Armenians seek to void
By David Pierson, Times Staff Writer
There's little pretense about his seasoning: a little salt, pepper, chopped onions and extra virgin olive oil. But Sarkissian says his skewers stand out the moment they meet the smoky charcoal grill he set up outside his busy establishment.
He lets his chicken, beef and pork sit about 15 minutes on thick steel grates, two inches above a bed of smoldering mesquite-flavored charcoal. The dense smoke and flame-ups coat the meat with a char and flavor he never achieved indoors with a gas grill, he said.
“People can always tell the difference,” said Sarkissian, owner of Anoush Banquets & Catering. “They want the original flavor of home.”
But in his quest for the perfect kebab, Sarkissian and other Armenian chefs have become unwitting outlaws.
In recent weeks, the question of outdoor grilling has become a divisive political issue in
“This is the epicenter for fine Armenian cuisine,” said a frustrated Councilman Ara Najarian, who believes that the grilling rules are stymieing the development of
“Most Armenians are highly sophisticated, and they demand the best. A second-rate restaurant would not make it in
While the city has struggled to strictly enforce the ban on outdoor grilling, Najarian and other backers of the rule change say it would bring outdoor kebab grilling out of the shadows and send a message that the city supports the pursuit of Armenian cuisine.
Mayor Dave Weaver, who opposes lifting the ban, believes that the debate has gotten too bitter and denounced his Armenian American colleagues on the council for “using the race card.”
“We're portrayed as anti-Armenian, and that's so far off the mark,” he said. “We got a lot of complaints saying, 'Why are you allowing them to grill outdoors?' I'm philosophically opposed to commercial grilling outside. If we open the door, then anybody from Bob's Big Boy to a barbecue place can do it.”
The city's ordinance prohibits all outdoor commercial activity without a special permit and officials have concluded that outdoor grills fall under the rules. The city has received complaints from residents about the smoke from food being grilled outside banquet halls.
“Would you like to smell other peoples' food all day long?” asked longtime resident Nancy Campbell. “We were all OK stopping smoking in a lot of public places.”
Evidence of the Armenian influence is everywhere, including on storefront signs in Armenian that dot the streetscape.
The demographic shift has not always been smooth. There have been tensions at local high schools between Latino and Armenian students. The Armenian community itself has evolved into a diverse group, with some in wealthy neighborhoods in the hills and poorer immigrants struggling in south
As in many cultures, the common denominator is food.
Armenian restaurants have popped up all over town, but the most prominent are the sprawling upscale banquet halls that are fully booked every weekend for weddings, birthdays and graduations. Patronage is not restricted to Armenians.
The Armenian-owned Renaissance Restaurant, a behemoth business on