Founders of a fake restaurant that fooled hundreds of New York City diners into thinking they had secured an exclusive reservation now say they hope to pull off more stunts like this in the future.
Tech startup founder Mehran Jalali, 21, hosted a pop-up night this weekend for more than a hundred guests who thought they’d gotten off the years-long waiting list — after the avid home chef jokingly marked his apartment as an eatery on Google Maps, drawing rave reviews received from his friends.
About 140 diners descended on an upscale location in the East Village on Saturday evening to discover that Mehran’s Steakhouse had actually been a prank, but a prank so successful that there might have been more at play.
“Mehran’s Steakhouse is a one-time wonder, but we hope it doesn’t become a one-time wonder,” Jalali said. “We hope to do all kinds of fun things over the years.”
Mehran and his roommates, Riley Walz and Danielle Egan, who live in a group home on the Upper East Side, spoke to DailyMail.com about how they turned their joke into a profitable reality.
Mehran Jalali (right), 21, Riley Walz (left), 21, and Danielle Egan (center) fooled 100 New York diners by creating a fake steakhouse and said they hope to pull off more stunts in the future feed
The three invited more than 60 friends from around the world to help organize a pop-up evening of the fake restaurant Mehran’s Steakhouse
About 140 guests showed up Saturday night to discover that Mehran’s Steakhouse was actually a joke
Jalali’s friends also briefly appeared outside and shouted for pop star Drake as if he were eating in the restaurant to attract the interest of people passing by.
“I moved there in November and started cooking steaks for people about every week,” Jalali said.
It was so good that Egan made a Google Maps listing and Walz left a five-star review in March 2021.
“Best steak I’ve ever had in my life,” Walz wrote.
“More friends joined and within a few weeks we had a couple dozen, probably reviews, and people were showing up.” Jalali said.
Jalali’s roommates and friends flooded review sites with praise for the fake restaurant, and strangers began walking through their doors and looking for a seat.
“Someone walked in our door and said, Hey, I’d like a steak. And we were like, oh sorry,” Jalali said.
It happened so often that Walz created a website and a waiting list for the steakhouse.
‘And then I created the website. And from that point on, it became more and more real,” Walz said.
“It took a year and a half for these things to become more and more real, until we thought we just had to do this.”
None of them had previous restaurant or cooking experience, but they started doing research and visited several steakhouses.
Jalali and Walz booked a location — formerly a public bathhouse — in the East Village and flew in their friends, mostly students and tech dropouts, from around the world to help.
“Basically everyone said yes, they flew from Canada. They flew from Mexico, they flew from the West Coast. They were so many friends and they helped us do all the work to make this happen,” Jalali said.
“It was truly a group effort,” Walz said. ‘Everything was homemade by us except the gluten-free food, just because we had to make it safe for everyone.’
“The massive overcrowding was also a joke in itself,” Egan said.
“The lack of competence has compensated for the overstaffing,” Jalali agreed.
The fake restaurant’s pop-up evening ended with 65 waiters serving a hundred guests.
“In the end, we didn’t quite break even because there was a very unexpected, huge amount of rainfall that caused a number of cancellations,” Jalali said.
‘But it was pretty good. We didn’t spend a huge amount of money.’
As guests entered the steakhouse, they saw fake photos of Jalali posing with celebrities such as Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy.
Walz also staged a crowd pretending that Drake was eating at the restaurant to arouse the interest of people passing by.
‘We invited some of our friends out and rented this like a velvet rose on the sidewalk.
‘There were about twenty of them standing outside in the rain behind me.
“I just bought some blank posters and markers,” Walz said. He asked them to pick a celebrity and “see what happens.”
Shortly after 8 p.m., a large crowd began shouting for pop star Drake as if he were eating in the restaurant.
The fake restaurant’s pop-up night ended with 65 waiters serving a hundred guests, causing a huge overcrowding problem
Google reviews left for the restaurant have also become increasingly exaggerated, with one claiming that Chef Mehran was ‘god among men’
Once seated, they were presented with an 18-inch laser-etched woodblock print on which they could read the details of their upcoming meal.
“People said they wouldn’t change anything about the steak,” Jalali said
“It was really funny because people walking by in the neighborhood or people who were about to walk into the restaurant because that reservation thought Drake might be inside.
“I think we convinced about 10 people nearby who were just standing in the crowd and thought Drake was actually inside,” Walz said.
“And then the New York Fire Department was doing some sort of routine check on an adjacent building.
“There’s a fire truck parked in front of the building and the firefighters in the truck are talking to them.
“It was just a really funny moment out there.”
Shortly afterwards, a marriage proposal was made as a joke by two of Jalali’s friends.
The theme of the restaurant was ‘The Bovine Circle of Life’, with waiters at one point pouring glasses of whole milk as if it were wine.
“We felt like we wanted to have a theme on the menu. So first of all, because it’s ridiculously big, it’s also a circle, which is weird,” Egan said.
‘At first I just wanted to cherish everything, but that probably wouldn’t be a good experience.
“And we kind of want to find that balance between having a good experience, but also being funny,” she added.
The makers of the fake steakhouse said they hoped the evening would not be a ‘one hit wonder’.
“I honestly think this is something that has been super fun for us,” Egan said.
“People said they wouldn’t change anything about the steak,” Jalali said.
But according to the New York TimesReactions to the food were evenly divided, with guests praising the steak Jalali cooked, but others sending theirs back.
Google reviews left about the restaurant have also become increasingly exaggerated, with one person claiming that Chef Mehran was ‘god among men’.
Alex Lamper wrote: ‘Mehran’s Steakhouse is not just a restaurant, it is a life-changing experience.
‘I was a devout vegan and believed that a plant-based diet was the only way to live a moral and healthy life.
“The moment I took my first bite of steak in this heavenly establishment, my eyes were opened to the truth. The tender, juicy meat was like a revelation, a taste of divinity.
“And then there was Chef Mehran. He is not just a chef, he is a visionary, a genius, a god among men.
‘The steak he served us was a work of art, a symphony of flavors, a masterpiece of culinary excellence.
One diner even claimed they ordered the surf n turf, prompting Mehran to respond, ‘This review is not about Mehran’s Steak House. We offer a white dining experience and do not serve ‘surf n turf.’
“I just thought it was really funny, especially because when you read their reviews, they’re so over the top and ridiculous,” Egan said.
“They’ll talk about how we take a cow back and slaughter it and do a, the proper, you know, religious prayer over it.
“There was one that was written as a fan fiction about Mehran, how wise he was and how they felt at peace.
‘I thought it was ridiculous to find out what was going on,
‘Or they just didn’t even look at the reviews and thought it was five stars and then went to the trouble of writing a name on the website.
‘Someone else might send some concert tickets. I would much rather spend it on this rather complicated plan.”