Meet Shaheen Sadeghi, the LAB Man

In his his quest to hipsterize OC retail, Shaheen Sadeghi has built quirkily beautiful properties and gained more than a few critics

Meet Shaheen Sadeghi, the LAB Man

*This article was altered on Dec. 20, 2011.

 

Shaheen Sadeghi is a retail developer, though a more accurate job title might be Curator of Cool.

Shaheen Sadeghi at the Lab Anti-Mall in Costa Mesa
Brandon Showers
Shaheen Sadeghi at the Lab Anti-Mall in Costa Mesa
The Lab was designed by Sadeghi, with help from New York-based architecture firm Pompei A.D.
Brandon Showers
The Lab was designed by Sadeghi, with help from New York-based architecture firm Pompei A.D.

He sits on a plush, lime chair in his glass-encased office at Costa Mesa's LAB Holding headquarters, an incubator of urban-mod eye candy that would have Jonathan Adler taking notes. In the front lobby, a glossy bubble swing hangs from the ceiling, hovering over an AstroTurf rug, upon which sprouts a pair of cheery, floral-patterned pouf cubes. The stylishly dressed woman answering the phones is not the receptionist, but, as her nameplate indicates, the "sociologist." Above her, a red-and-fuschsia Pop Art portrait of John Lennon reminds you to imagine.

Wearing a catalog-crisp navy sweater, dark cuffed jeans and a bright-orange watch, Sadeghi leans over a coffee table that brims with art and photography books and flips though images of vintage storefronts. Exposed red brick. Hand-painted window promotions. Straightforward signage. "Look at this," he says, grinning. "It's called 'Good Stores.' I love the simplicity."

All of it sets the vibe for his latest extreme building makeover: the overhaul of Center Street in downtown Anaheim. In the coming months, the palm-tree-lined, marble-and-teal shopping plaza recently vacated by a jewelry-repair shop, discount-clothing boutique and travel agency promoting cruise vacations will be transformed into a 1940s-themed destination hub, packed with meticulously conceptualized shops that nod to the city's past.

"I call it 'hip blue-collar,'" says the round-faced, gray-haired chief executive, his voice serene, his manner mild. "We want to recapture some of the essence that made downtown Anaheim what it was. Bring back the old-fashioned coffee shop. Put in a bakery, a florist. We want to get a men's barbershop in there. If we can't find one, we'll build one."

The facelift accompanies another project just a few blocks down. Sadeghi's team is turning the city's long-downtrodden, 92-year-old, 42,000-square-foot Sunkist Packing House at Anaheim Boulevard and Santa Ana Street into a gourmet food hall. When doors open sometime next summer, the cavernous, sunlit space will house 25 stations serving everything from wood-fired pizza to gelato. There'll be communal tables, patio seating in the form of railroad cars, movie screenings and live music, as well as an adjacent farmers' market featuring food trucks, locally grown produce, and artisanal breads and cheeses. "Everybody is absolutely out of their minds," says Kevin Kidney, vice president of the Anaheim Historical Society. "The other night, we were drinking beers over at the Anaheim Brewery across the way, and the lights turned on. It looked like a big cruise ship out in the ocean."

While he may lack the notoriety of Segerstrom, Harrah or Bren, 57-year-old Sadeghi is often described as a "visionary" in developers' circles, a maverick who is making Orange County less Orange County with ideas that snarl in the face of the ubiquitous beige-stucco shopping center. His original "anti-malls," the Lab and the Camp in Costa Mesa, reign as hipster meccas, drawing flocks of young urbanites who recycle and eat vegan and refuse to buy sweaters in bulk at the Gap. He's an evangelist for retail localization, dubbing his projects "love centers" and giving public talks titled "Culture Is the New Currency."

"It's no longer about taking the shopping cart and throwing stuff in it," he declared from a stage as a speaker at TEDxFullerton last year. "People are looking for content in their lives." His mantra for today's consumer: "I'm not a demographic. I'm not a number. I'm not a statistic. I'm not a bar code. I am a human being."

