Shake Antaramian, a former long-time employee at Sloat Garden Center in San Francisco, has made this traditional Armenian Dolma (Sarma) recipe for decades. It was adapted from Dinner at Omar Khayyam’s, the cookbook written in 1944 by legendary San Francisco restaurateur, chef, author, benefactor, and philanthropist George Mardikian.
Sloat Garden Center began in 1958 in San Francisco’s Sunset District, and has become the largest independent pottery importer in the U.S., with ties to many other independent garden chains that purchase pottery through Sloat.
Shake, born in Baghdad, Iraq, still loves to make a variety of Middle Eastern dishes and specialties from her family’s past. She came to the United States over 60 years ago, studied chemistry at the University of Nebraska and Kent State University, and worked at the University of California Medical School (UCSF). Shake eventually settled in Marin County north of San Francisco, married, and had two children. She worked at Sloat Garden Center well into her 80s.
Born in 1903, Mardikian immigrated to the United States in 1922, and was an indispensable influence in introducing shish kebab, dolma, pilaf, spinach salad, stuffed cabbage leaves, and dozens of other dishes for the time from Anatolia, Armenia and the Middle East to the American diet for the masses.
His first job in America was washing dishes in a small San Francisco cafeteria. He eventually bought the cafeteria and built it into a renowned restaurant, Omar Khayyam’s, where he hosted many notable people and world leaders including President Dwight Eisenhower and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Named after the Persian epicurean poet, the restaurant operated under the motto “The Food of Good Quality,” and debuted in the middle of the Great Depression. Despite the country’s economic downturn, Omar Khayyam’s became so successful, it led Mardikian to open up another location in San Francisco in 1938, where it continued to operate until a fire destroyed it in the 1980s.