A hobby in distilling led Kaveh Zamanian to drop his career as a psychoanalyst to work in the industry full-time. Zamanian is founder of Rabbit Hole, a 35,000-square-foot distillery opening next year in NuLu. It will include tours, tasting rooms and a restaurant.
Zamanian came to the U.S. from Iran when he was 14. His family settled in San Francisco. He eventually made his way to Southern California and still has family along the coast.
His story of adjusting to the United States led him to a career in psychology. And having roots in the Golden State led him to see the parallels between the wine industry in California and bourbon in Kentucky.
I spoke with Zamanian in NuLu about how psychology has helped him in the world of distilling.
On adjusting to the United States:
“My father is a physician, and we would say in the old country probably in the upper middle class or maybe even the upper class, if you would. But when we settled in the States it was really a reset for everybody. Particularly for my father, who had to re-calibrate, go back to school and have to start from beginning.
“We left behind everything and lost everything when we came here. So we came from a fairly comfortable life to having to start from scratch. And just to give you an example, my dad was a chief of urology in a hospital in Tehran and came here and was essentially, for about two years, doing nurse’s aid work just to get recertification here in the States and get back to his field.
“It was quite an adjustment for all of us. Those were some of the things that contributed to thinking about emotional life, family life and how it impacts a person’s development. And ultimately, kind of an opening to psychology.”
On how psychology helped him with spirits and distilling:
“Over the years working with a lot of individuals and private practices, a lot of folks have not been able to for one reason or another to actualize, either identify or actualize their dreams. And part of psychotherapy is really helping them identify those dreams and help them remove some of those obstacles that get in the way of pursuing those dreams.
“So ultimately for me this was kind of a personal trip or journey as well of transforming and being able to get to a place where I feel emboldened, to not only figure out what I want in life but also pursue it. And I think that really is a foundation for running a business.”
On why he jumped on the bourbon bandwagon:
“I would say that probably one of the things that is high on the list is the fact that most Americans don’t know about bourbon. Internally we talk about one of our missions being to be able to essentially get people to fall in love with bourbon the way Kentuckians do. I think most Americans still believe and think that bourbon is a Kentucky product rather than part of their national heritage.
“Along those lines, when I think about a country like France and their sense of pride and ownership of champagne or Bordeaux or any other number of products they put out, I feel like that sense of ownership and pride is not what we hear when it comes to bourbon in the U.S. So to me that was a source of inspiration.
“I love this country. I love bourbon, and I feel that there should be a sense of pride in essentially a product that is through-and-through Americana.”