♦ SHAMSHIRI ♦ محمد حسن شمشیری

The Man Behind the Famed Persian Restaurant

Ebrahim Norouzi, MD

The Mossadegh Project | May 14, 2013                    

Hassan Shamshiri of Tehran's Famed "Shamshiri" Restaurant (photo: Jean-Phillipe Charbonnier)

If you lived in or visited Tehran during the mid-1900’s, you probably knew the name — Shamshiri شمشیری. Among the most famous restaurants in town, it was favored amongst all classes of Iranians and foreigners alike, and specialized in kabobs (chelo-kabobi). Personally, I have fond memories of its friendly atmosphere, cleanliness, and of course the generous portions of high quality Persian food.

The owner, a man of great virtue, was Mohammad Hassan Shamshiri. Born in 1897 (Persian calendar 1276), he lost his father at the age of five and grew up in abject poverty. Because of this, he never in his life attended school, and barely survived Iran’s devastating famine of 1918 and a bout with malaria.

Through sheer resolve and hard work, Hassan Shamshiri became one of Iran’s most successful businessmen and philanthropists. As a young man, the good natured and innately gifted entrepeneur opened a tea house which prospered with its excellent customer service. His success enabled him to open his highly praised restaurant, Shamshiri, in 1940 near the Bazaar in Tehran. His business acumen also extended to other commercial ventures, however, such as real estate.

Mohammad Hassan Shamshiri Among the people, Shamshiri was known for his extreme honesty and a deep sense of compassion for others. It was said that he treated everyone with kindness and respect. He paid his employees well and would even purchase homes for them. As part of his philanthropy, he allocated 3 million toomans (a very large sum of money at the time) for the purpose of providing interest-free loans to people of low means.

After observing Mossadegh as a deputy in the Majles, Shamshiri became captivated by his personality and his ideas. Joining the ranks of his supporters, he became one of the most valuable assets to Mossadegh’s movement. With the trust of most in the bazaar and a gathering of loyal friends, he became the leader of a large group of merchants who came to be one of the staunchest supporters of Mossadegh and members of the National Front.

Shamshiri contributed generously to the nationalist parties and along with the bazaar merchants, diligently campaigned for Mossadegh and National Front candidates for the election to the 16th Majles in late 1949. His support for Mossadegh was so effective that the British got wind of it and tried to neutralize him. Secret documents belonging to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, discovered by the government in 1951, contained this sinister reference:

“Every attempt made to stop Shamshiri from helping with oil nationalization and National Front has been futile; we must apply different means to force him to conform”.1
According to the AIOC documents, Tehran’s mayor had promised the British that he could “bring together different unions and encourage them to revolt in opposition to him [Shamshiri].”

In the fall of 1951, when Mossadegh’s government offered public bonds to shore up the economy, Shamshiri became the largest purchaser in the country, buying 200,000 toomans worth. Many followed his example and the program became a success. This earned him the title by the public, “Hero of National Bonds”.

At one point during Mossadegh’s premiership, when the topic of election reform was being deliberated, one official proposed that a condition for the right to vote should be the ability to read and write. Mossadegh argued against it, pointing out that in that case, someone like Hassan Shamshiri, an uneducated illiterate, would not be allowed to vote.

Shamshiri never forgot his humble beginning or his old friends. He avoided wearing fancy attire so as not to appear separate from them. The only display of his wealth was when he built a beautiful house with eye catching landscaping for his loyal wife who had endured their early life of poverty. Ironically, the house was on Pasteur Street, near the palace of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The Shah’s wife, Queen Soraya Esfandiary, was very familiar with Shamshiri restaurant. “Many of my friends frequently dined there incognito”, she would recall in her 1964 memoirs.

In August 1953, a pro-Shah military coup deposed Mossadegh’s government. Among many others, Hassan Shamshiri was imprisoned for his unflinching support of Mossadegh and then exiled to the desolate Island of Khark in the Persian Gulf. In his defense, Shamshiri said:

“I adore this great patriotic man who has love of the people in his heart and I’m ready to sacrifice my life and my riches for him.” [Literally: for a single hair of Mossadegh]. 2
During his seven months on the island, he did not sit idly and managed to start a business and provided free food and clothing to other exiled prisoners. After his release, he continued his philanthropic work. He paid for the construction of an entire new wing to Najmieh Hospital, a charity operation founded by Mossadegh’s mother.

Mohammad Hassan Shamshiri On October 4, 1961 at age 64 (Persian: Mehr 12, 1340), Shamshiri died. At his funeral, Jahangir Reghabi, a close associate of Shamshiri spoke at his grave side: “We should not shed a tear for his loss, as he despised crying and displays of weakness and despair.”3 A signed note from Dr. Mossadegh was distributed to mourners in attendance. When the Shah’s police force discovered this, they attacked them with batons, and many, including students, were handcuffed and taken away suffering mistreatment.2

Shamshiri was buried in Ebn Babooyeh cemetery, also known as "Cemetery of Martyrs" in reference to those who lost their lives in the 30 Tir uprising of July 1952 in support of Mossadegh. Gholamreza Takhti, the world champion wrestler who was among those who dared to attend Shamshiri’s funeral against the government’s wishes, was buried in the same cemetery after his mysterious death seven years later. It was also the resting place of Dr. Hossein Fatemi, another compatriot of Mossadegh’s.

After the death of Shamshiri, the restaurant was managed by his only sister and brother until 1967.3 Hassan Shamshiri left behind no children, but he did leave a lasting legacy. Today, there are numerous “Shamshiri” restaurants in Iran, the United States and around the world, named after the legendary establishment he founded all those years ago.


1 Documents Belonging to Seddon’s House (1979), Esmail Raiin
(Papers found in the home of AIOC representative Norman Richard Seddon.
Translated back from Farsi text by Ebrahim Norouzi © 2013 The Mossadegh Project)

2 The Fate of Mossadegh’s Friends (2004), Abdol-Reza Houshang Mahdavi
(Translated by Ebrahim Norouzi © 2013 The Mossadegh Project)
[This book was the main source of this article]

3 Mohammad Hassan Shamshiri, An Unknown Hero — Elham Taghavi

Search MohammadMossadegh.com

Related links:

Shapoor Reporter: Portrait of An Iranian Traitor

Persian Author Iraj Pezeshkzad (My Uncle Napoleon) Remembers Dr. Mossadegh

The Life of Iran National Front Spokesman Asghar Parsa

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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