For years, Narges Montazer prepared traditional Persian dinners and pastries for her husband’s colleagues, her daughter’s friends and anyone else who dropped by their house. There always were pots simmering and pastries baking in her kitchen here in Lincoln, just as they were in her father’s kitchen in Iran when Montazer was a child.
When she was growing up, the kitchen was a gathering place for neighbors and family members, and everyone complimented her father’s delicious foods. Her father was always cooking or baking, and he patiently answered all of her questions and gave her plenty of opportunities to help. Her father had a tasting shop and a bakery, and, as a popular, gregarious man, he frequently threw parties. Food was at the center of all of these gatherings, and Montazer watched and learned.
When Montazer and her husband moved to Missouri more than 20 years ago, she opened her kitchen to friends and neighbors, re-creating the warm, friendly environment of her childhood. Everyone who stopped by the house complimented her lavishly on her pastries and Persian dishes and encouraged Montazer to open her own restaurant.
With two young daughters to care for and a husband working on a master’s degree, she knew financing her own restaurant was impossible, so she put the idea out of her mind.
After moving to Lincoln so her husband could pursue his Ph.D., Montazer again welcomed friends and neighbors into her home and delighted in cooking for them. Over the years, friends continued to say, “Oh, this is delicious! You should open a restaurant.”
With both daughters, Fatemeh and Atieh, grown, married and in medical school, Montazer started seriously to consider the idea, but she couldn’t fathom where to start.
One of her husband’s professors suggested she start with the farmers markets, and a friend helped her fill out the applications. She called her booth Daffodil Catering and worried that there might not be much demand for Persian food and pastries.
From the start, though, business was steady. “People just started coming, and they liked what I cooked and baked. And when people respond so nicely, it motivates me to do a better job,” said Montazer.
She prepares a traditional Persian baklava, and she’s made several variations of her own, including brown-butter, chocolate and what she calls angel baklava. This summer, she made a honey cream with mascarpone cheese, and she serves that on apple turnovers, sliced bread and biscotti. Montazer usually follows a recipe once, but then she likes to improvise and experiment with different flavors.
“She forms the baklava into beautiful rosettes with rose petals sprinkled on top. They’re almost too beautiful to eat,” said Jill Kuhel of Lincoln.
Kuhel’s son, McClain, also of Lincoln, accompanies his mom to the market specifically to visit Daffodil Catering. His favorite meal is the kabob, rice and salad with a vegetable samosa on the side.
In the five years since she set up her booth at the market, Montazer has catered parties, weddings and sit-down dinners. She recently catered a sit-down dinner complete with desserts for 200 people. In fact, catering has kept her busy throughout the winter months after the markets have closed.
Her busiest time of year is from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Montazer says she loves catering and appreciates her customers, but she misses the face-to-face interaction of the farmers markets.
Someone at another booth once asked Montazer, “Do you really like everyone? You sure act like you like everyone.” She laughed in response, “Oh, yes. I love the people at the markets. I have new customers, and I have regular customers, and I love them all.”
She realized in order to capture that interaction during the long winter months, she’d have to open her own restaurant. After years of hearing that she should do that, Montazer is opening the doors of Daffodil Catering & Takeout on the southwest corner of Old Cheney and Nebraska 2 toward the end of September. Hours will depend in part on demand, but she’s planning to open 9 a.m to 6 p.m. daily.
Weekdays, Montazer plans to serve coffee and pastries in the morning and soups and sandwiches at lunch. On weekends, she’ll serve full Persian meals, including chicken or beef kabobs, saffron rice, falafel, chicken or beef marsala and sundried tomato chicken.
Her eggplant Parmesan and falafel are vegetarian and gluten-free, and she hopes to expand the menu to include more of each fare. “I’ll start with a couple of items that are gluten-free and vegetarian, and I’ll adjust to what my customers want,” she said.
Over the years, flexibility and adaptability have served Montazer well, but there are two important points on which she will not compromise. “No one touches my food but me,” she said. “I’ll take help organizing and serving, but I prepare, cook and bake everything myself, and everything I make is from scratch.”