Special to the Armenian Weekly
It’s an unseasonably warm, sunny Sunday in October when my friend Rupen and I meet for breakfast at Aram’s Café in Belmont.
The place is packed. It is the quintessential American diner—the kind you might have thought existed only on movie sets.
Booths line the right side of the small restaurant. A countertop and stools run parallel down its center. On the left, behind the counter, are refrigerators, coffee machines, waffle irons, and the stove.
Owner Aram Postaljian stands at the helm. In front of the griddle, spatula in hand, he folds omelets stuffed with vegetables, and flips thick, fluffy pancakes and sizzling bacon.
“Are you hungry?” Rupen asks me.
“I am now,” I reply, watching the chocolate chips melt, gooey and warm, inside the pancakes. The woman sitting next to me at the counter turns to me and says, “You came to the right place.”
Thirty Years of Aram’s Café
Postaljian is celebrating his 30th year in business. He founded Aram’s Café on Trapelo Road in Belmont on June 15, 1987. The popular breakfast spot is open seven days a week, and it has a steady stream of weekend disciples and weekday-morning regulars. A few local celebrities, including former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn and television personalities, have also frequented the spot, but Postaljian still contends that “it’s not a famous, popular place.”
Despite his humility, Postaljian has become something of a local celebrity. He’s pictured in a mural on Trapelo Road in Watertown in which he is featured with other personalities honored for their contributions to the local community. And to celebrate Postaljian’s three decades of business, the Town of Belmont Board of Selectmen issued a proclamation of recognition.
“I’m very humbled that I got this,” Postaljian says, “If it wasn’t for my customers, I couldn’t have made it.”
Still, it’s clear that despite the delicious breakfast I’ve enjoyed, one of the best thing about Aram’s Café is Aram himself. He has a warm, welcoming countenance, a genuine smile, and a wry sense of humor. He makes conversation with folks at the counter—regulars or not.
Sixty-eight years old, he still works 14-hour days, seven days a week. He wakes up at 2 a.m. most mornings, but has no complaints. “The only way you can just beat your Monday or Friday or whatever day you don’t want to go to work is to just work seven days a week,” he says. “I don’t think about it, I just do it.”
From Aleppo to Boston
Postaljian has worked hard all his life. He grew up in Aleppo, Syria. At age 12, he left school to work for his father recapping (retreading) automobile tires. By 16, he was running the entire operation.
“When you’re 16 and you’re making a lot of money, you’re not going to hang out with other 16-year-olds… I hung around with adults, went to nightclubs,” he says. “I really never enjoyed my childhood. I grew up before my age.”
Postaljian hated working at the factory. He dreamed of emigrating to the United States. On hot summer nights in Aleppo, he and his family would sleep on their roof to keep cool. As planes flew overhead, he recalls, he would point at them and tell his four sisters: “One day, I’m going to be on one of those planes to America.”
He was careful about revealing his dreams of leaving Aleppo. Those planning to leave risked jailtime. But 12 years later, at age 28, Postaljian decided the time had come.
He arrived in Boston on a cool, drizzling day in 1977. He knew about 10 words in English. He hadn’t slept. Within four hours, he had found himself a job after overhearing a few men at a gas station in Watertown speaking Armenian. He asked for a position and immediately got to work pumping gas.
One of his first customers recognized him as a fellow Armenian (“You know how I know you’re Armenian?” Aram recalls him saying, “By your nose.”) “I’m going to give you one piece of advice,” the stranger said after learning Postaljian’s story. “If you’re going to stay here in the U.S., learn the language. But never forget what you already know.”
Five years later, their paths crossed again, and the man—a priest—recognized Postaljian and asked how he was doing. Postaljain explained that he had gotten married, he had started his own business, and he had become an American citizen.
“This all in five years?” the man asked.
“Why waste time?” was Postaljian’s response. With the money he made, he had also managed to get his parents and his four sisters out of Aleppo to join him in the U.S.
Building Aram’s Café
As with any successful business, opening Aram’s Café came with its own set of challenges. He’d had several jobs before—including owning his own deli in Arlington—but the hours at previous jobs prohibited him from spending time with his wife and daughter, so Postaljian decided to open a breakfast place.
The first few years of business were the hardest, he says. Aram’s Café was originally a doughnut shop, and establishing the new business—with a new concept and new prices—was tough. On top of it all, his father was ill and Postaljian was making visits to the hospital several times a day.
“Believe me, it wasn’t an easy path,” he reflects. “Thank goodness my wife was a very strong rock. She always stood by me.”
Since then, he’s employed over 175 people from all walks of life and of varying tenures. Several of his employees have worked at Aram’s for 13 years or more. One of them is an Armenian who came to the U.S. from Turkey, whom Postaljian took under his wing, teaching him English and Armenian, as well as cooking. He christened the employee “Eddie”—an Anglicized version of his given name, Erim. Eddie has since opened his own eatery, “Eddie’s Place,” on Watertown Street.
One employee, though, lasted only about 30 minutes.
“I hired her,” he recalls, “and after two minutes I couldn’t find her. She was out taking a coffee break. I asked her to come inside. I turn around 10 minutes later, and she’s out taking another coffee break. I told her, I don’t think this is working.”
Postaljian lives with his wife in Arlington, and they are preparing to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary next year with a trip to Armenia. Postaljian has never been there, and says he feels it’s important to see his homeland. He hopes to reconnect with friends there whom he hasn’t seen for many years.
Outside of those plans, though, he just takes things year by year—with no intention of retiring.
“The best part of this place is dealing with all kinds of people. I don’t care who you are… how much money you have, what’s your background, your religion, your education,” he says. “What I care about is you. Don’t tell me who you are, show me. That’s what I like about it.”