Lahmajun, sujukh and Mediterranean Foods evoke childhood memories

UPPER DARBY, Pa.Inside a nondescript building flanked by an Irish pub and a donut shop, Karl and Ardemiss Ayanian are making some of the best lahmajun and sujukh in the country, according to their loyal customers.  

Mediterranean Foods

They have no signage. They do not advertise. They are not online. They do not accept credit cards. And yet, the Ayanians can barely keep up with their orders. Alongside their daughter Lorig and a handful of part-time employees, the Ayanians make and sell thousands of lahmajun and sujukh to markets, churches, schools and individual customers each week.  

Mediterranean Foods production room

Inside this cramped, USDA federally inspected facility, Karl and Ardemiss (73 and 68 years old, respectively) are in constant motion. They have their hands, literally, in every part of production. A bumper sticker pinned to the wall in the front office reads, “Old chemists never die, they just reach equilibrium.” Trained as chemists, the Ayanians apply the same principles of experimentation and precision to their production. Karl is constantly weighing, patting, adding, removing and tasting. 

“It’s not so much creating a recipe, but knowing that you’ve got to be able to make it repeatable so that the taste is the same each time,” he explains. “Science is in everything, so it definitely helps no matter what you do,” adds Ardemiss who, in addition to working full time at the shop, manages the chemistry labs at the Community College of Philadelphia.

The result is a product that transports its customers, 90 percent of whom are Armenian, to childhoods in other places. 

Karl and Ardemiss just starting out

Gary Karakelian has been coming in since the Ayanians opened Mediterranean Foods 30 years ago. Today, he is buying 20 packages of lahmajun, which he will distribute to family, neighbors and employees. He also plans to eat an entire pack (that’s a dozen lahmajun) during the car ride home and asks an incredulous Ardemiss to heat them up for him. “I’m originally from Baghdad, Iraq, so this is a home food. It tastes exactly like my mother used to make,” beams Karakelian.

The front office/retail/storage space is covered in hand-written letters from customers and photos of their children and grandchildren. Like so many small business owners, Karl and Ardmiss, who have been married for 50 years, work seven days a week. With their children grown, they spend more time at the shop than they do at their home. For Ardemiss, it’s the customers who keep them going. “You won’t believe the customers we have. They bless us, and they ask us to stay healthy so that we can provide this product for them. So, when you’re in a position where people appreciate what you do, you keep going,” she shares.

In the midst of the pandemic, their middle daughter Lorig Baronian left her job as a mechanical engineer to help out at the shop and hopefully take over one day. “He’s not really there yet, ready to let go,” Baronian says of her father. “It’s time for him to rest. I’m not saying don’t come here at all. He’s the spirit behind this place. And so is my mom.”

Karl with a tray of lahmajun

What they can all agree on is the need for more space in a larger facility to keep up with demand and a more active online presence. This January, they quietly crept into the 21st century and launched an Instagram account.

Karl and Ardemiss in front office
Naomi Brito

Naomi Brito

Naomi Brito is an Emmy-winning documentary producer for Philadelphia's PBS affiliate, WHYY. She covers stories of artistic and cultural significance in the greater Philadelphia area. Brito is Armenian on her mother's side (Hagopian) and is forever working on a personal documentary about diaspora and nostalgia.
Naomi Brito


TV producer for @whyy
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  1. Growing up in Watertown, Massachusetts, where the Armenian community reigns supreme, I lived, breathed, and ate the most wonderful foods – lahmajun being the favorite. There was never a place after I left my home town where those aromas returned to me. This is a lovely piece. Thank you, Naomi. I have fond memories of your mom and our times as children.

  2. I am originally from Upper Darby (Drexel Hill) and moved to Boston in 1972. I am an odar and love love love lahmejun as do my 3 sons.

  3. I married and moved to Massachusetts from Newtown Square in 1977. Still miss the delicious lahmejune the Ayanians provide to the community. Although we have many Armenian groceries, I appreciate the delicious foods Mediterranean foods provide. I also know Artemis from my youth, in church and the AYF.

  4. I am from Western Mass. Where we are a very small armenian community but, so grateful for my heritage. Loved your story. I miss my Grandma.

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