FRESNO — In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Fresno had a thriving Armenian community in the southern part of the city known as Old Armenian Town. Old Armenian Town is a large area of Downtown Fresno where most Armenian immigrants first settled in Fresno. This was the center of Armenian life in which the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, playwright, and short story writer William Saroyan, born in 1908, grew up and where he gleaned many of his early stories.* Valley Lahvosh Baking Company began as the California Baking Company, and was founded in 1922 by Armenian immigrant and master baker, Gazair Saghatelian. It remains one of the oldest, most recognized, and respected Armenian landmarks in Fresno.
Gazair was an original member of the community of hard-working, industrious Armenian immigrants who first settled in Fresno with his young family, and who worked many long hours establishing his own bakery business over a century ago.
“In the 1920s and1930s, this was a vibrant Armenian neighborhood,” says current president and Gazair’s granddaughter, Agnes Saghatelian. “Our family had the bakery and lived right next door. Everyone knew each other in the area, there were many Armenian immigrant families, shops, the Armenian church, the historic Emerson Elementary School, and thriving businesses. My mom and her siblings lived and grew up here.” (The Emerson School once stood on Santa Clara and L Street. This school was the site of Fresno’s first high school and the institution at which William Saroyan and many Armenian children were educated. [Santa Clara and L St]).
Originally, the bakery started when Gazair began baking his authentic Armenian bread for the local Fresno community. He became famous for creating the Original Peda Bread and the other Armenian breads that he expertly baked each day; in the 1930s, he showcased his fleet of trucks that delivered his fresh bread locally, adds Agnes.
The bakery continues to be operated by the Saghatelian family, and still occupies its original location across the street from the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church. The church is the oldest Armenian Apostolic church in the Western United States, located at the center of Old Armenian Town, a ten to twelve-block area in downtown Fresno. This area remained predominantly Armenian until the mid-1950s. The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The exterior of the church remains virtually unaltered since its completion in 1914.
After Gazair died in the mid-1940s, his son, Sam Saghatelian, continued baking and the company became named Valley Bakery. The name remained the same until becoming Valley Lahvosh Baking Company in 1994.