George Aviet is a carpenter, electrician, plumber, janitor, cabinet-maker, painter and visionary — and the owner of Chez TJ in Mountain View, one of only four restaurants on the Peninsula to earn coveted Michelin stars.
Born in Iran to an Armenian mother and a French-English father, life did not start off so promisingly for Aviet. His father worked for Royal Dutch Shell and was trapped in a tanker for days. He suffered psychological issues and withdrew from the family for a decade shortly before his son George was born.
Aviet suffered a serious injury at age 6 when a piece of metal from a toy ruptured his back and exited his stomach. He spent nearly two years in the hospital and many months at home convalescing. During that time, he was immersed in the cooking of his mother and grandmother who hailed from the Caspian Sea area.
His father reemerged when Aviet was 10 and paid for his private school education. In 1979, their property confiscated, the family fled Iran after the Islamic Revolution. Aviet came to the South Bay as an exchange student enrolling at Cañada College and took a part-time job at the now extinct Pear William restaurant in Menlo Park, where he met Chef Thomas J. McCombie.
It was there that Aviet found his life’s passion. He loved the restaurant business and worked in every capacity at Pear William. To make ends meet, he also worked late nights at a doughnut shop in Redwood City. In the early 1980s, McCombie proposed that the two should open a restaurant.
The partners traveled to Europe and ate their way around France, absorbing what they both adored about French cuisine — the menus, the ambiance, the use of local seasonal ingredients — and came home with a plan. They would offer prix fixe dinners at three price points, depending on the number of courses. With their wives, they scraped together enough money to launch Chez TJ in November of 1982.