By Aram Arkun
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Brooklyn used to be an important center for Armenian-Americans a century ago, but somehow until the last few decades the Armenian population there had dwindled. Then an influx of immigrants from Armenia and other parts of the former Soviet Union changed the situation. Nonetheless, there are still only a few recognizable centers for Armenians in Brooklyn — a restaurant, an Armenian Saturday school affiliated with the Diocese of the Armenian Church and an Armenian Catholic cathedral immediately come to mind. Brooklyn Bread House, a new bakery in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay, looks like a good candidate for addition to this list.
Its founder, Khoren Badalyan, is a native of Gavar, Armenia. He came to this country in 2001, intending to work in construction and renovation. He brought with him his wife, Amalya, and his two sons (also specialists in construction), all from Yerevan. They noticed that there was no lavash, a type of Armenian flat bread, baked fresh in the New York area. Armenians were buying it primarily from bakeries in Los Angeles. The Badalyans recognized this as an opportunity and because Khoren’s parents and brothers in Armenia worked as bakers, they already knew what to do. The timing was right, as the construction industry had taken a downturn along with the rest of the American economy.
Khoren and his family first prepared a model oven in their backyard, and when this worked well, they felt confident enough to order the necessary parts and built a full-scale oven for their new venture. They opened their store in August and thanks largely to word of mouth, they soon began selling around 200 to 220 pieces of lavash a day. People from places like Boston would take lavash back home with them and orders began coming from cities as far away as Chicago. Initially the Badalyans sent lavash to various stores in Manhattan, but as local demand grew, they stopped this. Their output is just enough for the area now. Even so, customers who come late in the day are often out of luck because the supply runs out early, especially on weekends. This was the case when I visited the store. The lavash is prepared fresh at 4 a.m. each day, and has to cool down before it can be packaged for customers.
In addition to Armenians of the New York metropolitan area, Russians, Jews and New Yorkers of various other backgrounds have discovered the wide range of products of the Brooklyn Bread House. Desserts are all made in-house, and in addition to Armenian gata and baklava, include non-Armenian favorites such as Napoleons and éclairs. Khachapuri (a cheese-filled pastry equivalent to börek of the Western Armenians and Turks), and several Georgian breads like shoti are prepared daily and Ajarian khachapuri (cheese-filled bread with egg on the top) and lahmejun (a type of meat pizza) are prepared to order.
Despite the name of the store, Brooklyn Bread House is already more than a bakery. Khash (boiled cow’s feet) and various soups are available and the Badalyans plan to eventually add Armenian khorovats or barbecue, and the kufta of Gavar to their offerings. Khoren Badalyan has already begun experimenting with the preparation of khorovats. The Badalyans offer buffet-style cooked meals of chicken, sausage and other foods ready for purchase each day. Customers can enjoy Armenian coffee, and also purchase various types of Armenian cheese and canned or pickled goods.