Dried fruit and other Armenian specialties at Van Bakery (Richard Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Van Bakery Brings Taste of Armenia to Las Vegas


LAS VEGAS — First, the honey cake. Then, business. At Van Bakery, the  priorities are in order. And those priorities proved fortuitous one morning last month when a visitor stopped by to learn about the new Armenian bakery at 4375 S. Buffalo Drive. Because what better way to learn about a bakery than by tasting a signature baked good? The honey cake is served in bars that alternate thin strata of honey-flavored cake and sweet pastry cream, with a sanding of honeyed crumbs on top. The cake is moist but with body, sweet but not cloying, and wickedly habit-forming.

Asmik Yetaryan, her husband and a son, Ed, own Van Bakery, named for a historically Armenian city in eastern Turkey. This Armenian family opened its first bakery 30 years ago in Los Angeles to serve the city’s large Armenian population. Over the years, the family opened two more bakeries, eventually serving not just Los Angeles customers, but also the handful of Armenian markets that had opened in Las Vegas.

“We were driving up products from L.A.,” said Ed Halebian. “We figured it would be easier to open up a store here instead of keeping on driving back and forth.”

The family, all now living in Vegas, launched Van Bakery last October. And the rest is honey cake.

Besides honey cake, Yetaryan and four Armenian assistants create from scratch about 50 Armenian breads and pastries. There are buttery crumbly khurabia – shortbread cookies – dusted with a flurry of confectioners’ sugar; and braids of choreg, an egg sweetbread traditionally made for Easter, just a bit dry as it should be; and bites of gata, a nut and sugar-filled pastry halfway between rugelach and croissants.

Asmik Yetaryan, and son Ed Halebian, and Asmik’s husband, own the Van Bakery. (Richard Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

“It’s in the oven; I’m gonna bring it in a minute,” Yetaryan said of a fresh batch of gata headed for the table. Other items followed from the oven: pillowy pastry puffs, called khachapuri, filled with seven cheeses, and pastry turnovers – airy, flaky, crashy – with a hoard of green pepper and basturma, a spicy cured beef.

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“It’s like prosciutto for us,” Halebian said of the basturma.

A market and deli incorporates roughly half of the 5,000-square-foot Van Bakery. In the produce aisle, stacks of Persian cucumbers keep company with gnarls of ginger (an item added at the request of Chinese customers). Bottles of apricot compote – in this case, a juice, not a preserve – include sliced chunks of fruit.

“Apricot is big Armenian fruit,” Halebian said. “You dump in the fruit, let it infuse, so you’re not just relying on sugar for flavor.”

Van Bakery offers specialty cakes and desserts for Christmas, New Year’s and
Armenian Christmas.

Grains and pastas fill the shelves: rice, green lentils for soup, bulgur, orzo, vermicelli. To make one of her special dishes, Yetaryan boils basmati rice, vermicelli and orzo separately then heats to combine. She serves the dish alongside chicken breast sautéed in butter or olive oil.

The cheese case — Armenians adore cheese — offers braids of smoked chechil, a lean cow’s milk cheese; Bulgarian sheep’s milk cheese; labneh yogurt cheese, thick and tangy; and briny balls of Piknik white cheese that’s sliced for eating with tomatoes, greens and flatbread. (“I don’t eat cheese,” Halebian admitted. “I’m the only Armenian you’ll find who doesn’t eat cheese.”)

One cold case contains oxtail for oxtail soup, Moldovan salami, lamb spare ribs, and thick cubes of pork belly marinated in Aleppo pepper. Another case offers containers of khash, a beloved soup of boiled cow’s feet and other parts.

Topics: Van Bakery

“It’s something Armenians go crazy for, especially during the winter,” Halebian said. “It was once a peasant dish; now, it’s a delicacy.”

Van Bakery creates mezze and appetizers platters for catering, parties, weddings, and special celebrations

The other morning, Yetaryan assisted customers while her assistants kneaded, rolled and baked. She spooned out salad by the pound (winner: tarragon chicken salad). She boxed cheese puffs and other pastries. She packed up choreg by the loaf and roll.

Many customers who were new to Armenian bakeries, she said, had asked her about her breads and pastries. She would share her culture, she decided, through instruction.

“I want to soon start classes,” she said. “People want to learn, so I don’t mind to teach.”

Interested in the secrets of honey cake and other Armenian products and baked goods?

Portions of this story were originally written by Johnathan L Wright at the Las Vegas Review-Journal; it was posted on May 6, 2022.

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The Shops at Peace Plaza

4375 S. Buffalo Dr.

Las Vegas, NV 89147


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