Late-night eats on 13th Ave: Caspian Mediterranean Cafe brings variety to the campus community
Caspian Mediterranean Cafe owner Elhaam Yazdi didn’t predict the success of her restaurant’s now famous American double cheeseburger. It’s become a popular item, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when students are looking for food after bars close.
Yazdi decided to expand the establishment’s hours on weekend nights shortly after inheriting the cozy, white-walled restaurant from her parents 11 years ago. She added burgers to the menu to provide more options for patrons and the post-bar crowd.
Caspian has been a campus mainstay since 1995, but only recently became a late-night dining spot for students heading home from Taylor’s Bar and Grill or Max’s Tavern. From an upstairs renovation to the addition of American food to its menu, Caspian’s staff and its patrons have witnessed the restaurant change over the years.
Today, Caspian is known for its late hours and comfort food — both American and otherwise.
Yazdi, 32, grew up in Eugene and went to UO. Her parents, originally from Iran, moved the family from Davis, California, to Eugene to be closer to family in the area.
“We just settled down here and stayed,” Yazdi said. “[My mom] loves the rain. She loves the atmosphere here.” The restaurant is named Caspian after the Caspian Sea, located in northern Iran, where Yazdi says the area is lush and green like Oregon.
Before the family moved to Eugene, her parents owned a similar restaurant in Davis that served Persian and Mediterranean food to college students in the area. Her parents always liked the idea of owning a family business, and they opened their first restaurant on Yazdi’s first birthday. She has been around the food business since. “It’s kind of part of my culture, part of my life,” she said.
Many of Caspian’s recipes are family recipes. Yazdi has a hard time eating other restaurants’ hummus, a dish made from ground chickpeas mixed with sesame paste and olive oil, because she prefers Caspian’s take. Despite the addition of American food to Caspian’s menu, Yazdi’s favorite dishes remain traditional Mediterranean fare.
“I don’t want [the restaurant] to lose its overall feel,” Yazdi said.
The cafe serves an expansive menu — including Mediterranean and Middle Eastern classics like gyros and shawarma to breakfast burritos and Philly cheesesteaks — a result of Yazdi’s changes when she took over the restaurant. Popular items include the Meat Lovers burrito, shawarma and double cheeseburgers.
Yazdi worked at Caspian through high school and college. Many of her goals for the restaurant come from experiences she had as a young adult. Yazdi thinks her background as a student helps give her insight into the community’s needs, especially concerning late night food around UO’s campus.
“My parents are a bit older. My father is in his 80s and my mom is in her 70s,” she said. “[The restaurant] kind of needed a new, fresh start after all those years.”
She thought studying business would help prepare her to run the restaurant, but after taking an introductory business class and disliking it, she switched to majoring in sociology. According to her, sociology fostered the social and people skills she needed to run a business.
Yazdi’s social life in college also influenced her success at Caspian. During her senior year, after a night out at Taylor’s, Yazdi and her friends were hungry. She realized that many campus area restaurants weren’t open late, and was inspired to change that.
Caspian is open until 2:30 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday and midnight during weekdays, serving cheeseburgers and other fare to partiers and late-night studiers alike. The bustling restaurant has an upstairs seating area to accommodate more customers. Yazdi says hundreds of people can go through its doors in a given day.
“I would say the best part is [that] you get to meet really different, amazing people,” she said. “Being in Eugene, it’s not necessarily culturally wide, but being on campus you get to be in this little spot where you get to see people as a freshman and on. At this point, I’ve seen people start as a freshman and now they are teaching.”
Caspian employs both students and community members. Some employees have worked there for 10 years. Yazdi, who spends most days at a corner table in the restaurant hunched over paperwork, says the staff is “kind of like a family.” Prep cook and employee Luke Zimmerman says that Yazdi is “honestly the best boss [he’s] ever had.”
Northwest Christian University senior Fern Delgadillo has worked at Caspian for about two years. She frequently works shifts in the mornings and at night on the weekends, and says that Yazdi is great at scheduling these around a student’s needs.
On Sunday, Delgadillo worked the morning shift, delivering plates full of bright yellow eggs and steamy homefries to the tables. She took orders and talked to patrons about the new school year as Alanis Morissette played on the radio. Delgadillo likes interacting with customers, especially fellow college students, as she works.
“I’m a college student myself, so I like to ask them about their days — you know, things your parents usually ask you,” she said.
She says she’s seen students come through the business both sober and relatively drunk, and she has broken up some alcohol-fueled fights during the night shift. But she understands her fellow students’ experiences. “I’ve been there, done that,” Delgadillo said. She doesn’t plan on working there after graduation.
Ultimately, Yazdi says she would like Caspian to stay the same. She feels that she has created a successful business and expanded on her parents’ goals for the restaurant. Whether they are stopping in for a cup of coffee or a full meal, Yazdi enjoys seeing regulars come through the restaurant.
“Little things…made me feel like if I gave it a shot here, then maybe I could prove it and bring something different to the campus,” Yazdi said.
Caspian Mediterranean Cafe is open seven days a week at 863 E 13th Ave. Sunday through Tuesday, it’s open from 8:30 to 12:00 a.m., and Wednesday through Saturday from 8:30 to 2:30 a.m. The cafe’s phone number is 541-683-7800.
Do you appreciate independent student journalism? Emerald Media Group is a non-profit organization. Please consider a donation to support our mission.