But in the business of consumer connection, Sadeghi has built a legion of foes, including current, former and prospective tenants and even city leaders—some of whom he has battled in court. "Shaheen is not out to enhance the community—he's out for Shaheen, period," says Joe Liburdi, whose Liburdi's Scuba Center occupied a space in the Camp from its grand opening in 2002 to 2008. "He's the most terrible landlord I've ever encountered."

Sadeghi has been accused of luring inexperienced entrepreneurs into his retail centers, then pushing them out with outlandish fees and climbing rent. "People want to believe in his mission, but it's all a façade," says one anonymous tenant. "He'll make your business cool, but at what expense?"

One woman claims Sadeghi modeled the concept for a new store after her own when she decided to not sign a lease.

Statements from business owners who've worked with him, when interviewed for this story, were cautiously peppered with "off the record" in fear of retaliation or were purposely vague. "He is a savvy and a tough businessman if he wants to be," says Joe Ongie, one of the original owners of the Gypsy Den, a café and reading room that has been a Lab staple since 1994. Ongie breaks into laughter. "How diplomatic am I?"

For LAB Holding, the two Anaheim centers are the first projects to break ground since the Camp was unveiled. The past decade has been fraught with legal drama and disappointment for the development company, which has had a string of proposals and ventures squashed in Orange County and beyond. Sadeghi is currently suing San Clemente and Oregon's Portland Development Commission after his plans for revitalizing parts of those cities fell apart.

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37 comments
Sjkm1229
Sjkm1229

Wow. Michelle. Another excellent article. You truly are a genius wordsmith.

Hotballs
Hotballs

this guy is 100% fraud.not 1 creative bone in his little body-just money to shut people down and take their idea claming it as his own.we understand he buys ad space in your newpaper...but this article is ridiculious.the cover too? incredible.you didnt even bother to talk to outspoken tennants and former renters of this scumbag.just the one person u spoke to that was to 'afraid'?!?!?!?! of backlash.

this guy is a joke.

Track
Track

Amazing that he could convince the City of Anaheim to renovate a structure to the tune of 9.5 million worth of taxpayer dollars only to fill it with a host of tiny food vendors. Isn't this moving directly against his reluctance to continue with, in his own words, "weak tenants"? How potent are little food vendors going to be? Or is it simply that he intends to grind them up and spit them out, knowing that his legal team is omnipotent against these eager upstarts?

Lttlelindsey
Lttlelindsey

This is the biggest load of crap article ever. This guy is a crook! I bet he lined the pockets of the author!

Raad
Raad

Ah the timeless connection between Controversy and Creativity :) It is always easy to destroy or shoot down something isn't it...not so easy to come up with something different now is it.

In the case of LAB holdings like them or hate them regardless you have to accept the fact that there is no lack there for creativity and all the proof one needs to the validity of their vision is to dare and walk through the LAB and/or CAMP in Costa Mesa at anytime and experience its business success thru non-bias eyes!

Many stand posturing, pontificating and rip down ideas most of the time secretly motivated by their own overinflated sense of grandness, and power/influence lust over others..all the while accusing others who dare to create and build of being nothing short of evil doers! Is this new? no..it is as old as time and can be seen as far back as the crucifixion!

Dweezle.Di
Dweezle.Di

I have shopped there (when I used to be able to afford it). Junk yard ambiance with lack of adequate parking does not interest me. Urban Outfitters is not anti-anything, (except anti-value) other than their higher price they are no different than the GAP. I recall they had a bigger store in the Irvine Spectrum Center. I walked through The Camp many years ago, they did not interest me at all. Maybe I am old fashioned, I buy my nice clothing at Nordstrom Rack, and my work clothes at The Army Navy Store in Orange, Sears or Millennium Outpost, (Beach Blvd North of Lincoln) I used to buy work clothes and underwear at Target, but I notice too many "Made in Pakistan" on the Labels. I would rather see made in USA, but that is too hard to find so I settle on Dickies, Made in Honduras.

