Fimy Ishkhanian

Apricot Stone Will FaceTime You to Recreate the Restaurant Experience at Home

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By Rachel Vigoda

PHILADELPHIA (Eater Philadelphia) — While restaurant dining rooms across the state are shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic, Philly restaurant owners are getting creative when it comes to engaging — and entertaining — customers. Bud & Marilyn’s menu for delivery and takeout includes 1,000-piece puzzles alongside its buttermilk fried chicken, beer, and budinos. Triple Bottom Brewing is putting together care packages with ice cream from Weckerly’s and coffee from Càphê. Takeout shop Angelo’s Pizzeria, usually known for its long lines, even got a phone. And at Armenian restaurant Apricot Stone in Northern Liberties, owner Ara Ishkhanian is offering himself as a virtual host, server, and sommelier.

“One of my favorite things to do at work is interact with our guests,” Ishkhanian says. “Now, I’m bored, other people are bored, and people are missing out on special events, like birthdays and anniversary dinners. We’re trying to recreate that experience as best we can.”

The first step in Apricot Stone’s virtual dine-in experience is to phone the restaurant and make a dinner reservation. Ishkhanian will email a few questions, a menu, and a list of recommended wine, beer, and spirits pairings.

At the agreed-upon day and time, Ishkhanian calls via video chat: FaceTime, Duo, or Skype. Answer and you’ll see him standing at the restaurant next to a table set with water and wine glasses. Music plays in the background as he guides you through the menu and takes your order.

Outdoor dining at Apricot Stone (before coronavirus)

Food options are from Fimy Ishkhanian, Ara’s mother and Apricot Stone’s chef and co-owner. She grew up in an Armenian family in Aleppo, Syria, and the dishes are ones any fan of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines will recognize, like baba ganoush, stuffed grape leaves, borek, and kebabs. “She’s the talent,” the son says.

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He knows exactly when the food order arrives because delivery is handled by the restaurant’s front-of-house staff, not an outside service like Grubhub. Employees also make money through the virtual dine-in experience, Ishkhanian says, since a 20-percent gratuity, added automatically to the check, goes to them.

Once he gets word that the food was dropped off, he waits five minutes or so and then calls via video chat again. He might fill a glass on his table as he checks in on yours, before leaving you to enjoy the meal.

“Something our guests really love is the atmosphere of our restaurant,” Ishkhanian says. “People can just order and enjoy our food, but we wanted to also give them the option of an experience that’s a little notch above just eating at home.”

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