When TheArmenianKitchen.com began in 2009, one of the earliest posts I wrote was about the ARAM Sandwich. I was curious to know who this mysterious ‘Aram’ was. After thousands of post views and numerous comments, some of the mystery began to unravel. But it wasn’t until very recently that I was contacted by the ARAM sandwich’s namesake himself- Aram Sarkissian! He kindly shared the background of his family, their businesses – and himself – and has permitted me to share their story with you.
The ARAM SANDWICH Story, by Aram Sarkissian
Back in the early 1970’s my parents, Khajag and Hildy Sarkissian, opened their first gourmet restaurant in San Francisco, called Caravansary. It was located on Chestnut Street in San Francisco’s Marina district. The restaurant (depicted below) was the flagship location of what would turn out to be a small chain of 5 locations in the greater Bay Area. The Caravansary was a restaurant and retail shop that focused on fine wines, cheeses, coffees, spices and Mediterranean/Armenian food and desserts. It was truly the first of its kind in San Francisco and turned out to be one of the pioneering establishments of that kind of ‘nouveau’ cuisine in the area and soon, much of California.
The Caravansary restaurant name was born from the idea or concept of the traditional Middle Eastern or Mediterranean “inns” or “palaces” that housed traders and merchants who sold, bought, and traded goods. So, the concept of our family’s restaurant was a place to meet and gather -and- to purchase and enjoy food, coffees, spices, cheese, and other delicacies from the Middle East. Our Caravansary menu featured many of these dishes and appetizers commonly found in traditional Middle Eastern locations.
One of the most popular items to be developed in the Caravansary was the Aram Sandwich. Khajag and Hildy’s first born son, Aram, was born in San Francisco on August 5, 1973. To celebrate the occasion, Khajag and Hildy worked with their chef at the time, Setrak Injaian, to create a sandwich to serve at Aram’s christening. Soon after, they did just that and called it the Aram Sandwich. The sandwich features authentic Armenian lavash bread and is traditionally made with cream cheese, dill, lettuce, tomato, and choice of meat like turkey, roast beef or salmon. This was the kickoff to a sandwich which 50 years later can be found at places like Costco, Whole Foods and dozens of other local grocery outlets and stores. Some have adapted the name of the restaurant and call it the Caravan sandwich, others call it the Pinwheel sandwich and others, (thankfully) still call it the Aram Sandwich. Either way, the sandwich is still made and served 50 years later. As the Caravansary expanded into several locations, so did the popularity of the sandwich. It was the mainstay of the Caravansary’s catering menu. People started making it at home for their own children’s school lunches. It was everywhere!
After several years at the Caravansary, Khajag and Hildy decided to enter the fine dining scene in San Francisco, selling the Caravansarys and opening the Orient Express Restaurant in downtown San Francisco. This iteration of the Sarkissian’s food journey focused on Mediterranean cuisine based on the trek of the Orient Express train that runs from France to Italy. Khajag and Hildy owned and operated this huge restaurant for several years while mastering the art of catering for up to two to three thousand people sometimes in the lobby of the One Market Plaza building. Aram, a teenager at this point, learned about the restaurant business by working as a busboy, then barista and then server at the Orient Express.
After close to 20 years, Khajag and Hildy closed the Orient Express and moved in another direction for a few years. But the restaurant bug always remained and a few years later they opened what would turn out to be their final restaurant in San Francisco. They called it Aram’s. Aram’s was a small, quaint, 40-seat restaurant in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood with a focus on fine dining, amazing wines and fresh, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. After returning from college, Aram joined his father Khajag and helped run the day-to-day operations. A few years after opening, Khajag retired from the restaurant and Aram managed it until the family decided to close it in 2001.
Khajag and Hildy moved to the Napa Valley area full-time and a newly-married Aram moved to Sacramento with his wife Karen where they still live with their three high school-aged children, Lori, Alec and Talar. Khajag passed away in late 2019 and Hildy still lives in the home they shared in Yountville. Aram’s younger brother, Sevag is married; they have two children and reside in Pacifica.
Aram studied broadcasting in college and has worked as a local TV news producer, executive producer and managing editor during his career; his wife is an attorney.
An exciting update from Aram for those living in the Sacramento, CA area… He is in the process of creating The Aram Sandwich catering business! As soon as I hear more, I’ll let you all know.