishes Mrs. Smith brought from Texas.

    Shaheen began to feel more confident socially and his English improved. He was finally on his way. He made more friends when he started playing guitar.

    Because he grew up so close to Detroit, he was heavily influenced and influenced both by Motown and blues. He became a fan of Jimi Hendrix and began playing in various bands. He was interested in fashion and began designing clothes for his bandmates.

    “I was really into fashion back then,”He said. “And in 1970, when I was 16 years old, my mother had the summer off. She came to me and said, ‘We’re going to Iran.’’”

    American culture had already accepted her son by that time. He planned to spend his summer vacation giggling, going to the lake, and hanging out with friends. A multi-culti kid, he still respected the ways of his traditional family and couldn’t refuse the trip. But he wasn’t sorry; his act of obedience proved life-changing.

    Prêt-à-porter

    London, the first stop. Teenage Shaheen was wearing his fastest bell bottoms when he got off the plane and fell face to teakettle for Carnaby Street & Savile Row. “I was just blown away. Mary Quant. Jimi Hendrix. The Rolling Stones. Double-decker buses, miniskirts, groovy fashion. Everybody’s dressed freaking amazing! Oh my God! Here’s a kid from East Lansing, Michigan, middle of America. There are these clear paths where I know that my life changed. That’s definitely one of them.”

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    Dad wasn’t so sure. “He literally asked me if I was gay because I wanted to go to art school — that’s how conservative he was. Because their background is (that) you had to be a doctor or an engineer to support your family.”

    Sadgeghi took art classes at Michigan State University, applied to New York’s Pratt Institute and, miraculously in his eyes, was accepted in the School of Design.

    He and his friends found an apartment in Brooklyn. He met Linda Harvey who became his wife, and later became his business partner in LAB Holding. They had three sons, Sebastian, 26, (Pimco in Newport Beach), Nikolai, 24, (LaSalle Investment Management, Beverly Hills), and Dominic, 21, (Fortress Investment Group, Beverly Hills).

    Sadgeghi was a Pratt student. He began to look for jobs in the fashion industry while he was there, and he worked as an apprenticer for Charles James, a high-end couturier. He worked at the Chelsea Hotel, where James lived for 15 year. “He was a freaky guy,” Sadeghi says. “He worked from seven or eight o’clock at night until two to three in the morning.”

    James introduced him classical music and taught James. “the architecture of clothes.” “His theory was, it’s not just about the fabric, but the air in between you and the fabric, just the way he even formed his stuff at the mannequin. I was classically trained,”Sadeghi proudly declares

    Sadeghi’s name is a common one when he’s flipping through a coffee table book from that time. But he’s simply describing his early career, working in Manhattan and attending school in Brooklyn during that golden age when American fashion design was gaining an equal footing with European couture.

    “Dylan was hanging out at the hotel.

    “Halston ripped off half of Charles James’ stuff, he was a nasty guy.

    “Bianca Jagger would come in and order three $4,000 dresses. James would require a deposit. It took three years for the dress to arrive. He was known for being slow so I worked with him to get it out the door.

    “At the time, I also worked for John Anthony. We were in the 550 building (on Seventh Avenue). It was the toniest address in the fashion industry. Anthony was on the seventh floor, Oscar de la Renta was on the eighth floor. Geoffrey Bean was on the ninth floor. Ralph Lauren, Bill Blass, Halston. … It was phenomenal. Every time you walked in that building you ran into all these guys in the elevator. And Calvin Klein was around the corner.”

    In 1975, Sadeghi received the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Costume Design Award for his work on the futuristic hit movie. “Logan’s Run.”In 1977, he graduated from Pratt and was awarded the New York Designers Award. Young Sadeghi was a firebrand, and his life took a turn for the worse. He was making furniture and taking French and fashion classes. He also slept late and slept about two hours each night. He wasn’t into drugs or partying at Studio 54 — he was just caught up in the tidal wave of American haute couture, driven to do more and more until one day it was all too much.

    “I had an anxiety attack and I thought I was losing my mind.”

    His parents, who had completed their degrees, had returned to Iran. Sadeghi was 23 years old.

    En vogue

    His gray polished concrete two story home features floor-to–ceiling windows that overlook a Zen-like garden and saltwater pool. Furniture in neutral colors — some of it self-designed — include live-edge wooden tables that bring to mind a quiet forest. Sadeghi’s Laguna Beach home seems to invite visitors to meditate.

    He makes tea in a ceramic cup that coordinates with the color scheme of the green and grey. Ambient music plays as he describes the album he’s working on. If you ask, he’ll gently take an octave guitar into his hands and play it, so you can feel how laid back it is.

    The Wall Street Journal in 2015 immortalized this 6,800-square foot house, once owned by Massimo Giannulli. “A California couple’s oasis.” That’s what Sadeghi and his then-wife — they’ve been apart for about five years, he says — intended. With three sons and an overly busy work life, planning multimillion-dollar projects and occasionally taking risks on properties that others didn’t see value in, this is exactly what they needed.