More Crafty Fun for Everyone!
More Crafty Fun for Everyone!

I love Sadeghi's retails spaces and his vision, which prior to his making it happen here in OC, was unheard of and unseen unless you were someplace else, like NoCal or Seattle, Sedona or??? That he had the nerve and the balls to do what he did in our homogenized Orange County is grand and yay for us! I also like Snell's store. However, I will say that the her idea statement bugs. Handmade and homespun craft arts have been around way longer than either of these two daring OC entrepreneurs. Prior to Patchwork, in the 70's and 80' there was Casa de las Tejadoras and their annual craft arts shows, The Christmas Company benefit is in its 36th year and the Santa Monica Contemporary Crafts Market is in it 25th year. And Community in Anaheim just opened not too long ago. So no, the idea is not one person's. The problem is there is not enough of these venues. More, from more, please.

unsettled
unsettled

This guy is cancer, he will destroy anybody who gets in his way and he fires people who work for him and make Sobeca a better company just because he can get someone else for less money. He has stolen ideas and projects from honest hard working people and run the idea into the ground. Shaheen has forced many of his tenants out of business after he makes promises for them to join his team. His number one method of ruin for most of the failed businesses under his umbrella is to double the rent and watch them fail.

former LAB tenant
former LAB tenant

Shaheen is the classic Persian businessman: a genius who's also an insufferable asshole. The author did not talk to the many, many people who openly despise him--for shame!

bec
bec

I love the lab, the camp and seed. I empathize with those who have had less than successful business ventures there, but to the woman who says Shaheen stole your idea, I have been to your store, it doesn't even compare, maybe its because you are so worried about everyone else. Just do you, stop worrying about the others. It never pays to worry about what everyone else is doing, you just get angry all by yourself. Get happy. I have met Shaheen and he is a good guy, intense, but smart and his success proves that he understands what all of us want. I know that he gives people and their ideas a chance which is more than we can say for a lot of other business owners. The camp offers a variety of delicious eats and spots to relax. The energy there is positive and that is just what I am looking for when I want to enjoy my Saturday. I have found everything I need at Seed, including technical winter wear, stylish gym clothes and running shoes, beautiful, handcrafted jewelry, all-natural soaps, records, decorating ideas, free exercise and craft classes, and perfect, unique gifts. Special thanks to Emily, Jake, Nina and Sasha for welcoming me and showing me around the camp! Shaheen got them right, for sure.

queenmidas
queenmidas

As a designer who consigns their pieces to SEED, among several other shops in Orange County, I'm happy to see that more shops who pride themselves on selling local and handmade items are popping up. The first shop I ever consigned to was at the LAB, and now SEED is my top-selling consignment account! From the perspective of an independent designer, I appreciate the opportunities given to me from entrepreneurs like this man AND Snell. That being said, the last thing I want is for there to be a limit on the amount of businesses who are spreading the handmade culture.

LFC
LFC

I love seed people's market! Just bought christmas gifts there and everyone was super nice!

Lelher
Lelher

that lady said he stole her idea?!? somebody inform thomas edison that steve jobs stole his idea with the iPhone! hahahahaha! get over it! somebody had an idea and made it better!

maybe you should push for *better* and stop sulking!

atn0185
atn0185

i personally LOVE the CAMP and the LAB! its great place for me and my friends to hang out and grab a bite to eat between classes... i don't know the owners but when it comes down to it, these places are businesses and im not a business person at all but last time i checked businesses are there to make money in exchange for a service or product... duh!

Lizbrito
Lizbrito

I shop at the Seed regularly and I absolutely enjoy the whole experience of shopping at the store. It is a great ambiance and stocked with unique merchandise. It is a great place to shop and enjoy having a good meal at surrounding restaurants as well. Liz.

Mystupidusername
Mystupidusername

Ok. In my opinion common story. There are a lot of successful people like mr sadeghi that always get ragged on for the same things.

