Food & dining

These 20-something sisters aim to change your view of food

Katrina (left) and Lucia Jazayeri at Juliet, the restaurant Katrina co-owns in Somerville.

Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Katrina (left) and Lucia Jazayeri at Juliet, the restaurant Katrina co-owns in Somerville.

Lucia and Katrina Jazayeri never set out to forge careers in food.

Lucia, 29, studied communications; Katrina, 27, social justice. Yet in recent years, the sisters have become respected, integral parts of the local hospitality industry. Lucia is Clover Food Lab’s communications director, and Katrina co-owns Juliet, an informal, European-style cafe in Somerville, with chef Joshua Lewin (see review below). Passionate about food, the siblings have found ways to explore their interests and further their values using what we eat as a jumping-off point.

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“We put a lot of care in how we make food at every step. It’s more work, but it’s worth it,” Katrina says. Adds Lucia: “Katrina and I grew up with a deep understanding that you don’t have to eat bad food.”

The sisters are regularly lauded for their work — the industry has taken note. Katrina was just named one of the website Eater’s 2016 “Young Guns”; in 2014 both sisters appeared on Zagat’s “30 Under 30” list. “It was really cool for us to be recognized in that way and together,” Katrina says of the latter. “As sisters, we’ve gone through phases of closeness, but she’s always been an inspiration to me.”

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As welcome as this kind of recognition may be, it is not what drives them. “I always wanted a career that has significance to people,” Katrina says. “I like meeting people, making food, and thinking about the impact our business has and how we can expand to have more impact. That’s what feeds me personally.”

The Jazayeris were born in Queens, N.Y., bred in Austin, Texas. Lucia (pronounced loo-see-uh) headed east for college, attending Boston University. “Lucia is famous in college for cooking for other people. It made her feel good,” says Jillian Primiano, a former BU roommate. Lucia baked treats, made lunches, threw dinner parties. She also taught Primiano how to cook. Her motivation? “She really has a commitment to teaching all of us what fresh food is and how easy it is to prepare and eat.”

When Lucia graduated in 2009, the job market was dismal. She found herself among 130 applicants for three jobs on the first Clover food truck. She clinched the job by bringing cupcakes decorated with the words “Thnx Clover” to the interview. She cut potatoes and worked the fryer, getting spattered with grease.

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“I absolutely loved that job,” she says. “A lot of great things came from that hard work.”

In her free time, she cofounded Feast Mass, a supper club giving micro-grants to attendees pitching original, community-minded projects. (She has since left.) And she repeatedly asked Clover founder Ayr Muir if she could contribute to the company’s blog. He finally said yes. Clover does no paid advertising, and as it grew, Muir says, Lucia became “invaluable.” “Clover is like a person, and she’s got a very great sense of the voice that we’re building as a brand,” he says. “Most of our voice is hers. I don’t know how we would have done that without her special talent.”

Much of what you read on Clover’s website — and, literally, on its seven food trucks and the walls and windows of its eight restaurants — is written by Lucia. She also works with Clover’s “store communication leads,” staffers who are equal parts assistant manager, team builder, and ambassador. Clover wants “people to work here and to feel like that’s a good step in their career,” she says. “We want to get people psyched about food.” The company began raising food prices last November as part of a two-year goal of achieving a $20-per-hour average employee wage.

It’s a job that gives back. “It’s pleasurable to come to work every day, to touch the food, to see and smell its freshness,” Lucia says. “I’m kind of spacey and clumsy. I walk into glass walls. Sometimes I’m not in the here and now. What’s great about food is it forces you to be in the here and now.”

In 2011, Katrina moved into her sister’s Somerville apartment after graduating from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where her social justice studies encompassed issues such as public health inequities. “I saw food and justice as huge problems to attack, but doable,” she says. “Then I thought: Can you integrate social change into the values of business? If you base your business on doing good, then I think you can do good and do well.”

With Lucia’s help, she landed a job with Cuisine en Locale, a Somerville catering and events company that uses ingredients grown by Massachusetts farmers. She cooked, helped with business development and growth, and “literally got her hands dirty when we began working on our brick-and-mortar [space] three years ago,” says owner JJ Gonson.

Katrina also worked as bar manager at sister restaurants Belly Wine Bar and the Blue Room in Kendall Square, and sews and sells a line of chef aprons, Post Oak.

‘I like meeting people, making food, and thinking about the impact our business has and how we can expand to have more impact. That’s what feeds me personally.’

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It was Gonson who introduced Katrina to Lewin, then a chef at Beacon Hill Bistro. Lewin recalls: “We were acquaintances, started a friendship, and, over a couple of months, it became a little more.” The couple formed pop-up outfit Bread & Salt Hospitality, which was in residency at Wink & Nod in the South End for seven months. From that a restaurant evolved.

“What impresses me is how purposeful and deliberate she is about where she puts her efforts,” Lewin says of Katrina, who designed Juliet’s interior, sanding chairs and creating artwork. “She makes things perfect. No way I would have a restaurant like I have now without her.”

Juliet — which is Katrina’s middle name — discourages tipping and has a profit-sharing plan for its 17 employees. And Katrina and Lewin choose to work with vendors like Metro Pedal Power, which uses pedaled vehicles to transport goods to their final destination in urban areas. “We want to put our money in people we believe in,” Katrina says.

The sisters’ love of food and their strong values both stem from childhood. Their mother, Sally Garland, is a book editor who brought healthy and organic food into the house decades before it was de rigueur. “We’re not totally shocked they work in food, but we never saw it coming,” says Garland. Growing up, the sisters “were adventurous eaters, easy kids, up for anything,” she says.

Their father, Hamid Jazayeri, is a systems analyst and an exceptional home chef. Of Iranian and Turkish descent, he delicately layers his dishes with barberries, saffron, and rose petals, whether making traditional recipes or cooking across cultures.

“We learned how to cook from our parents. They make everything from scratch,” Katrina says. Their father believes “food is what brings people together. My dad’s cooking is an act of love and care for us.”

There was a time, earlier in their careers, when the Jazayeri sisters planned to move to New York City to seek their future. For now, that future is here. Muir sees Lucia as integral to the ever-expanding Clover: “Assuming we continue to find success, we’ll be a bigger and bigger company. I think of Lucia as a partner in that,” he says. Katrina views Juliet as an opportunity to provide jobs and help staff achieve their own goals.

The two sisters will continue to make their mark on the local food scene — the work that feeds them in return. Yet for all their achievements, the sisters remain low-key. “They’re not show-offs. They’re very modest,” says Gonson. “They have the skill to do what they want to do and the confidence not to question their ability.”

Peggy Hernandez can be reached at mphernan1@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @Peggy_Hernandez.
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