    Sadeghi had to learn the hard way that work/life balance is crucial. After his panic attack in Manhattan in 1977, a school counselor recommended that Sadeghi see a psychiatrist. She explained what anxiety attacks were and why he needed to relax. He continues to be active, snowboarding and mountain biking with his children. Back then, he didn’t get it.

    “He (the psychiatrist) said, ‘You’re pushing yourself too hard.’ I had zero understanding of my body because I was so driven. I started playing tennis. I became a running fanatic, I would go for miles and miles. It was just a way of getting back in tune, getting my Zen. I didn’t understand yoga or anything like that back then.”

    So, it’s understandable that he creates restful and social spaces. The Camp subtly mimics a kids’ summer vacation. Common areas are filled with benches and picnic tables. Adirondack chairs can be found in cozy vignettes.

    A small cabana made of logs frames a green wall. It’s hidden at the back of The Camp and it’s irresistible. One late afternoon, there’s a burst of laughter and an inimitable voice spills out of the cabana’s sitting area. It’s Disney legend Kurt Russell giving someone a hearty handshake and accepting what looks like a CD or DVD. Is this a business deal? Are they just friends hanging out? Could be both. And that’s Sadeghi’s intention. He wants the world to slow down for visitors at his anti-malls, whether they’re mega movie stars or parents with small children.

    Sadeghi came West to seek peace and escape New York City. “It was loud and dirty and there was always somebody screaming at you. It was just an intense place. Hectic, hectic. Between that and my work, I think I just maxed out.”

    He believes that dining should be social and relaxing. “Obviously, the food has to be good and deliver value, but I think the main instrument is the opportunity to bring people together to connect and have a bonfire. Food is just a tool to do that.”

    Sadeghi, who gave a TED talk about the topic, said that Americans eat too quickly and too mindlessly. Ordering at McDonald’s took too long so they started serving combo meals, he says. The drive-thru was next. “So now you’re talking to the stupid speaker… you go up to the window and they chuck a burger at you and you’re eating it in a car on the way to or from work. And that’s a meal? It’s insane!

    “Fast food in this country? Not only is it horrendous for you, it’s culturally depriving. Compare that with the experience of being in Italy on Sunday. Grandma’s making pasta, so you sit around, you have wine. … It isn’t about eating, it’s about social connection. We forgot about all of that. But I think it’s back in America. Food became the new canvas, it became the new art. And it’s been really exciting, what’s happened over the last 10 years.”

    Even the pandemic didn’t slow Sadeghi down. He was able to enjoy the outdoors in all his projects, even as restaurateurs began to panic and pivot. “We live in California because of the weather,”He says. “Why do we have to go to Paris to eat outside at a café?”

    It’s a new culture of eating, shopping and socializing that begins in the parking lot at The Camp, where each space has a positive message painted between the lines: “Show up for life. Remain calm. Listen. Follow new trails. Unplug. Pause.”

    Sure, Sadeghi talks like a guru, but he’s no pushover. He’s a hardcore businessman, a lion in the cutthroat worlds of fashion and multimillion-dollar California real estate.

    Yes, he’s had his share of disagreements with tenants, ventures that couldn’t be launched, run-ins with city halls. He ended up suing San Clemente over Playa del Norte. (The project was initially approved by the city, but a group anti-development advocates demanded a referendum. He partnered with Invesco on The Press, a project to transform the former offices of the Los Angeles Times’ Orange County edition into a social hall and park with 400,000 square feet of office space. Palmer Luckey (founder of OculusVR), leased the space to Anduril Industries. It will become a private campus for Luckey’s company, and due to the nature of its government defense work it can’t be open to the public.

    The dust-ups aren’t always about money. Sometimes they’re about creative differences. Sadeghi, an artist at heart, holds firm to his principles. He firmly believes he’s changing business culture to reach today’s consumer. He said that the pandemic made it more relevant. Business analysts and journos are starting to agree.

    They’re writing about remote working and the Great Resignation in lifestyle terms. Some companies will need to make the workplace more attractive to attract employees if they want to survive.

    “Successful new offices will be like vertical yachts,”Mitchell Moss is a New York University professor of Urban Policy and Planning. He spoke to The Atlantic recently. The offices will be “an experience that people seek out, with terraces, and outdoor areas, and fancy gyms and places to eat.”

    It sounds a lot like Sadeghi’s enterprise. As each new one is launched, it makes him appear like a man who is looking into a crystal ball.

    “He’s not afraid to be bold,”Klemek. “I think the culture has caught up with him in terms of having a new emphasis on local and sustainable and small business and women-owned and minority-owned. I would say all that’s come in the last five to eight years. Shaheen was ahead of the curve. So, now he’s surfing.”

    “I opened the Packing House on a Monday. On Tuesday, 5,000 people showed up and they never left,”Sadeghi exclaims with delight. “That project was like instant success, which was freaky because it was risky.”

    Let Sadeghi keep offering us delicious food halls with alterna shopping. We might never be able to catch up to this prophet among real estate developers, but it’s delicious dining as we take up forks and follow closely behind.

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