Bakery delivery trucks in the 1930s

Fresno’s Valley Lahvosh Baking Company Celebrates its 100th Anniversary

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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.

Gazair Saghatelian

“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.

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Janet Saghatelian was the youngest child of Gazair and Hayganous Saghatelian. She began working at the bakery at a young age and became the president in 1982. For many years, she carried on her father’s tradition and dedication to the Fresno community. She was devoted to her family’s bakery, and was proud of the business her father and family had built. Janet also created the bakery’s heart-shaped Lahvosh crackers. The cutter arrived in 1983, and these popular crackers have been produced ever since. (They are called “Janet Saghatelian’s Hearts” on the package, too.)

“My mother Janet received great pleasure sharing Lahvosh and Peda Bread products with others…no one ever left the bakery empty-handed,” adds Agnes. As Janet continued running the company, she was also raising her daughter, Agnes. In 1993, after graduating from Fresno State, Agnes began working full-time at the bakery and would eventually take over her mother’s position in 2010 as president of Valley Lahvosh Baking Company®.

Today, Agnes continues her family’s commitment to outstanding quality products and customer service. Along with an incredible staff, she manages and operates the bakery, and like her beloved mother before her, she is raising her daughter, Danielle – balancing motherhood, work schedules, and the family business.

“We currently sell our lahvosh products throughout the United States. For exporting, our products are sold in gift baskets at Costco Mexico. Along with our products being sold to grocery store chains throughout the country, our 15” Rounds are featured at The Capital Grille, Houlihan’s, and Yard House,” says Agnes.

The bakery’s Original Peda Bread and Lahvosh cracker bread

The bakery still bakes their famous Valley Lahvosh® to crisp perfection. What better way to celebrate the upcoming holidays and special celebrations than by creating a festive charcuterie board or appetizer (mezze) tray featuring Valley Lahvosh Baking Company® crackers available in signature Hearts, Rounds, Stars, and Christmas Trees shapes.

Agnes says, “Catering companies, party planners, and restaurants use Valley Lahvosh Cracker Bread® to create delicious charcuterie boards and appetizer trays.”

“Our Valley Lahvosh crackers are widely popular at wine tastings, weddings, and as personal and professional gifts,” says Agnes. “Valley Lahvosh crackers are oven-baked, non-GMO, low in fat, and contain no cholesterol. Try making your own charcuterie board or appetizer tray that can include: sliced cured meats and cheeses, fresh or dried fruits and nuts, olives, marinated peppers, jams, pickles, sprigs of mint or rosemary, and crackers baked from Valley Lahvosh Baking Company.”

“My personal goal has always been to reach 100 years in business. This year is a noteworthy achievement for my family and my immigrant grandparents who worked so hard and with such dedication through the years. We are still here because of their strength, fortitude and commitment. We are proud to have a successful family business in Downtown Fresno that has served so many customers for decades. I’m extremely grateful to all our family members and employees, past and present, who worked to make this milestone possible,” says Agnes.

Guided Tours Available

Valley Lahvosh Baking Company is listed on Fresno’s Local Register of Historic Resources and celebrates its 100th Anniversary in 2022. In honor of this milestone, guided tours will be given and are scheduled for: August 25, September 22, October 20, November 17 and December 15.

Visit https://m.facebook.com/valleylahvoshbakingco/, https://www.instagram.com/valleylahvosh/?hl=en or https://twitter.com/ValleyLahvosh

For recipes, go to: https://www.valleylahvosh.com/recipes

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