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Spotlight on Neighbors: Meet the Yazdis

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SPOTLIGHT ON NEIGHBORS

When Abbas Yazdi makes a decision, it’s because he’s following his heart. His wife Jayne trusts his judgement. They’ve been living this way for almost 40 years, and he’s never been wrong yet. The couple met and married in Wales, United Kingdom, at a very young age. Abbas was 21 and Jayne was 19 when they tied the knot at a courthouse on a Monday afternoon.

Every decision after that followed suit, including the decision to open Haile Village Bistro, the restaurant the couple owns in the heart of Haile Plantation. The restaurant includes a main dining area, a front porch for outdoor seating and an authentic British pub. The menu features traditional British food, American favorites and select Mediterranean cuisine that Abbas loves to create. Essentially, the joint blends the cultures and cuisine of the places Abbas and Jayne come from.

“If Gordon Ramsey saw the menu, he would have a fit,” Jayne said.

Jayne is originally from Wales, and as a teenager, she worked in a corner shop on the weekends. Abbas, originally from Iran, went to Wales to study engineering. He lived next to the store where Jayne worked, and after he noticed her, he went in every single day to do his shopping.

“After a while, I knew he was there for more than chewing gum,” Jayne said. “Eventually he mustered up the courage and asked me out for a drink.”

Abbas said he knew almost right away that he wanted to marry Jayne, and a year later he popped the question. The two were out for shopping and coffee, and Abbas turned to Jayne and said, “Let’s get married today.”

“I looked at him and said, ‘I’m not really dressed for that. I don’t think I can get married in my jeans,’” Jayne remembers.

So they married two days later, on a Monday. Jayne wore her sister’s veil and a simple dress to the courthouse. She said everyone told them they were too young and that the marriage would never last. That was 39 years ago.

Seven years after they married, they had their daughter. Five years after that, a son. Then a friend of Abbas’ invited him on a three-week road trip in America. He had never been, so he decided to see what all the hype was about.

When he came back from the trip, he informed Jayne that he was moving the family across the pond. By this point, Jayne said she was used to the way that Abbas made decisions. After a little convincing, the Yazdis packed up their things and came to the States in 2003. For six weeks, they drove across the country trying to decide where to build a home. Eventually, they decided their priorities were sunshine and palm trees.

“That, and I wanted to be near Disney World,” Jayne said.

They tried Miami, but it was too busy. They tried Orlando, but didn’t love the tourists and construction. Then Abbas stumbled across an article that listed Gainesville, Florida, as one of the best places in the country to raise a family.

“We didn’t know anyone, and we had never been,” Jayne said. “But when we drove through for the first time, we knew this was the place for us.”

Jayne, a nurse, took her nursing exams in Florida and was offered a job almost immediately at UF Health Shands Hospital. She has worked there ever since. Abbas got a job as an engineer in Marion County.

When the couple were originally house hunting, Abbas drove through Haile Plantation with a paper map looking for homes. He said he remembers seeing the building that is now Haile Village Bistro and noting the beautiful facade.

Five years later, he saw an ad in The Village Journal listing a restaurant in Haile Village Center for sale. He went to the realtor and asked to see the space.

“And what do you know, it was the same place I remembered from five years before,” Abbas said. “Full circle. I knew it was meant to be.”

In true Abbas fashion, he made an offer and informed Jayne that he was opening a restaurant. The couple had never owned a business, only cooked recreationally and entertained for friends. But in 2008, they decided to try their hand and opened the doors to the pub.

“It was really very hard at the beginning,” Jayne said. “Actually, not hard. Horrific.”

The Yazdis said it took a while to figure out how to make every customer happy. Abbas puts his heart and soul into everything he makes, but he had to learn that customers wanted good, fast and consistent. Eventually, they hit their stride, and throughout the struggle they never gave up.

Now, nine years later, their little white and green restaurant is one of the first views of Haile Village Center that visitors get. They have regular customers who come once a month, once a week and even some who visit every day.

They’ve revised and refined the way they run their business, and now the two cultures blend effortlessly on a menu that provides the options their customers crave. From fish and chips and shepherd’s pie to baklava, everything at Haile Village Bistro is made from scratch daily.

“People used to say, ‘You’re so lucky. You get to eat this food with Abbas every day at the restaurant and at home,’” Jayne said. “But he would come home after working and cooking all day and be so tired. We lived off Corn Flakes for a while.”

Jayne says her favorite food that Abbas makes are the cakes and sweets. Whether she’s biased because of the way they met or just has a sweet tooth, she said that he’s best at his baking because every cake, pastry and cream puff is made from the heart.

“I’ve been known to decorate a cake every now and then, but I wouldn’t dare try to bake because he’s just amazing at it,” Jayne said. “It’s in his heart.”

Other than the case full of cakes, Jayne and Abbas host two monthly events that they love. One Saturday a month, they hold a tea party that Jayne spearheads and on the last Sunday of the month, a buffet of authentic Mediterranean food where Abbas gets to show off dishes he grew up eating.

More than anything, the Yazdis said the community they have found in Haile has made every late night and long day worth it.

“We have no family here. Our kids and my grandbaby are in Ft. Myers and our other relatives are back in England,” Jayne said. “Our customers, our staff – they have become as close as family, and we love it. As hard as it can be sometimes, it’s all worth it when we remember that.”

And the couple plans to keep cooking for their customers well into the future, too. Jayne said they would eventually love to be closer to their kids and granddaughter, named Jayne after her grandma, but she’ll wait for Abbas to make the decision. His instincts have proven to be good so far.

“I mean, this is like living on vacation! What is there to complain about?” Jayne said. “And my husband loves this. He won’t be done anytime soon. Doing this is like his respirator.”