Coming to Armenia for the first time is an emotional experience for many diasporans. While it is sometimes romanticized in the diaspora, there is no denying that once an Armenian steps foot in the homeland, something different begins to course through his veins. Sevag Demirjian, the owner of Sophiste Resto-Bar at the Cascade Complex in Yerevan, experienced this transformation when he took a leap of faith and moved to Armenia to launch a business.
Demirjian first visited Armenia in 2013 while studying management at Haigazian University. He instantly fell in love with the beauty of the country. “There was more of a pull for me to move to Armenia. Every spyurkahay dreams of coming back and that was it,” he said in a recent interview. “I used to remember the tours and the first time meeting with locals and hearing their language. It was a beautiful experience.”
But his idea to start a business didn’t come about until five years later during a second trip with his wife and extended family. He began to conduct market research for opening a restaurant and tapped into his professional background in hospitality and tourism from his time spent in Beirut and Dubai. “Back then, the service wasn’t that impressive and there wasn’t much variety. I wanted to impact change,” Demirjian said.
He made the momentous decision to leave behind his job and life in Beirut to realize his dream. Yet deciding on the location for his vision presented some challenges. Demirjian originally picked a building on Puzant Street but discovered a few months later that the ventilation did not allow for a kitchen to be installed. He began scouring the city to find a more suitable location. “These were the most intense two weeks of my life. I literally walked for 10 days and checked every single place on Cascade, Saryan, Aram, Puzand, Republic Square and Northern Avenue,” he recalled. “[I remember] complaining about how this whole process had become impossible. At that moment we had just cornered Cascade and sat across this shop. I turned to my brother-in-law and said, imagine we take this place, and he said let’s give it a try, so we spoke to the owner, made a deal and after that things moved fairly quickly.”
And that’s how Sophiste came to be. The restaurant, which boasts a European fusion cuisine, is located at the Cascade Complex on Tamanyan Street in downtown Yerevan. It is nestled on a narrow cobbled road lined with cafes giving it a quaint European vibe. Sophiste, which means “wise,” is a labor of love and a dream shared wholeheartedly by Demirjian’s wife Sarin. “I genuinely say Sophiste is more her’s than mine,” said Demirjian. “It’s all her touch, just like our house. She has very good taste,” he says.
Demirjian’s realm of creativity, however, lies in the kitchen. From maki rolls to summer chicken avocado salad and pastas to burgers and steaks, there is something for everyone on their menu, especially when combined with their delicious truffle sauce. “The menu is all about my wife, Sarin; what she likes and what she likes to eat,” he says. “Now whenever we’re going to do anything in the shop, she has primary input because I trust her taste and concepts, and I lean on her in our business. She thinks clearly and produces better ideas.”
Demirjian’s budding entrepreneurial experience in the homeland has helped him build a strong connection with his people and nation. He and his wife have come to enjoy their way of life in Armenia; they take motorcycle rides to cityscapes that reveal crisp views of Ararat and enjoy Yerevan’s simplicity as well as its luxuries. For his birthday in 2018, his wife surprised him with an expedition to climb Mount Ararat—a dream held many Armenians. “When you reach the summit, when you stand there, the Armenian blood in you boils like it has never before. It changes you,” he recalled. “I remember the last few minutes to the summit I was crying. This is our mountain, and climbing it inflamed my passion for being Armenian even more.”
The Demirjians’ story is a testament that Armenia is a place where passion and dreams unite and serves as evidence that Armenia has come a long way since independence to foster a thriving business environment.