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How an Iran Refugee Built a $100M Empire: Sam Bakhtiar



Sam Bakhtiar

Sam Bakhtiar On Personal-growth, Building Self-Esteem And Not Wanting To Be Average.

Sam Bakhtiar came to the United States from Iran as a refugee, over the last five years he created a multi-million dollar franchise transforming this world for people who experience health challenges. One of the main worries in today’s world is how to focus on keeping ourselves healthy, Sam has over a hundred and ten franchises to prove it and in the next few years, he’s going to 500 locations. Let’s learn what is in the mindset of someone who came from Iran as a refugee during the war and built a fifty-two million dollar company in the last five years.


Andy Audate: I learned that you’re originally from Iran, so can you take me through that experience you had leaving Iran and then going to France, and from there to Pennsylvania, and later coming into California.

Sam Bakhtiar:  I was born in Tehran, Iran, the Capital City and when I was 3 we went to war with Iraq and Saddam Hussein, a guy you might know, started bombing on us every night, we heard the bombs and the planes flying over, and you would hear Bam! Bam! Bam!, and you see anti-air missiles, it looked like Disneyland but except it was war. My mom said: I don’t want my son to die. I was eleven years old, let’s get out of the country. We couldn’t come straight to America, because America and Iran didn’t have a good relationship. They had a very bad relationship. I don’t know if you remember that in 1978 they had American hostages situation, it was kind of a bad time. So we moved to France, we migrated to France as refugees of war, we stayed in France for a year and then we came to America as refugees of the war in 1985.



Andy Audate: So you spend a year in France, then you moved to the United States. Why not stay in France?

Sam Bakhtiar: Yes, I spent a year in France, we were in government housing. And well you know we wanted to come to the land of opportunity, and we didn’t have any relatives in France, we had an uncle that lived in the United States, my mom’s brother and so we came to America. To a little town called Sharon, Pennsylvania. Because my mom’s brother, Holly went to Youngstown State University, he graduated and he opened up a convenience store. So we went to Sharon, Pennsylvania and that’s the only place we knew where to go because that’s the only relative we had.


Andy Audate: So your first stop was Sharon, how old were you at this time?

Sam Bakhtiar: I was almost 12. I was 11 years old when I was coming to America, and I was doing my research, watching American television shows in France. I was watching all the American television shows like Dallas and Dynasty, that’s gonna show you my age. I was looking at those shows and I was thinking everybody in America is super-rich to have Cadillacs and mansions and Olympic sized swimming pools. I thought I was coming to a country where everybody was multi-millionaire, that was my thought. You know that unfortunately in the television shows they don’t show you the hood of America, so it was a rude awakening because when I got to Pittsburgh Airport my uncle picked us up and we went straight to the worst neighborhood of Sharon, Pennsylvania, in which my uncle had a convenience store. I’m talking about in the middle of the hood, in the middle of what is call Idaho Street. Idaho Street is a brick road, it’s not even paved, there are signs on the street that says no-solicitation, don’t hang around or you get arrested, if you are just hanging around the neighborhood you get arrested, there are abandoned buildings. This is 1985 where all the steel mills are shut down, there is a crack cocaine epidemic.


Andy Audate: So you’re coming to Sharon and this was your first experience of United States? Didn’t you feel like you were being scammed?

Sam Bakhtiar: I did, I honestly did. Because I had been looking at people living in Beverly Hills, looking at people living in Dallas, in mansions. And I had come to Sharon Pennsylvania where are brick roads, abandoned buildings, pimps hoes and prostitutes in the street. I was shocked, I was shocked. I was like is this America? This is kind of crazy, I felt like you said, like I got scammed, like they showed me one thing and they represented then something else. Because I honestly thought I was coming to Beverly Hills or Newport Beach or Costa Mesa and instead I came there.


Andy Audate: Wow, that’s powerful, because that was your first experience in the U.S. So now we’re here in your beautiful home, and I even did some research on the home, 3.2 million dollars for this home. So how do you go from Sharon, Pennsylvania to living in a 3.2 million dollars home, owning fifteen cars and many of them exotic?

Sam Bakhtiar: Well it’s been a long road. Ever since I can remember I didn’t want to be average. I love the title of your book.  I was three or four years old, I looked at myself and I just didn’t want to be like everybody else. I wanted to have a nicer home, I just want you to know that it’s not about material things. I wanted to become, I’m gonna progress, that’s what I wanted to do ever since I can remember. I was infatuated as a little kid with three things, and that was cars, sports and I was infatuated with pretty women. I swear to God I was 4 years old I’m looking at a woman and said, my God, she looks good. I didn’t know why I was looking at her but I was infatuated.  


Andy Audate: It was internal, this was inevitable, that you were going to become this man?

