As a young man who had migrated to the U.S. speaking little English, Mansour Ghalibaf was a semester away from a BS in accounting and in love with an American woman when he found out his deportation back to Tehran, Iran was imminent.
“It was 1979 and the Iranian Revolution was going on and the Shah of Iran had recently been toppled,” says Ghalibaf. “The relations between Iran and the U.S. were very bad at the time, and that’s putting it mildly.”
During this period Ghalibaf already had found his way to the hospitality industry. “I worked very hard at menial jobs in restaurants and hotels to pay my tuition. I didn’t have any support from my parents. They were poor,” he says.
Once Ghalibaf learned he was being deported he pursued several avenues, all of which dead-ended — the U.S. Immigration Services, the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s office and the Dean of Students from Southeastern Massachusetts University, where he went to school. Finally, Ghalibaf reached out to a friend who had emigrated from Yugoslavia.
“He told me he knew a good immigration lawyer who could help me,” says Ghalibaf. “So I grabbed some necessities and I went underground for a month. During that time law enforcement took my picture around to all the places where I used to go, asking if anyone knew where I was,” he recalls. “They even went so far as to question my girlfriend’s mother, asking her, ‘what kind of daughter are you raising that she would date an Iranian?”’
For Ghalibaf those thirty days were stressful. “It was a very difficult time for me. I remember I was running from immigration and I had $9 in my wallet and no food in my refrigerator.”
After Ghalibaf was a fugitive for about a month the lawyer was able to get him a visa so he could stay in America. “He really took care of me. He knew I didn’t have any money, but he still helped me, he was a good man,” says Ghalibaf. “When I asked him how could he get me a visa? He told me: ‘It all depends on who you know.’”
Once Ghalibaf graduated he made some important life decisions: He married his girlfriend and decided despite an accounting degree he found the hospitality industry more alluring.
“Even though I was persistent in becoming an accountant by refusing promotions from my supervisors in the hotel business, I finally gave up due to the excitement of the hospitality business,” he says. “Since then I haven’t had a dull moment.”
For Ghalibaf, 60, the journey since has been rewarding and emblematic of the American Dream, as he has quite literally gone from the dish room to the boardroom.
After eleven years at the Sheraton Tara Hotel in Framingham, where he worked at several posts in food and beverage, Ghalibaf joined the Hotel Northampton in 1990 as controller, where he successfully took the business out of bankruptcy.
Since first joining the historic hotel Ghalibaf has helped grow revenues for the 106-room, luxury boutique hotel from $2 million in annual sales to $7 million. The property, which features two restaurants and two bars, was built in 1927.
“We are located in the middle of five colleges,” says Ghalibaf. “We have always done better every year because we put the money back into the property, which was built in 1927. Our customers notice the hotel is always improving and they keep coming back.”
Ghalibaf, who purchased the hotel with his business partner Tony Murkett in 2006 after serving as its general manager, has been named Restaurateur of the Year by the Massachusetts Restaurant Association; received the Massachusetts Governor’s Leadership Award; been named to the Massachusetts Hospitality Hall of Fame; and received the President’s Award from the Rotary Club.
Still happily married to his college sweetheart, Ghalibaf has two children, a successful career and the respect of his community.
“The American Dream is real. If you work hard, you will get ahead in this country and you can’t find that any other place in the world.”