Tenants are always going to complain about rent the same way employees always complain about how much they get paid. And yes, ms. Snell, another person ripped off your idea, I have heard this before... You are making quite a reputation for yourself aren't you?? Be careful, people are noticing. And if using your boyfriends publication to take down a competitor isn't ruthless, then I don't know what is.

Let's just take sadeghi for what he is, a visionary who does what he can to get what he wants. What successful businessman doesn't?. Common thought must side with him as he is one of the most successful people in the oc. The lots are continuously packed every time I go there.

Cheers to the packing house and continued success of the lab and camp.

Heynha
Heynha

i LOVE the camp and the LAB!!! it offers so much and the places and the people there are way cool! the food places the shops, all awesome! i've met shaeen and he's cool too! people need to lighten up and chill out... Boo Whoo, he stole my idea! Boo Whoo he called me names! get over it!

and way excited for the projects in anahiem... i heard theres gonna be an umami burger! im there!!!

Honeyman
Honeyman

This story SHOCKS me!

I always thoguh that Gustavo was gay.

Steve
Steve

I hope that all of you readers out there realize how sugar coated this article is! A good friend of mine was a long time tenant and has horrible things to say about "The Lab Man". I hear that he is just a slum lord who keeps things pretty and cool on the surface.

Mr Salty
Mr Salty

What a load of BS. A mimimall is a minimall no matter how it's packaged.The good people of San Clemente were able to see the truth of the matter and send 'em packing.Anahaim is the perfect place for this "developer" who will stop at nothing to get his way.

Johnrose7588
Johnrose7588

Sadeghi is not a bad guy. Id rather have his antimall than all the crappy asian stores popping up in costa mesa. Christ, its starting to look like a little saucing or garden grove with all these zipper heads here. Keep up the good work sedeghi

Dweezle.Di
Dweezle.Di

If Iran is so great, I invite you to go live there!

More crafts!
More crafts!

Oh and I forgot Piecemaker's in Costa Mesa since the 80's and the Harvest Festivals. And the Waldorf School, since crafts are a doctrine of their education process. Public school should incorporate crafts and home arts instead of the non education, just show up so we can get paid process where kids are inventoried. Just saying.

atn0185
atn0185

i totally agree with you! my favorite spot is east borough! thier vietnamese food is so tasty! and john and chloe are soooo nice!

Bill T.
Bill T.

Speak for yourself, I'm paid fairly and don't complain.

If you believe you can get paid more, why not? Your employer isn't paying you as little as he thinks he can get away with?

What's wrong with trying to negotiate rents down? The landlord is going to try to charge as much as the market will bear.

It's called "Free Enterprise", look it up.

Jamaicadelight
Jamaicadelight

heck yea! i see it the same way!

i wouldn't mind being the guy calling the shots and signing the checks!

Jmcguinness
Jmcguinness

The Lab and The Camp are for posers. I don't need alternative prepackaged. urban Outfitters my ass.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Man, you fanboys of mine are SO lame—but, yeah, don't swing your way ;-)

Sniff
Sniff

I don't know if I'd say sugar coated - it's pretty critical too. Seems balanced. In the end, just another guy looking to make a buck.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

What a pathetic moron. But let's see you say your rant at Lee's at one in the morn, big boi!

Lttlelindsey
Lttlelindsey

Yeah who cares if he lies and cheats his way to get there at the cost of everyone around him. He has drive.

ShowMeTheMoney!
ShowMeTheMoney!

... and who doesn't want to make a buck... if you say, "i don't!"

YOU'RE KIDDING YOURSELF!

Johnrose7588
Johnrose7588

Ha! Lee's! Shit! Why go to lee's when cafe chi chi is so close. Seeing those hookers in thongs reminds me of gustabos moms house. Blow jobs and a good cup of java. The arellano family are good at both. Hold the froth culo

Matthew_T_Coker
Matthew_T_Coker

Damn, if they put a Lee's in the Asian-centric center next to my Costa Mesa house, I'd never come in the office.

 
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