anoush’ella Offers Free Food to Out-of-Work Restaurant Employees

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BOSTON — Sometimes we need a palate cleanser when faced with a global pandemic. The scenes of hoarding and tugs-of-war for paper goods make it clear that some humans have a long way to go to become civilized. Then, you have Raffi and Nina Festekjian, who are feeding out-of-work restaurant employees for free.

In a short few years the couple has gone from opening anoush’ella, an upscale fast food restaurant featuring Armenian takes on Lebanese food in Boston’s South End to adding two more locations, one at the Time Out Market in Boston’s Fenway, and a second one at the outdoor MarketStreet Lynnfield mall.

In this time of crisis, the Festekjians have temporarily closed the latter two locations for now, keeping only a skeleton crew running the South End location for takeout orders. It was then that they got the idea to help.

Nina and Raffi Festekjian

“As we looked at our business, we realized after closing two of our units, that we had enough food to give away even though our delivery business is continuing to operate. As we started discussing the whole industry situation with other restaurants, we realized how pervasive the situation was so we have decided to provide food to workers who have lost their jobs during this crisis. We have a limited amount of resources but we can feed up to about 60-70 people a day for about three weeks until April 6. We will evaluate the situation then,” said Nina Festekjian on Monday, March 23.

“We think it’s simply the right thing to do. This country has given us so much as far as opportunity, comfort, freedom and success that we feel we need to somehow give back,” she added.

Any restaurant employees who have lost their jobs during this crisis, regardless of where they worked, can get meals from anoush’ella.

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“In fact anyone that comes in and says they need food will provide them,” she added.

The original anoush’ella in the South End

The Festekjians’ restaurants had 45 employees, of which they have now about six or seven working at different shifts for takeout food at the South End location.

“Many of the workers work paycheck to paycheck. We are trying to keep as many of our staff working during these difficult times,” she added.

The end date was set based on Gov. Charlie Baker’s order to shut restaurants until then.

The free meal program just started in the middle of last week and they are hoping that word will get out and more people will take advantage of the offer.

For someone who has spent the last few years pouring her heart and soul into this new endeavor, being home all the time can’t be easy.

“We are doing the best we can. My two sons are home and our eldest is still in New York. It is even harder on them to be at home and not be able to see their friends but we are doing our best to keep ourselves busy,” she said.

It’s a full house now with her parents. Though everyone feels well at this point, she said she is worried about her elderly parents needing any sort of medical care, as venturing out is not safe for them.

And she joked, “We are trying to make sure the boys are fed as it’s the best way to make sure they stay home and not venture out.”

She makes sure she treats her family to her recipes which have been replicated so successfully at their restaurants.

Takeout only

“Cooking and having breakfast lunch and dinner keeps me busy. We read together, watch movies, play some board games and make puzzles. Our plan for the coming weeks is to do a major spring cleaning and organize our basement and office since we never have a chance to do it. And we have to exercise at some point.”

When asked for an easy recipe while one is at home, she said, “oh I can list so many options. The boys love pasta, home made pizzas, toasts or paninis with different toppings. For us salads with different grains and avocado is best.

She also gave the recipe for anoush’ella’s Mudjadara, lentil rice with labne.

Festekjian and her husband, Raffi, are both from Lebanon and lived through the brutal civil war there.

“It feels similar and yet it doesn’t. In both situations we were hunkered down and stuck at home, stocking up on food and necessities. However, during the war there was the uncertainty of when a stray bullet or a rocket would hit your residence. In this current situation if you stay home and take safeguards, you are pretty much safe. The other major difference is that during the war families and neighbors would get together more often, whether in shelters or otherwise, playing cards or games, watching TV, constantly discussing politics. As you know in this current situation it is complete social isolation. But thanks to technology we are in touch with everyone and getting together with Zoom or FaceTime. My fear is that this would be the next normal.”

It is difficult, but Nina Festekjian said that she is coping by taking it “one day at a time and looking forward to a time when we can be with friends and family.”

She is also concerned about the Armenia Art Fair, a major modern art exhibition attracting artists from throughout the world, which she cofounded in 2018.

“We are still trying to figure out what to do and reschedule it to possibly later this year or next year,” she added.

“I am confident that with the Grace of God we will pull through these difficult times and will come out stronger and healthier,” Festekjian concluded.

For more information on the restaurants, visit http://www.anoushella.com/

 

 

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