Close your eyes for a second and imagine that you are in the place where you feel comfort, calmness and lightness. And now add to this picture delicious food, careful waiters and unique national spirit. In such a place in the very heart of Yerevan we happened to be on one wonderful autumn day.
The “Dolmama” restaurant is famous not only in Armenia, but all over the world. Because of national authenticity and high quality of cookery, local and touring gourmets as people of position –presidents, princes, cultural personalities – become its guests.
 It is known for a long time that the house is the reflection of the host and we decided to have a talk with the owner of the “Dolmama” restaurant Jirair Anavian about his life path, about the space of the place, about opening new restaurant in Moscow and, of course, about the most inner and philosophic things. The talk worked out just as light and heartful as our talker.

Could you tell us about yourself? Where are you from? About your parents?

I was born in Armenia. My mother is from Lebanon, my father is from Egypt. They met here, in Armenia. My father was teaching foreign languages and my mother was cosmetologist. In the 70’s we moved away to America and I was there till the fall of the Soviet Union. So in 1993 I returned back to Armenia. And just have stayed here.

What education did you get? What had been your occupation before you came into restaurant business?

I don’t have education. At first I was in fashion business, then I occurred to be in antique business, then – in antique and machine, then I moved to machine industry. In 80’s I opened an art gallery where I represented German expressionists of third generation, meaning I was working with living artists. But when I returned to Armenia, it turned out that nobody needed this German expressionism and I had to find something else to do. I opened small boutique supermarket, then – restaurant named “Kuryatnik” (Hen House), after 5 years I opened “Dolmama” and till now it is my favorite business.

Tell us, please, about “Dolmama”: about its origin, about name selection, concept.

“Dolmama” was created in 1998. When I came to Armenia, it seemed to me that Armenian food didn’t look good. And I wanted to use my experience with the purpose to present Armenian food in the best light: to make it more international for special guests visiting Armenia.
Dolma (chopped meat – beef, mutton –with addition of rice and spices, enveloped in grape leaves), as it seemed to me, was the most national food for us. Word “mama” for Armenians is saint. So, two smiles were combined in one word.  
Regarding concept, in my opinion, I managed to do what I wanted: to have historical meaning and comfort that can feel every person visiting our home. For example, so that Italian could say: “This is old Italian place”, Armenian could say: “This is like my grandma’s place”, Russian could say: “This is nice house” and so on. But the main condition is comfort that could feel everyone. 

It is wonderful here, inside the restaurant… What do you base color selection and interior details on?

All of this is my aesthetic expression. I used to be gallery dealer in America where I developed my particular taste. As a result, everything that is here is myself, me. Is it for good or for bad, but it is me.

Great! Pure beauty! And did you design dishes? It really differs from average dishes in other places.

Maybe. It is delivered by our order. But yet it is not that kind that I want.

Do you have any basic principles in the restaurant activity? I mean, how do you form relationship with your visitors? What is important for you while interaction with them?

As for a businessman, for me the client is important. As for a host, my guest is important for me. And combination of all of these has brought to the good result, as it has turned out exactly the one that people need. Every client is dear. If you have noticed, our restaurant does not have bright sign at the entrance because, as a rule, here come people that had happened to be here one day or that had heard that this place is nice. I have never loved bright advertisements.

Is there a high level of competition in the restaurant sphere in Yerevan?

Yet I don’t see any competition. Those clients that come here do that particularly because of this place. In general, competition is good, but I want to do something that others do not want to. Maybe they are right, because their choice of clients is wider than mine. Popularity… this is a small restaurant and, mainly, there might be 100 people coming here while there are places in Yerevan where thousands of people go – three or four thousand people dancing and eating in one place … So, I do not think that I am in any competition.

How do you think, what does distinguish this restaurant among the others?

I really want tourism to be developing in Armenia. I think, it is the most important. Of course, I would like, if a person visiting Armenia, would visit me, but the goal of my restaurant is not only making money, but also doing something socially useful. Now I am evolving new Armenian culinary. I will give an example. Let’s, for instance, take some look at Armenian recipes – well, dishes have not changed, they are at the same level as they used to be 100 years ago! But I want to develop it and make it relevant to the 21st century.

By the way, what is the selection of particular dishes here connected with? How do you plan the menu?

The dishes are selected more or less fundamentally as in traditional Armenian culinary. Nevertheless, here is a food approach. I’ll tell you at once that food is high-calorie but delicious. Probably, after having a meal, my guests will have to go to gym and do a lot of exercises to get the weight down, but they will eat very delicious food during two hours (is smiling).
The recipes are elaborated by me. Firstly the taste comes to my mind, then I start developing it. 

How often does your menu evolve?

Unfortunately, it is almost not evolving. Since 1998 almost nothing has left out my menu. You know, there are people that come for a particular dish and I, let’s say, want to remove it from the menu as it has lost its relevance in a sense…but anyway I cannot do it, as even by one person it is still loved. For me every client is indeed dear. Although in Moscow I am going to have normal menu on that score.

Tell us, please, about Moscow “Dolmama”. It is opening soon, isn’t it?

Yes. Right now registration process is going on there. Opening will be in February 2014.

Will the concept be the same?

It will. Firstly, I wanted to make it very bright but then I thought that was a stupid idea. And I went there and told that I want people going there for the first time wouldn’t say “such a beautiful restaurant!”, but they would say “I have been here for 20 times!”. Comfort is still the most important, and no any “look at me”.

Will the menu differ?

Yes, the menu will be more subtle and changeable.

And how do you think, will it attract more Armenian visitors or it will become an international place?

Of course, if Armenians come, it would be nice, but I want Armenians to bring their friends, whom they would like to boast of national food. And my goal of opening restaurants in Moscow and other cities is to be the ambassador of Armenian food.

Yet “Dolmama” exist in Yerevan and Moscow, right?
Yes, for a now, but I want to have many “Dolmamas”, I want to involve my children into this business.

Apart from the restaurant, do you have any hobbies?

Gallery dealer always stays a gallery dealer. I am follower of eclectical tastes. I collect pictures, carpets and other beautiful things.

Speaking about pictures, what style do you prefer. Maybe, you also paint?

I like German expressionism. It seems to me that I happened to be in restaurant business because I was a bad painter. I always wanted to compose or paint. But, finally, this is the result. It turned out that you should live 40 years and then find it and…

You know, when we asked people among Armenians regarding who do they feel themselves, they normally answered: “I am Armenian”. How do you feel, as an Armenian person or a global citizen?
I feel myself as a Human. The fact, that I am Armenian nobody can deny. But I think that nationalities are small life rings for mankind. But goal of any person is to be better than he or she is now. And nationality is not the point.

I suppose, this is the last question. How would you describe your life philosophy?

What is important for me… first thing is kindness, second is objectivity.

What is kindness for you?

I have learned to understand it through our religion, although, probably, this also exists in other religions …
To love a relative is possible for everyone. But if you love someone foreign, especially enemy, then you win. Kind people are those that can forgive. Being objective means to feel always that you are a human that you are dealing with, when you always imagine that in front of you there is sitting you. It means to be honest with yourself. ●