When you walk into Viva Mexicana in Sebastopol, you’re met with walls filled with colorful art even before you look at the menu, which features a blend of Mexican and Persian food.

Since Sima Mohamadian became owner of the restaurant 10 years ago, she’s featured multiple artists on her walls — a win-win situation for her and the artist. They can make some profit and she gets to display her walls with creative artwork. Mohamadian went to school for business and humanities but she has a huge appreciation for art, she said.

“It feeds my soul, because I used to dance when I was younger. (Art is) a wonderful outlet. Any time I come across artists, whether it’s music, dance, painting, sculpture, whatever, I have an appreciation for it. And I wanted to support them. It’s not very appreciated,” Mohamadian said.

She began featuring artists in the shop seven years ago. The first artist featured was a regular customer. Then she started asking people if they knew of artists to let her know and be able to feature them. She used to feature a different one every month.

Currently, she is featuring Pedro Cruz Pacheco. Pacheco works in watercolor, oil and mixed media and hails from Santa Cruz Amilpas in the Valley of Oaxaca. According to Viva Mexicana’s website, Oaxacan art draws its strength from its native Indigenous culture, rich with stories, legends, myths, and folklore – and it features the interplay of animals, people, symbols, and motifs.

Mohamadian found Pacheco through the person who works on her website. He knew Pacheco’s girlfriend and Mohamadian got to know her. All of her chefs are from Oaxaca so she felt like he was a perfect fit.

“I wanted to feature the culture and the feeling and the love from there. When I saw his work, it just really touched me because I’m a female business owner and he features women … our main chef is a female too. So we’re very female-oriented. And it just was perfect. I think the energy in here is really great with his work,” she said.

Mohamadian receives about 10% of the proceeds and said that whenever a painting is sold, she makes a donation to a museum in France that features her culture; Mohamadian is from Iran.


Sharing food and sharing culture

Viva Mexicana, located at 841 Gravenstein Hwy S., goes back all the way to 1987. It used to be more taqueria-style but has changed over time. Mohamadian added vegan options when she renovated and said she realized people were asking for gluten-free options so she listened to the community and their needs.

“It’s been really a delight especially for our vegan customers, because they’re so appreciative,” she said.

For a while, she had been shut down almost entirely because of COVID-19, not letting anyone go into the restaurant. In the meantime, Mohamadian began to sell Persian products. Once in a while she will do a cooking class centered around Persian food.

Mohamadian spoke highly of her relationship with her chef, Alicia.

“Her and I are on the same wavelength. We think the same thing. It’s really interesting. It’s a beautiful relationship with her. I feel like my culture has somehow infused itself into Viva, with it being very subtle. Sometimes we even use like certain spices that are not Mexican at all, you know, which makes our food a little bit different,” she said.

“The one thing that I love about Sebastopol is people are so open and want to learn and experience new things. I really wanted to share that with them. I used to have Persian nights, where I would do like a five-course prefixed menu. It was a really great education for them, because I wasn’t just sharing food — sharing food allows you to share culture, and brings us closer together as people of this universe,” Mohamadian said.

Before becoming a business owner, Mohamadian was a stylist for Nordstrom. Even though her background was not in the restaurant business, she took a leap of faith and has not regretted the decision. Mohamadian lives in Novato and gladly drives to Sebastopol every day.

“I love Sebastopol. I love our customers. They’re the reason why we’re here. And they encourage us. So if it wasn’t because of their luck, I know we would not be here at all,” she said.

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