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Cooking up a passion for Armenian culture

Sector: Futurefood

Whilst most of Armenia is long gone, the culture lives on through traditional recipes and incredible food that brings people together to share incredible food, and explore the stories that sustained a nation, and now still inspires a global tribe.

mayrig“There is no love more sincere than the love of food,” said George Bernard Shaw, and that love echoes in the flavours of Armenian cuisine.  It is the love of a full table in good company, the subtle and well-chosen ingredients, a wealth of the Mediterranean sun that transforms vegetables into beauty and fragrance and an afternoon spent cooking for your loved ones.

Aline Kamakian, a passionate cook and co-owner of Mayrig restaurant, is passionate about Armenian culture. She created her first restaurant in the Beirut suburbs, using the many finely-tuned recipes of her mother and grandmother. At the same time she learnt much about her heritage – when Armenia was a much greater nation, the impact of genocide, and how Armenian people still thrive on their history and traditions, despite now being spread across the world. Mayrig is about the culture, not just the food.

Kamakian and her cousin now has a thriving business, in the process of franchising her brand into new markets, whilst also having set up a more contemporary second brand called Batchig. There is also a new “boutique” foods-to-go business, selling everything from sandwiches to ready-to-cook traditional dishes. Behind these brands is an industrial kitchen, with over 100 employees following her family recipes, then distributing them to the different restaurants and stores.

“Mayrig was born on a Sunday lunchtime, when our extended family sat around the table for hours enjoying the delicious food” says Kamakian. We regretted that you could never eat like that in a restaurant. So my cousin and I decided that very Sunday to open an Armenian restaurant. For this we went back to the recipes of our grandmother. Besides our language and common history it is this practice of gathering around delicious, healthy and varied food that gives us a sense of belonging, of identity. In Mayrig we do not only want to share this delicious food, we also want to tell the world who we are and where we come from.

“It is about sharing food around stories, about being together and creating memorable moments. Our drive is our passion for food, for our family traditions and for the distant land of Armenia that we lost and recreate in every meal. It’s about simple, healthy food inscribed in our culture that we want to celebrate and share”“Mayrig is about people. If the one who serves you does not love the food, the place, the guests, he cannot put his heart into it; so it is about sharing this passion through people. We are about social and cultural responsibility. Our cooks are Armenian mothers, those who do not have a place on the job market and still have so much to give. They are the core of our story, of who we are”.

Her book “Armenian Cuisine” creates a platform to share recipes and stories, whilst social media actively builds community, particularly around meeting for lunch. Meanwhile, franchising authentically requires a more thoughtful approach “Mayrig recently opened next to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. “We started to work differently with investors who are more than just investing money. From different backgrounds (construction, banking, finance) they share with us their expertise. They visit the site and join us for the tastings for the menu. We are now exploring locations from Paris to New York, as well as un-thought-of locations such as Irbil”.

Pivot points for Mayrig in “changing the game” of the restaurant experience were:

  • Think: Inspired by a vision beyond food, that brings a culture back to life through food
  • Design: Recipes to dishes, multiple brands and business models, interiors and ambience that reflect Armenian life
  • Resonate: Stories from her grandmother add humanity and relevance to each dish
  • Mobilise: Tapping into a global tribe of Armenians, and those who enjoy their world

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