Olive Tree Cafe chef and owner, farmer and beloved member of Hawaii’s Greek community, Savas Mojarrad, died of a heart attack while vacationing in Greece on Sept. 15. He was 84.
“He touched so many lives,” said longtime friend Austin Vali, a co-chairman of the annual Greek Festival. “He was always smiling, hugging … he was the consummate Zorba,” as in the larger-than-life character in the 1964 “Zorba the Greek” movie played by Anthony Quinn.
More than one of his friends made the comparison, but Mojarrad was born in Iran and was of Persian descent. He was raised by Greek step-parents, said long-time friend Stelio Scordilis.
“Savas was more Greek than any Greek that I have ever known,” said Tom Sofos, friend, and also co-chairman of the Greek Festival.
Mojarrad’s family relocated to Los Angeles, and 48 years ago, he moved to Honolulu, said his nephew, Habib Alaei.
He and a business partner opened The Mad Greek restaurant in the 1970s, where Greek musicians and dancers would entertain diners. When the restaurant relocated to Waikiki, Mojarrad and the partner parted ways.
Olive Tree Cafe opened more than 20 years ago in Kahala.
“He was one of the first people I ever heard talk about ‘slow food’ … and he was a fanatic about organic food,” said Regina Mass, a longtime friend and church member who lives in Iowa.
“He went out of his way to support local farmers. I was at his restaurant when fishermen would show up with their fresh catch … and on his farm, he was raising many of the foods for his restaurant,” Mass said.
Mojarrad “left a rather large footprint here,” in many ways, said Father Alexander Leong of the Saints Constantine &Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Pacific, where Mojarrad was a longtime member.
“A lot of it had to do with his personality. He was a giving and loving person. He was able to make friends with anyone he encountered, never a negative word to say about anyone, always something positive,” Leong said.
Prior to their Easter observance, church members refrain from eating meat, dairy, and other animal products for 47 days, but following the Resurrection service, Mojarrad would have huge pots of soup ready for congregants.
“Usually avgolemono soup, with chicken, egg, lemon and rice,” Leong said. “It was really delicious, and to break the fast right after our midnight service, he would prepare that, and we would enjoy a couple bowls of it in the social hall.”
“We’re going to miss him. I don’t know what we’re going to do without him. This is a major loss for us, for the Greek church, and for us individually,” Sofos said.
The Olive Tree Cafe tent at the annual Greek Festival was the only commercial entity selling Greek food items, but all the food and sale proceeds would be donated back to the church, Vali said.
Mojarrad’s Olive Tree Cafe, as well as Oliver, an adjacent Mediterranean deli and liquor store, will remain open, said Alaei. The restaurant is managed by Steven Iida, who started working with Mojarrad in 1996. “Savas always said because of Steven he can travel to Greece and spend time in his farm in Kahaluu,” Alaei said.
“His employees loved him and respected him so much, and it was mutual. He was very generous with them,” Mass said.
Mojarrad also owned a restaurant and neighboring bakery in Manoa that never opened, Vali said. Plans for the inactive commercial space, as well as his other business interests are being handled by an executor.
An informal service was staged by the church, but more traditional funeral services are being planned by the family, Leong said. The date and the venue have yet to be set.
Mojarrad was preceded in death by sister Afsa; and is survived by his sister Manije Mojarrad of Germany, and nephews Alaei, and Ardan and Marty Nikou of Honolulu.