Tucked away in Tehran’s famous Grand Bazaar, Iran’s oldest pistachio wholesaler is quietly preparing for a minor revolution – handing over his business to his youngest daughter, in a male-dominated trade.
Abbas Emami, 88, started working for his own father at the age of 15. More than seven decades later, bags of pistachios in the family store are adorned with the slogan “more than a century of experience”.
He is not exactly sure when his family first got into the business.
But “my father worked in my maternal grandfather’s nut shop before he started his own business,” Emami recalls.
“I helped my father during the day and I studied at night,” he said. “It took me a decade to learn the secrets of the trade.”
Emami is now passing on that expertise to his 50-year-old daughter Marjan, who will also take over his company Shams Roasted Nuts.
The pistachios are generally grown in the provinces of Kerman and Semnan.
Every two to three months, agents who work on behalf of the growers come to place orders.
Competitors confirm the fact that Emami – who took over the company from his father in 1975 – is the oldest pistachio wholesaler in the city.
“We buy five kinds of pistachios,” Emami said. “They differ in appearance, taste, size, quality and therefore price.”
“The best-tasting variety, in my opinion, is the Ahmad-Aghaei, which sells for 495,000 tomans ($16) per kilogram,” he said.
Iran’s last pistachio harvest, in October, yielded 280,000 tons, half of which was consumed at home and the rest exported to about 75 countries.
Exports brought in the equivalent of $900 million, making the industry a significant contributor to the Iranian economy.
– Tricks of the trade –
Emami does not want to reveal too much about the knowledge he passes on to Marjan.
“It’s important to buy at the right time,” he said, adding that adequate cooling was also important.
Marjan, who first took on duties in her father’s shop due to concerns about his vulnerability to the coronavirus, was a little more candid.
“Buying the product at the right price is not easy,” she said. “It is also crucial to monitor processing, hygiene and storage.”
Iran is one of the three largest consumers of pistachios worldwide, after Turkey and China, and demand is particularly high during Nowruz, the Persian New Year celebrations.
“With the spread of the coronavirus, my father was unable to come” to the store, Marjan said. “So during Nowruz I filled in for him with my own two daughters, I started out as a cashier and then stayed on.”
Roasting the nuts is a critical part of the process.
A few blocks from Emami’s shop, in the capital’s Ahangaran district, are 80 kilogram bags of raw pistachios piled high.
“After the drum has been cleaned with coarse salt, we toast the pistachios before mixing them in a blender with salted water or saffron before drying them,” says Majid Ebrahimi, 31, who roasts two tons a day.
According to Emami, the pistachio trade has evolved considerably since the 1950s.
“Back then, the pistachio business was a realm of the wealthy. When I was a teenager, there were only four wholesale stores. Today, there are ten times that number,” he said.
“In the 1950s it became more accessible. Some of the population became more affluent and so the clientele grew. I still have about 100 customers,” he added, sitting at the back of his store, under a black and white photo of his father.
But despite working for over 70 years, he’s not quite ready to hand over the reins to his daughter.
“First of all, it’s necessary to learn,” he said with a mischievous smile.
“It’s not an easy trade, but she’ll learn.”