By Aram Arkun
BELMONT, Mass. – Lately more and more restaurants in the Boston area seem to be offering shawarma and other Middle Eastern foods, but Ani Catering and Café in Belmont has a combination of spices in its mix that make its chicken shawarma different from the others. It has become the top-selling menu item for the business – and a weekly addiction for this journalist. Ani’s range of Syrian and Armenian dishes and its warm and welcoming staff have made it a mainstay for many non-Armenians as well as Armenians living in Belmont and surrounding towns.
Ani was established in 1993 as a part-time catering company by Hovannes Janessian together with his wife the eponymous Ani. Janessian, born in Aleppo, studied economics in college in Syria and worked for nine years in Saudi Arabia in sales of electronics before coming to the United States in 1988. He worked again in electronics in New York for three years before starting a food distribution company, specializing in Middle Eastern ingredients. He stopped the distribution business in 1995 and worked in a different field of sales until 2005, but continued catering part-time on weekends.
In 2006, Hovannes Janessian turned the catering business into a fulltime one, and moved to the present location in Belmont. His wife still helps when needed. Ani and Hovannes Janessian developed the recipes. Customers asked for takeout and so in May 2012 Hovannes Janessian expanded the business, while in October 2014 he was able to turn part of his store into a sit-down restaurant.
There are 16 seats inside, and 8 more outside during the summer. The interior of the restaurant has pictures of Yerevan, Aleppo and various Middle Eastern and Greek cities, along with a television slide show of functions catered by the business in the past. The apricot and red colored walls are covered with a painted stylized Mt. Ararat.