With roots in both Mexico and the South, Diane Janbakhsh brings a welcomed perspective to Nashville. Since moving to Nashville from Monterey, Mexico (by way of Arkansas), in 1985, she has seen growth in the city and change in demographics. But she hasn’t watched this growth from the sidelines. Along with her husband, Mark Janbakhsh, Diane works to elevate the Hispanic community. Together, the Janbakhsh’s own and manage 15 radio stations across the southeast, The Auto Masters Automobile Dealership Group, the Hispanic Family Foundation and most recently, Plaza Mariachi. While their work isn’t limited to the Latino community, it is one where they saw a need and ability to help. By bringing awareness, education and resources to the community, they are effecting change and improving the quality of life for Hispanic families. It is with great honor we introduce Diane Janbakhsh as today’s FACE of Nashville.
What do all of your businesses have in common?
Our businesses are diverse. We started out in automotive over 20 years ago because that was the family business. My husband built a small mom-and-pop store into a big company. Along the way, we saw that our passion was to make a difference. We wanted to be able to do for others and give back to the community. We decided early on that this was more important to us than just working to make a living. We noticed a need in the Hispanic community. A lot of people were being taken advantage of and not being listened to. There was no tangible bridge between the need in the Hispanic community and the organizations that offered services. We speak Spanish, have a customer base and have the ability to do something. Little by little, we helped the community, whether it be coat drives or giving away meals or doing a back-to-school backpack drive that supplied the kids with what they needed for the school year. We try to help alleviate some of the problems and needs that we see.
The more we got involved in our community, the more needs we saw. This led us to start the foundation. All of our businesses now participate with the foundation to reach out and meet the needs of the community. The foundation is designed to elevate the community. By stepping in and bringing services, education and traffic to the community, we are elevating it.
Why is Nashville the ideal place to run your businesses?
We have traveled all over the world. There is beauty everywhere you go, but Nashville feels like home. I love the family feel of Nashville, and I love the community. There is a sense of caring for others — children and the elderly — that some larger cities may have lost touch with. We have radio stations in eight different markets, but we live here, we work here and we have businesses here. We can interact with our customers, our friends and our community. Nashville is still small enough, but you can enjoy some of the big-town stuff.
How have you seen the Hispanic/Latino community in Nashville grow/change?
I remember when the first Mexican restaurant opened. It was important to help each other as immigrant families. Even for my mom, it was an uphill battle. She had a dental practice in Mexico but the credentials didn’t transfer, so she had to start all over. She fought to get her license and was the first woman and immigrant dentist in Nashville. I watched her blaze a trail for other women and immigrants. She was an advocate for entrepreneurs. It was a really rare sight to see a Hispanic in Nashville, but we began to see more and more each year. The growth and construction have flourished in the past 30 years and have brought in industries that attract the Latino population. For me to see pockets of Hispanic or Kurdish or other communities is exciting. I love different cultures and ethnic food and music. It is beautiful. My dream job is traveling the world to explore different cultures. There is a richness that comes with other cultures.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I am always walking the floor at Plaza Mariachi to make sure everyone has what they need. I love to greet customers, and I am always available to them, and our shops and restaurants. I oversee the operations. I also have an inspirational Christian program on Sunday mornings that airs on our networks. From that, I have a spin-off YouTube channel. So I am often working with the radio staff to produce the shows. And I am Chairman of the Board for the foundation. On any day, I juggle quite a few things, but I am typically in my office here at the plaza. Two of our daughters work here as well, and the younger ones volunteer for the non-profit activities and outreach programs. We are all involved, and we all love it. It is a true labor of a love and a passion that we can share with everyone who walks in the door.
What can people expect to hear on the Spanish-language radio stations?
We own the largest Hispanic radio station networkfo in the Southeast. We started by buying one station here in Nashville and expanded little by little. Our programming is on AM and FM stations in Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Most of the stations play regional Mexican music that I would compare to country music.
Jumping into radio has been an amazing experience. It has added to our reach in the community. This reach helps us unite the communities. In the Hispanic culture, they very much rely on the radio.
What has been the response from the community for Plaza Mariachi?
We feel like maybe 10% of Nashville even knows about us! For us, a difficult bridge to cross is that Plaza Mariachi is a safe place. Organizations are working to make Nolensville [Road] a better place. We are beautifying the neighborhood to make it safe and profitable and an integral part of this city. We would love for the Belle Meade, Franklin, Brentwood and West End communities to come out. Join us for a salsa night or Wine Down Wednesday. Stop by the Nashville Zoo then come for lunch or dinner. We purposely made this a safe, family destination.
We love watching people come in for the first time and watching their jaws drop. I love that we can reach so many different people with entertainment, food and events. Our hook is that we want people to feel like they went on vacation and didn’t even need a passport.
I am very pleased with the outcome, and I can speak for Mark as well. We enjoy coming to work. We have created a masterpiece that is living and breathing. We get to watch people interact and make memories. You can come in for happy hour or bring your kids to the arcade. This is a place for everyone. Come create beautiful memories with your family — regardless of your nationality or language.
What is your favorite travel destination?
I love any place that has a beach — as long as there is a beach, I am happy.
What is the best piece of advice you have received and from whom?
Be flexible — in life, love, relationships, work, planning. It saves people a lot of trouble. It is something that has made all of this more fun and enjoying. Be flexible. Go with the flow. Take a risk, and ride the waves.
When you aren’t working, where can we find you hanging out around town?
We are here so much — are we workaholics? The thing is, it is so fun. When we aren’t here, we love hanging out at the park with kids. Our girls are sporty, so if there is a soccer field involved, we will be there watching one, if not two, of them play.
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
My phone (pictures, music, books, everything), journal and a good candle.
Thank you to Diane Janbakhsh for answering all of our questions. And a special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s gorgeous photos of Diane!
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