In Memoriam

John Ghoukassian

October 21, 1936 – March 15, 2021

OC restaurant icon John Ghoukassian, patriarch and founder of Bistango and Bayside restaurants, has died. Ghoukassian was noted as a great entrepreneur, art collector, restaurateur, father and husband. 

He was a man with a vision to celebrate art in all its forms and brought that to life in Bistango and Bayside restaurants. He spent his life dedicated to the art of dining and pleasing all the senses – from the culinary team and cuisine, the interior décor, architectural foundation, to the museum-quality art installations and thriving live music scene. 

In Memoriam John Ghoukassian

Courtesy of Ghoukassian family

John Ghoukassian

With more than 50 years as a restaurateur in the U.S. and abroad, Ghoukassian was a man of strength, endurance, adaptation and innovation. He was not only an inspiration to his children, Marc and Karyn, and his wife, Diana, but to his extended family of Bistango and Bayside, as well as the community. Having created two iconic dining and art destinations, his goal was to offer beautiful places where friends and family could share something beyond a meal – places where they could create lifelong memories and experiences. 

Ghoukassian opened Bistango in 1987 in Irvine, after three years with the restaurant in Los Angeles. Within Bistango, he created a thriving art gallery space where both food, visual art and live music still shine more than 30 years later. 

He opened Bayside in 1999 alongside his son, Marc, building the restaurant from the ground up with an iconic Italian architect. No detail was left unnoticed, from the terraced patio and authentic Venetian gondola oar ceiling, to the exquisite bar program and menu. Twenty-one years later, Bayside remains a go-to spot for live music, wonderful food and fantastic hospitality. 

But Bistango and Bayside were not Ghoukassian’s first forays into the  restaurant business. Before moving to the United States, he ran three restaurants in Tehran, Iran, and learned the trade from his own father, who operated a hotel-restaurant-nightclub in the mid-1960s. And he, the intrepid businessman, didn’t just operate any restaurant in his home country, but what became one of the most popular and celebrated restaurants of its time. Chattanooga, which served what he deemed continental cuisine, became part of the cultural history of its time, and he operated it for 17 years of success before leaving Iran. 

Having been in the antiques and art business prior to working in restaurants, it was natural for Ghoukassian’s very first restaurant to be art-themed. He opened the exclusive, fine dining French restaurant Art Gallery Restaurant Lautrec in the 1970s to critical acclaim. He also opened a third restaurant in downtown Tehran, called Mirabelle. In Orange County, he set his sights on creating a strong and resilient team, with his family always by his side. 

He will be missed dearly by his family and his family of staff, many of whom worked alongside Ghoukassian for decades.