About Paris Nabavi
Chef/Owner of Sangrita Grill and Pizza Paradiso
When Chef Paris Nabavi first began planting an edible, organic garden in his backyard, his goal was to teach his young daughter Layla where food comes from and how to prepare it. He had no idea of the long-reaching effects the garden would have, or how support for programs benefit Maui children would grow out of that small patch of ground.
Born in Tehran, Iran, Paris learned from an early age the importance of philanthropy from his loving parents, who taught him that good actions beget good outcomes. That idea colors his philosophy when it comes to childhood nutrition. “If you educate the children about where the food comes from, they will bring that home,” he says. “You can affect the whole family and the whole community.”
Paris graduated from the French Culinary School in London, worked his way through France and Italy, and traveled in India and the Middle East, soaking up the different cultures and cuisines along the way. After working in hotels and restaurants in Canada, and serving as Director of Food & Beverage for Fairmont Hotels in California and Texas, he moved to Maui in 1989. There he enjoyed four years as Director of Food & Beverage at the Kapalua Bay Hotel—site of the scenic point where he proposed to his beautiful wife Donna.
When the hotel was sold, Paris knew it was time to strike out on his own. Chef Nabavi opened Pizza Paradiso Italian Kitchen at Whalers Village in 1995. He then expanded the concept to include Greek and middle eastern cuisine with the opening of Pizza Paradiso Mediterranean Grill at Honokowai Marketplace in 1998. In 2004, he opened Cilantro Mexican Grill in Lāhaina.
In 2013, Maui County recognized Chef Nabavi with its “Exceptional Small Businessman” of the year award.
After 10 years, Cilantro’s success had outgrown its location and a company from California purchased the concept, so Chef Nabavi took the opportunity to expand his menu and space with Sangrita Grill + Cantina in Kā‘anapali in 2014. The inspired Mexican soul food and fun atmosphere has now been recognized with multiple awards, including “Best New Restaurant” 2015 by Hawai‘i Magazine.
A high point for Chef Nabavi was earning the ‘Aipono Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015, as voted by readers of Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi magazine. The award recognized not only the success of his four restaurants over the last 20 years—employing more than 50 people even through two recessions—but his generosity to the Maui community.
“Chef Nabavi has worked really hard to make a mark in leaving something for others, and his work with the school garden programs on Maui has been extraordinary,” says Diane Haynes Woodburn, publisher of Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi.
At home and in his restaurants, Chef Nabavi promotes the use of locally sourced ingredients. After the initial planting of Layla’s Edible Garden, he had approximately 10 pounds of Organic seeds left over. He donated the seeds to Maui School Garden Network, and that was the first of what was to become an annual purchase of organic seeds for 46 school gardens in Maui County. Lehn Huff, coordinator of Maui School Garden Network, calls Chef Paris “our guardian angel.”
Four times a year, the Nabavis invite 25 dinner guests into their outdoor kitchen to share in the creation of a traditional Persian menu from Paris’s family recipes. In exchange for this special culinary experience, each guest donates to the Nabavi Legacy Fund, which supports eight Maui nonprofits that promote children's literacy, nutritional awareness, and sustainable food practices. These popular and lively evenings at the Nabavis have become a wonderful example for the community of how philanthropy can simply be an enjoyable part of life.
Chef Nabavi recently partnered with the American Heart Association to bring Kids/Teens Cook with Heart to four public schools in Lāhaina. He says, “My dream of bringing garden to table for kids on Maui is now in full swing.” Paris hopes to extend the program to all schools in Maui County.
For Chef Nabavi, it’s all about educating future generations. “I want children to ask their moms, ‘What’s inside this food?’ I want them to be close to their food,” he says. “One of these days, I have to exit, and when I do, I won’t have the ability to finish what I started several years ago, to help the children indefinitely.”
That’s where the Nabavi Legacy Fund steps in. The Fund promotes Maui RSVP, a dining promotion to raise money for vital Maui organizations. These eight nonprofits focus on youth in arts, education, and wellness—areas that the Nabavis feel are critical for the well-being of Maui’s next generation. The Fund is managed by Grant Central Station, and donations will be distributed annually to eight beneficiaries: Book Trust, Grow Some Good, Imua Family Services, Kids Cook / Teens Cook with Heart, Maui Academy of Performing Arts, Maui Culinary Academy, Maui Food Innovation Center, and Maui School Garden Network.
Just as he once planted the garden for his daughter, Chef Nabavi is now sowing the seeds for Maui children by inviting restaurants to support these essential programs. In this first year of Maui RSVP, he does not know what the results will be, but he hopes they will be widespread, long-lasting, and sustainable.