The House of Lavash storefront

Former Diplomat Spreads the Love for Fresh Lavash in Boston

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BELMONT, Mass. — Arman Manoukian always dreamed about being a diplomat as a child in Soviet Armenia. He achieved that dream, and recently made another one come true – making fresh lavash, the famous Armenian flatbread, available in the Boston area. In 2023, his family bakery, called House of Lavash, in the Boston suburb of Belmont (on Cushing Avenue), opened to the public at the end of March.

Arman Manoukian at the House of Lavash (photo Aram Arkun)

From Diplomacy to Business

Manoukian graduated from Yerevan State University and came to Boston University to obtain his master’s degree in international relations from 1993 to 1995. His first job was with USAID (United States Agency for International Development) in Washington, but after two years, he went back to his newly independent homeland to contribute to the development of its foreign service. He worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1997 to 2000 in charge of security cooperation with the Commonwealth of Independent States, Europe, the United States and other countries.

One of the display cases at the House of Lavash

He said that he was trying to get Armenian more integrated into NATO, but the country was not ready for that. Secondly, he wanted to increase his income, he said, and he realized that if he stayed there longer switching to other work might become more difficult. He found an opportunity at Marriott, which had a hotel in Yerevan, as director of sales and marketing, and he embraced this, enjoying working with people.

Manoukian by now was married with two young children, aged two and four, and said that he worried that Armenia’s development was not going in the way it should. He wanted his children also to get an American education while they were still young, so he returned to the United States. He said, “I continued what I was doing in Armenia in terms of sales and marketing and was with the Marriott company after moving here initially.” He switched to car sales, and after that, opened his own company, another dream of his, which provided furniture restoration.

Lavash at the House of Lavash store

Lavash Is the One

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In 2018, Manoukian said he was able to take his first trip back to Armenia since he left the Marriott there. He noticed that new types of machines or production line ovens were being used to make lavash instead of the traditional clay or stone oven known as a tonir. They use a line of stones rotating so like a traditional stone wall oven, they produce the same heating effect. He met with the manufacturer of those machines in Armenia and picked his brain about it, thinking that it would be great to have in Boston. However, he said that he realized it would not be easy to bring this machinery there and then convert the lavash recipe to accommodate the local water and salt available in the US.

The special production line oven with rotating cylindrical stone pieces (photo Aram Arkun

Manoukian never cooked at home before. A few years after his Armenia trip, during the Covid pandemic, Manoukian said his wife began baking various types of sourdough bread, and he began helping. He said it was fun and again he turned his attention to lavash. He noted that the local Armenian markets all obtained lavash made elsewhere, and so there was an opportunity for providing fresh lavash in Boston.

Manoukian pointed out that when lavash is not fresh, but comes from somewhere else, it has to include preservatives for a longer shelf life and must be frozen for transport. By the time it comes on the shelf, it already has undergone a long journey. In other words, he said, “I always thought it was not the same as in Armenia, where you buy it and eat it fresh out of the oven. My dream was to have that kind of experience here. It exists in Los Angeles but not in Boston.”

Manoukian ended up not only changing the traditional lavash recipe to account for Boston water and salt, but also found a way to make the bread without any yeast or baking soda. Though it comes out drier than the one in Armenia, it goes through a sprinkler system so eventually it ends up feeling the same as lavash in Armenia. He said, “It does not look any different or taste any different, but it is easier on the digestion. It is a much lighter bread than what you may end up eating in Armenia.”

The packaging for the lavash bears a distinctive design (photo Aram Arkun)

Family First

Manoukian is not alone in his enterprise. “I would not have probably taken the responsibility of starting this whole thing by myself,” he said. “My brother-in-law and sister-in-law were also very interested in doing it and so it is more of a family business right now. We are all in it and it has a family feel to it. That makes it more enjoyable.” When his wife and sons have the time, they also stop by to help, but it is usually just three people working.

Topics: Bakery, Lavash
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Together they do the preparation of the dough, baking, packaging and selling. Right now, Manoukian said, supply meets the demand, and they start working around 8 a.m. so that every day fresh lavash is available when the store opens several hours later. Though the store itself is closed to customers on Mondays, even that day baking is done in order to prepare for the demand later in the week.

The store only makes one other thing besides lavash, and that is an Armenian pastry called gata. Manoukian said it is as popular as the store’s lavash. It has a different baking and production procedure, in which Manoukian’s brother and sister-in-law are involved. He said that it was less sweet than what is cooked in Armenia, and exclaimed, “I think it is unique. It is different from any other gata I have ever had, including in Armenia.”

Gata from the House of Lavash

The store does sell other items, such as dried fruits, preserves, sweet sujukh, herbs, spices, grains and canned fruit, all brought directly by plane from Armenia. Manoukian estimated that 70 percent of customers are ethnic Armenians, while the other 30 percent are locals who learned about lavash and Armenian food through contact with Armenians or by living in the countries surrounding Armenia.

Together with its welcoming family atmosphere, the store has a cozy artisan appeal. It not only showcases Armenian products as healthy and made without preservatives. Manoukian said, “We educate the locals not only about everything we do, but about Armenia too.”

Outside the House of Lavash

For more information on the House of Lavash, see its website: houseoflavashboston.com

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