March 25, 2012
A Conversation with Sammy Younai of Shahs of Sunset
I had the opportunity to talk with Sammy this week and I must tell you that I was really surprised by him. I‘m not sure what it was exactly that I was expecting, but it was not what I got. Shahs of Sunset has only been on for a couple of weeks and so it’s hard to say how he will be portrayed over the coming weeks, but speaking with him now, before the fame and madness of reality television really kicks in, I can tell you he is a mensch.
Sammy is both entertaining and thoughtful. He is proudly Jewish, proudly Iranian, and proudly American. He loves him family and to hear him talk about his parents made me melt inside. As a mother I hope my son will speak of me in the same way Sammy speaks of his. He respects his dad, adores his mother, loves his brother, and is fiercely loyal to friends and fellow cast mates on Shahs of Sunset. He’s also no pushover.
Sammy left Iran as a child and moved with his family to Florida. He speaks of his childhood in a nostalgic Leave it to Beaver fashion. He was an oddball in his white bread neighborhood, but he had his brother and parents who taught him the value of work, earning a dollar on his own, and believing that he could do anything he wanted. They gave up their life in Iran to give their kids the American dream and taught them to go after it.
The family moved to Beverly Hills when Sammy was a teenager and the rest is history. With or without the show, he has been a Shah of Sunset since the day he got here. When he was younger he had long hair, rode a Harley, and had no boundaries in terms of how big he dreamed. At 15 Sammy’s dad told him he should get a job so Sammy went to work and didn’t look back. He has a strong work ethic and does not want anything handed to him.
He has done everything from parking cars at a Hollywood restaurant, to retail and real estate. He is also educated, articulate, and insightful. He feels like he is prepared for the onslaught of press, the adoration from some, and hate from others. He has surrounded himself with good and loyal friends he has known for a long time. They loved him before the show and they will love him after. Depending on editing of course.
Sammy told me a story of friendship that moved me. Back in Iran, Sammy’s dad was best friends with a Muslim man who was on the police force. They were life long friends and in business together. The revolution sent the Younai family to America and his friend went to Germany. They maintained a friendship and a bond until the day his friend passed away from cancer in Germany. They both lived through two lifetimes together.
When the man died, his son was in Germany and not sure what to do. He made his way to America and became business partners with Sammy. They signed a hand written contact on a piece of paper. There is no binding contract, only a history and a love. These two families have now been friends and business together for over 65 years. It shows that when it comes to Sammy and his family, their word means something.
When asked why he agreed to do the show, he was reflective. He said when he is 70, sitting around with his wife, children and grandchildren, he will be able to tell them he was on a TV show once. Sammy has had a couple of long term relationships over the years, but nothing that felt like forever. His parents are waiting for him to get married, but don’t pressure. With so many divorces, they want him to wait for the right one.
Sidebar: Sammy has an older brother who is also not married. He does however have a dog. A German Sheppard actually, that he loves. Sammy’s mom is careful not to push her kids into marriage just to get married, but jokes that she is patiently waiting for a grandchild, and has to settle for a German dog. Hilarious. She has been married for over 43 years and is a quintessential Jewish mother.
Sammy wants to get married and have a family. His choice, if given one, is to marry a Jewish girl, but he refers to Jewesses as “tough”. He says there is a sense of entitlement, and he does not want that. He wants to know what she is going to bring to the table. I suggested that perhaps he is dating the wrong type of Jewish girl. Stay away from the princesses Sammy and you’ll have a better shot at finding a Beshert. Trust me.
Sidebar: I am obsessed with the Iranian dish Tahdig. It is rice with crispy potatoes and I have failed at all my attempts to make it. Sammy told me that while his mom is a good cook, and his dad is great, the parents of cast mate Asa make the best Persian food ever. If he knows he is going there to eat, he will not eat for 24 hours prior to have room. Note to self: write a great blog about Asa in order to get invited to family BBQ.
Sammy is connected to his faith and proudly Jewish. His life is busy, but he tries to maintain the customs, which we all know takes some dedication. Every two or three weeks he has a potluck dinner for Shabbat. He and his Jewish friends take turns hosting it. I think it’s a nice thing to do and to hear Sammy talk about it is very sweet. He is proud of the effort and it’s quite charming. He may not be observant, but he observes.
I asked Sammy what three words he would use to describe himself and he said funny, loyal and smart. I don’t know Sammy, but in our time chatting I would agree with his words. This is a sweet man. Important to note that we have only seen two episodes of the Shahs so I reserve the right to call him a pig if needed. This is reality TV after all, and he is a man, so it could be coming. Until then, Sammy is a mensch and he is keeping it real.