Growing Up with Mohammad Honarkar
As a youngster, growing up in urban Tehran filled with tightly built apartments and retail stores, backyards were nonexistent. The rooftops of these structures by improvisational default became, in many ways, a playground -- a space children and their peers unified safely and socially, frequented and cherished by the families and children who lived below.
Mohammad (Mo) Honarkar was one of them.
“In the summertime I’d get together with cousins, brothers, and sisters and sleep up there,” he reminisces. “We would enjoy life and eat rice and kebabs with sometimes up to 30 to 40 people… it was a large family.”
Today, the serial entrepreneur is the founder and sole owner of The Laguna Beach Company and owns multiple properties in Laguna Beach, even making headlines with the recent acquisition of Hotel Laguna, shocking the small beach community by securing a 99 year lease.
But back then, Mo was just a boy in Iran with big dreams, learning everything he could.
During Mo’s last year of high school, his father, a retired government employee, actively took on side projects, a particular one being the construction of a hospital where the curious teenager assisted his father with odds and ends -- the highest level of responsibility he had yet to receive in his young life. He took it so seriously in fact, that post-graduation he was offered a new position working alongside his father while they developed apartments out of a chunk of land the family had recently purchased. This struck a chord with the young man, and set him on a career path that would ultimately change his life.
“He brought me in as the superintendent and we completed the job,” Mo recalls. “Many kids that age aren’t given the responsibility to do things like that in general, and yet he trusted me, telling me, ‘You can do this!’ It was an amazing experience.”
And it wasn’t just Mo’s father that had an entrepreneurial spirit. His mother, a seamstress and designer, nurtured his stylish and artistic side. The owner and instructor at her own fashion design school, she regularly took on custom projects for the stylish and wealthy. Her focal points in life were to utilize her artistic nature, be hands-on with her projects, and keep her children as busy as possible, swaying Mo into a career-oriented mindset, while simultaneously distancing him from the dangers of the street presence in Iran during the 70’s.
“By the early 80’s I had learned to make my own clothes,” Mo explains. His favorite item being a replica of John Travolta’s all-white suit in the iconic film, Saturday Night Fever. It was a hit at his youngest sister’s wedding, he says with a laugh.
When it was time to further his academia, studying at home wasn’t an option for Mo. For one to study in Tehran one must show exemplary marks above those of their classmates, however, he was a B average student. A problem, yes, but only to someone who can’t think outside the box, or, in this case, outside the comforts of his homeland. With his family’s blessing, he set out to study abroad in America.
He chose the United States International University, where he quickly picked up English, and then studied at San Diego State for two years, before transferring to UC Irvine. In between committing physics and engineering lessons to memory, he made friends and explored neighboring communities. One of which was a certain beach town with character that instantly reminded him of home -- a feeling he had missed since it had been devastated by the Iranian Revolution.
Laguna Beach was dissimilar exponentially to any of its neighboring coastal or inland neighbors.
“The rest of Orange County at the time was a bedroom community,” Mo remembers. “Laguna Beach was metropolitan -- like my home -- with people out on the street eating and enjoying everything around them.”
The area made sense to Mo, and he spent his college years savoring it -- combing the streets, dancing to disco, all the while knowing that one day he’d be back to live in a more permanent status… it was just a matter of time.
Now, with a family of his own, Mo has made monumental strides in his career, and has created entrepreneurial mindsets in his own kids. A simple Google search will turn up a roster of business ventures expanding decades. The wireless company he built in the late ‘90s paved avenues for his inevitable return to Laguna Beach where he’s implemented some of the most eclectic and revitalizing developments the city has ever seen. Just in time too, as some of those operations he directly invested in were close to ruins before he became involved.
To understand Mo’s motives behind wanting to embark on a particular new project, it’s probably best to picture the businessman as someone who is capable of removing the veil of doubt most people wear daily. Mix this with an imagination for countless (yet realistic) possibilities, and then include a persevering drive to accomplish a project from start to finish. Mo comes from the belief that if you can dream it, you can do it.
And the beauty of Mo Honarkar’s genius, is he actually does.
Born and raised on the salty shores of California’s coast, Manny Frausto is a staff writer at Laguna Beach Living and enjoys the feeling of Laguna sand between his fingers. He’s written for the LA and OC Registers, OC Home Magazine, and more. Reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by: Grant Puckett.