Pasadena's Unofficial Community Center
Robert Shahnazarian Jr. and his partners have established Noor as Pasadena’s prime destination for multicultural weddings, fundraisers, corporate parties and more.
By Tariq Kamal 07/01/2014
No expense was spared for the November 2010 grand opening of Noor, an event space in Old Pasadena’s Paseo Colorado mall. Robert Shahnazarian Jr., his wife, Maggie, and her brother, Sarkis Khatchikian, had searched the world over for the materials, decorations and equipment that would realize their vision of an upscale, mid-size event space that would cater to the needs of a multicultural city.
“Our ethnicity is Armenian, but every ethnicity has their banquet hall,” Robert says. “The Chinese, the Koreans, the Jews, the Arabs, the Armenians, we all have these banquet halls. They know the food and they know the culture, but the décor might not appeal to the younger generations — they may prefer a hotel or country club. We give them the modern décor while being sensitive to their cultural needs.”
Many traditional spaces also suffer from “spotty” service and limited capacity, he adds, pushing many would-be customers toward larger venues. Maggie and her brother began to sketch out their plan for Noor more than 10 years ago, when Shahnazarian was working as a music producer for Sony. In 2008, he left the company to join the executive MBA program at Pepperdine University, where he had majored in international studies as an undergraduate. He kept the Noor concept in mind as he worked toward his degree and left the program with a detailed business plan. A New York native who grew up in Palm Springs, Shahnazarian chose Pasadena for several reasons: He knew it was a diverse, business-friendly community, and he was optimistic that the city’s vast array of businesses and nonprofits could keep Noor booked throughout the week. He invited his classmates — as well as friends, local business leaders and potential clients — to the grand opening, and Maggie arranged for a reporter from Hollyscoop.com to cover the event.
“In the beginning, it was all advertising,” Robert says. “There’s no word of mouth, there’s no reputation, there’s no celebrity chef. There’s nothing to hang your hat on… And now, this November will be our fourth year, and every year I’m able to spend a little bit less on advertising because the word-of-mouth graph is going up a lot faster.”
Noor (the Armenian word for pomegranate, a symbol of righteousness and abundance since ancient times) is comprised of two ballrooms — both named after Shahnazarian’s young nieces — as well as back offices and a massive kitchen. The Art Nouveau–inspired Sofia Ballroom can accommodate 330 seated guests and is accessed via a spacious foyer featuring a custom-built wood bar. A large terrace overlooks Colorado Boulevard and offers views of the City Hall dome and the San Gabriel Mountains. The more intimate Ella Ballroom has its own foyer and bar and can hold 130 seated guests. The Ella sports an Old Hollywood feel and Venetian-plaster walls; both ballrooms and foyers are decorated with chandeliers imported from Prague. The Paseo’s Garfield Promenade can seat up to 1,500 guests outdoors and serves as the site of most Noor-hosted wedding ceremonies. The décor is, by design, lavish but not overwhelming, allowing guests of any background to feel at home.
Shahnazarian believes Los Angeles is too often described as a “melting pot,” implying that the city’s various ethnic and religious groups have somehow coalesced, leaving behind their unique traditions. “If you really know L.A., you know it’s more of a multicultural city. You drive around and suddenly you’re in Koreatown or in Chinatown or in Little Armenia,” he says. Noor’s chefs specialize in continental and Middle Eastern cuisine but are equipped to handle most requests; some guests arrange for food to be brought in. Shahnazarian says that his international studies background helped prepare him to handle parties comprised of more than one group. “Part of my process of planning with couples of different ethnicities is making them aware of each other’s cultural sensitivities so that both sides are represented. Both sides can celebrate and not feel like they’ve been left out.”
No hot spot would be complete without music, and Noor is powered by a state-of-the-art audiovisual system. Guests can choose from a long list of Shahnazarian’s playlists (including “Noor Vegas Lounge Mix,” “Noor Arabic” and “Noor U.K. Top 40,” for example) or bring their own music and movies. A recent upgrade allows Shahnazarian to stream content from guests’ laptops and mobile devices, including 3D and Ultra High Definition video. Built-in and recessed lighting can transform both ballrooms into dance clubs with the flick of a switch.
In addition to family events, including weddings, anniversaries, birthday parties and bar mitzvahs, Noor hosts fundraisers for nonprofits and corporate events; the venue also books private parties for visitors with business at the nearby Pasadena Conference Center. He says Noor is able to run on “autopilot” for some of its more frequent guests, but new clients and one-time events continue to present new challenges. Weddings, for example, are a series of events that begins with setup and arrival and continues through the kiss, the cutting of the cake and the Champagne toast. An inexperienced wedding planner can further complicate the timeline, and Shahnazarian has met his fair share.
“We gather enough information from the clients before their event so that, if their planner is bad, it doesn’t matter; we’re going to run it anyway,” he says. He is happy to recommend a planner for clients who ask. If they don’t wish to hire one, he asks the family to choose a point person to make decisions. “I tell the couple, ‘We’ll do all the planning together, but, for that day, my goal is for you to be in the moment, not to think about anything. So either assign a family member who’s not going to get drunk, or get a planner we can talk to.’” And every detail matters. “What we’re dealing with here is everybody’s most important day. They’re going to remember those moments. I know that, as long as everyone has the same expectations going in, the food is going to be great, the service is going to be great. But if they expect the linen to be blue and they come in and it’s green, then something’s off.”
The partners rely on a team of five managers and their workers to handle setup and breakdown, supervise events in progress and run the bars and kitchen. That frees Shah-nazarian to focus on marketing and sales. He personally conducts site tours and follows up with every visitor, even if they don’t book with him. Many who do have been effusive in their praise. Noor’s website and office bulletin boards are decorated with four years’ worth of glowing testimonials, but Shahnazarian takes particular pride in an email he received from a client just last month. The parents of a 15-year-old girl had booked the main ballroom for her Sweet 16 party, and she was very involved in the planning. In the early stages, he says, she reminded him of the spoiled teens featured in MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 series. (“My wife would never let our boys act the way those kids act on that show!” he exclaims.) He could have been heavy-handed, but he elected to try to win her over. He asked for her input every step of the way, answered every question and ignored every slight. The party was a success, and he was preparing to follow up with the parents when he received an unexpected email from the birthday girl: “I just wanted to say that it was amazing, and your staff was amazing.” Shahnazarian was taken aback. “This from a 16-year-old girl,” he says. “Some people, no matter how much you show them and do, they don’t appreciate it, but she was able to appreciate it.”
She isn’t alone. The venue’s reputation has grown, and the accolades began pouring in shortly after it opened. For the past three years, Noor has won a Best of Pasadena award in the wedding location and banquet hall category from Pasadena Weekly (Arroyo’s sister publication); Pasadena Magazine also weighed in with a Most Stylized Venue award in 2012. Shahnazarian is pleased with the recognition and happy to be part of the business community in Pasadena, a city he describes as philanthropic by nature. Noor has played host to countless fundraisers, and a comment from a recent guest stuck with him.
“We were in the middle of doing this fundraiser, and I was talking to a woman who’s a doctor in this nonprofit. She said, ‘Robert, you know, Noor has really become the community center of Pasadena.’ This is a locally owned, family business. The kids go to school here and I heavily discount and donate back to the nonprofits. I do that just because that was part of our mission statement. But it was nice to hear it in those words from her.”
Noor is located at 260 E. Colorado Blvd., A209, Pasadena. Call (626) 793-4518 or visit noorevents.com.