Ajarakan khachapuri with pastirma (Photo credit: Aram Arkun)

Flaming Pit Restaurant in Watertown Offers Armenian and Caucasian Specialties

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By Aram Arkun

Mirror-Spectator Staff

WATERTOWN – The Flaming Pit (in Armenian, Varvogh Tonir) is a new wood fire grill and pizza restaurant and caterer newly started last fall by Tigran Yesayan in Watertown at 222 Arsenal Street. It offers Armenian and Caucasian specialties like Ajarakan khachapuri (a delicious combination of eggs and cheese in dough that is boat-shaped and cooked on the grill), various types of kebabs and barbecued meats, and vegetables grilled Armenian style and mixed into a salad. Even among the pizzas, one version called Ardora includes pastirma (basturma). Alongside the Armenian items, the Flaming Pit offers American favorites like hamburgers, French fries, chicken wings and chicken fingers, as well as Italian items like calzones, strombolis, cannolis and zeppolis.

The outside of the Flaming Pit restaurant on Arsenal Street in Watertown, Mass. (Photo credit: Aram Arkun)
The outside of the Flaming Pit restaurant on Arsenal Street in Watertown, Mass. (Photo credit: Aram Arkun)

Yesayan left his native Armenia when he was 19 in 2002, and later his parents joined him. In Armenia, Yesayan studied at the University of Physical Culture for two years before emigrating, and was a weightlifter. He wanted to explore the United States and worked in a fast-food restaurant for a few months in the Washington D.C. area. He traveled a lot and then in September 2003 moved to Boston in order to go to school. He graduated Mass Bay Community College with an associate’s degree, and then to Northeastern University. In both schools he studied accounting, so he ended up in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting.

Tigran Yesayan, the founder of the Flaming Pit (Photo credit: Aram Arkun)
Tigran Yesayan, the founder of the Flaming Pit (Photo credit: Aram Arkun)

Yesayan accrued some experience in American restaurants while pursuing his education and acclimating to life in the United States. He worked in an American restaurant owned by an Armenian in Maryland for eight or ten months before moving to Boston. In Boston he worked for Charley’s Saloon downtown on Newbury Street, Bertucci’s, and briefly at a pizza place on Mount Auburn Street which no longer exists. In 2005 he became involved in the construction business while going to school. All that time he said, “I always had the idea to open a restaurant.”

Yesayan also knew he wanted to open his restaurant in Watertown. Aside living in Watertown himself and not wanting to drive a distance to the restaurant, Yesayan said, “I think the number one reason is because of the Armenian community, then, the growing American population here, and third, all the buildings coming up. I could already see what was happening, especially to Arsenal Street, with the Arsenal project, the apartment buildings here, and the growing Armenian community.” He feels that within the last ten years a lot of Armenians have moved there from Armenia and even California. Even Yesayan’s landlord is Armenian.

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Until recently, Yesayan said, there were not too many formal Armenian restaurants in the area, and the oldest one, Karoun, unfortunately recently closed. He said, When I was going out, I wanted to go to an Armenian restaurant, but there was no choice.” Now, a new wave of Armenian restaurants have opened or are about to open in the Watertown area, with the Flaming Pit in the vanguard. Yesayan pointed out that his restaurant is a bit different than the others, and uses an Aztec wood-burning grill, but in any case, he said, “the more Armenian restaurants the better.”

The Flaming Pit was founded as a family business. Yesayan said, “My parents are here, even though I don’t want them to work too hard, but it is the beginning so they are helping a lot. My friend Alex [Alexander Yeghiayan] is running the place as general manager and I help as much as I can, because I have the other business.”

Take-out counter of the Flaming Pit, with Tigran Yesayan’s mother (Photo credit: Aram Arkun)

The restaurant opened on October 24, 2017 and had to overcome various difficulties, including a chimney fire on November 30 that led to a six-day closing, and issues with the software used for sales. Yesayan said, “I am happy. The most important thing is that we were able to overcome those problems.”

The restaurant has two dining areas, and a bar. Yesayan is in the process of obtaining a liquor license, and then plans more renovations, to turn one part of the restaurant more formal, with pictures on the walls, music and televisions. He already has built the tables from scratch for the restaurant and plans to build the chairs too. There will be swinging doors. He plans first to provide stereo music but later live music at least one or two days a week. He said, “It is nice and clean right now but we want to make it fancy, so people will come to enjoy the atmosphere as well as the food.”

Yesayan revealed a few secrets. He is working on a true fire pit, or Armenian tonir, and secondly, planning to add kofte, or blended meatballs Echmiadzin-style, made with very fresh meat. This will be added to the menu. In addition, the restaurant will have specials every day to see which dishes people will want on a regular basis to add to the menu. For example, sbas yogurt soup at present is featured as the soup of the day. His plan is to become known for a limited number of unique menu items instead of having a vast menu selection.

A number of Armenian associations are planning to have parties and gatherings in the restaurant. So far, Yesayan has not advertised, but has benefited from favorable articles in the Boston Globe (praising the khachapuri) and the Boston Eater as well as Facebook and Yelp reviews. Once the renovations to the second section of the restaurant are finished and the liquor license obtained, a grand opening will be advertised, hopefully sometime in March.

The Flaming Pit is open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am to 11 pm, and Sunday 12 pm to 9 pm (see flamingpit.net).

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