Sam Bakhtiar: I don´t know if it was inevitable because growing up we struggled. I didn’t have a dad, my dad and my mom separated when I was 3, I never saw him again. We came to Sharon, Pennsylvania to a very poor neighborhood. We grew up on food stamps, section eight housing. If my mom heard me, if she heard this interview she’ll go off on me because she’ll never admit that. She’s a proud old Persian lady and every time I talk about that she goes: you shouldn’t tell people that, and I say mom that’s inspiring, people shouldn’t be ashamed of that. You shouldn’t be ashamed, you did your best and that’s not a problem. But in our culture, in our country, they have a saying “to make your face red, slap yourself” it basically means that if you don’t get it don’t say that you don’t ever admit it, don’t ever admit that you’re poor, that you are struggling, in our culture it’s a bad thing. 


Andy Audate: Do you believe in that?

Sam Bakhtiar: I don’t believe that at all. I just think that instead of fronting, tell people what you do know. Here’s what I don’t believe in: if you’re going through something don’t go out there and tell everyone about it and make a drama out of it. Instead, work through it, conquer it and then tell people the story of how you conquered it. So for example, if I’m going through something I’m not going to get on social media and say: Oh look at me, poor me, poor me, look at what I’m going through. I don’t want anybody feeling bad for me. What I’ll do is I get into it. I put an action plan together, I will overcome it, and then, later on, I’ll tell you how I overcame it, and I’ll be able to inspire you. In our country and our upbringing, in our culture, struggles are bad, don’t show people you are struggling. And I think you should avoid the drama while you are going through the struggle but once you get through it and you conquered it then pave the way for other people and show how you conquered it. Let’s just say something tragic happens to you right now, what are you going to do? Are you going to post it on social media? What are they gonna do for you? Can they prevent it? Can they reverse it? Can they help you? No, they cannot, so if somebody cannot help you do something all you’re gonna do is cause drama and make other people worried. So why cause drama? Why upset other people? You go through it and show people later how you get through it, how they can come through it too.


Andy Audate: So I know one thing that you were infatuated with was sports, did you play sports at a young age?

Sam Bakhtiar: Ever since I could remember I played football, not American football, but football as the world knows football. And that’s a funny story. When I came to the United States I was 11 almost 12 years old. When I walked into school it was like a Michael Jackson’s beat it video, no joke. I was the only minority at that time, in 1985, in the middle of nowhere, Sharon, America. I walked in and there were black people, there were white people and there was Sam. It was like if black people couldn’t decide if I was one of them, and white people were also thinking is that one of us. I had people with that LL Cool J jackets on, and the white people had the AC/DC, Metallica jackets on, and all I knew was Michael Jackson. So I was coming in there and they’re looking weird at me, I didn’t speak the language, my clothes were different. I went to the guidance counselor and I said, I want to play football, and he went: football? I thought this country is weird this is the foot and this is the ball, my English is not that good but I know what football is, but they said no, that’s called soccer we don’t have a soccer team. I thought, what am I going to do now?

I didn’t know anything about baseball. I’ve seen basketball before so I thought I going to try out for the basketball team, I never played basketball but at least I knew the object was to put the ball in the hoop, how hard can that be? So I tried out for the basketball team in eighth grade. They sat me on a bench and they said if we call you it means you make it if we don’t call you didn’t make it. Everybody made it to the team except me. Even a guy who had triple bifocals on and couldn’t see the ball made the team and I didn’t make the team. I went home, two miles in the snow walk, cried my eyes out and told my mom I want to go back. I hate this country nobody likes me, I don’t have the sports, other kids are making fun of me. And my mom said no, that’s not an option, the option is you go over to the boys club after school and get better. I pick you up at five after I get off work and we’ll do this. We’ll try out next year. So that was our game plan, every day I walk to the boys club, which was a mile away from the high school, and I went to practice basketball but when I was gonna practice basketball I saw these guys walking around, big old guys, and I thought man that guy looks like Arnold or Rocky. I wondered what that room they all hang around was. So I went to this room upstairs and I saw a bunch of big old dudes lifting weights, cursing at each other, listening to a radio, slapping each other, chewing and spitting tobacco. I was a little scrawny awkward kid, and I thought these guys are going to eat me, so I waited till they left and after they left I went upstairs and started lifting over the weights, I didn’t know what I was doing, I dropped the weights so many times.


Andy Audate: How old were you when this happened?

Sam Bakhtiar: I was 13.


Andy Audate: So at 13 you started to lift? Was that the starting point for creating all this life?

Sam Bakhtiar: Yes, and you see it was all by accident, because I wanted to play soccer and they didn’t have a team, and I wanted to play basketball but I got cut out of the team. If they hadn’t cut me out from the basketball team it wouldn’t have led me to it. Do you see how we are connecting the dots? Because when I look back at all the tragic things that happened in my life made me better. It’s like God pushed me to a place I didn’t want to go to because he had my back. He would take me to places that I didn’t want it to go to, and I will say God please don’t take me there, don’t take me there, but then when I got there I will say thank you. Thank you.


Andy Audate: So you get that experience, and now you’re working out and you’re lifting weights, but at what point do you transition to come to Cali?

Sam Bakhtiar:  I started working out and after a couple of months I started developing what I call baby muscles. Baby muscles are muscles that you can only tell on yourself, nobody can tell on you, only you see them. Mom gave me twenty dollars a week allowance for lunch. I’m not buying lunch. I’m going to GNC to buy the latest vitamin. I’m doing one set of workouts, flexing and popping an amino acid pill. Do you know what was my major theme song back then and it is to this day? Kool Moe Dee, How Ya Like Me Now. Because I was working out, popping an amino acid pill, flexing and asking myself how ya like me now? I started becoming infatuated with how it made me feel on the outside, and also what it did for my self-esteem, because when I was going to school nobody liked me, I didn’t have any friends I didn’t belong to any group, as humans all we want to do is belong. I didn’t have that when I came to America. But now I’m starting to feel better about myself and now people are coming up to me because I feel more sure about myself, I feel stronger, I’m becoming more confident.I started to have a little pep in my step, the little girls are noticing me, they are coming to me and saying “Sam you look good”. Right there and then I knew that this is what I wanted to do, so I started picking up every book and every magazine. I started even being infatuated with how I can become a stronger faster learner. My mom, being an old-school Persian Middle Eastern lady, always said Sam, there’s only three things that a man can be in life to be successful, a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer. That’s like an old Persian thing. If you are not a doctor or an engineer you are still a peasant, they don’t care if you make ten million dollars you’re still a peasant because they need that title. My mom said, I prefer a doctor, so ever since I was a little kid she instilled that on me. So when I was growing up, getting ready to graduate and I had to become a doctor, I’m thinking I don’t want to do surgery, I don’t want to see blood, I don’t want to draw somebody’s teeth. So I researched what kind of doctor has to do with muscles, bones and nutrition, the things that I like to do, and there was Dr. of chiropractic. So I went to Penn State and got my pre-med and nutrition degree. While I was going to Penn State, I was working as a personal trainer. I started bodybuilding. I started doing bodybuilding shows or winning bodybuilding shows and then I graduated from Penn State and I moved to Los Angeles.


Andy Audate: So when you got here, to California, did you experience the life that you eventually wanted when you were young? 

Sam Bakhtiar: No, when I got to California, there were two place I wanted to go, Beverly Hills and Compton, because growing up we know we listen to NWA. “straight outta Compton place”, and I thought was is this Compton place like?, I have a picture of me and my old Toyota riding through Compton. I parked my car there and took a picture then send it to everybody back in Pennsylvania, and then I went to Beverly Hills. I was just shocked. First of all, when I was driving in Pennsylvania if the speed limit is 65 and you do 60 70 you get pulled over. I packed my car drove to California I’m doing like 70 75 which in Pennsylvania you would be in big trouble for and I got people flipping me off and yelling at me, get out of my way. I’m thought, wow this is a whole different pace. I remember going to South Coast Plaza Mall, and where I’m from is so poor that if you drove a Honda Accord or anything better you are either a known doctor, a lawyer or if you’re young you were a drug dealer, that’s the kind of place that I come from. And here my mind was blown, I saw Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, Ferraris. I didn’t even go inside the mall, I was outside in a parking lot looking inside of these cars because I was just infatuated if a cop would’ve come by he probably would’ve thought I was trying to break in or something because I was salivating looking at the interiors. Once I made it to the mall I went into Saks Fifth Avenue and I’m looking at the prices, Oh my God, t-shirts at $70, my t-shirt was like $10 max.


Andy Audate: Speaking of cars when I was driving here to come to the interview I saw a Rolls-Royce outside and I connected. I could very much connect with your story. I was 16 years old on the East Coast and I’m from the smallest state in Rhode Island in the smallest City. My city was one square mile and I was on my mom’s house with the laptop on my stomach laying down on the bed watching videos of Beverly Hills and seeing the Rolls Royce, I said man I want to buy this house with my mom and I found the house at 7.9 million on North Canyon Drive and then I said a Rolls Royce I see that for my future I’m gonna go out there to Los Angeles and create it and that’s when I made the decision to move from Rhode Island to California.  

Sam Bakhtiar: You know, that is why I always say if you are a single man, keep working, keep working, keep working.


Andy Audate: What should that single man or that single woman be doing? You know, they can’t have the same routine that you have and I think that’s one of the false positive about asking millionaires, hey what’s your routine? Because you’re already established. 

Sam Bakhtiar: I earned it, but the way I earned it was to work around the clock, even to this day. What day it is? Is Saturday, most people would say I don’t want to do an interview on a Saturday, I don’t want to do anything on a Saturday, but I want to do this.


Andy Audate is a published author, motivational speaker, and serial entrepreneur. He is widely recognized as an eminent speaker with a delivery that is high energy and human potential stimulating. Raised in a city of impoverishment and a college dropout with little formal education; Andy took a path of entrepreneurship, forcing a course of endless self-education that has amounted to his successes. This path has not only allowed him to change his circumstances but allowed him to effectively communicate the desire to be great to others. He Helps Entrepreneurs start and scale their businesses. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.