“It’s been super tough,” says Armen Martirosyan of Mini Kabob, the legendary (and legendarily tiny) Armenian-Egyptian restaurant in Glendale. For more than three decades Mini Kabob has thrived on its small footprint, racking up plenty of charming features and television appearances in part because of its spare, sub-300-square-foot space. Now what has always been seen as a feature — with just three tables, it’s basically like letting folks dine in the kitchen of the always-animated Martirosyan family — has become a health liability. “I’m paranoid for my parents,” says Armen.
Martirosyan has good reason for his fears, given the fast-spreading novel coronavirus that has clamped down much of daily life in greater Los Angeles. Social distancing is the mandate, while takeout and delivery is the law of the land for the city of Los Angeles. Armen isn’t taking any unnecessary risks; he and his parents decided to close for at least the next week, and will reevaluate even the possibility of takeout later on.
The restaurant consists of just three people: Armen, father Ovakim (68), and mother Alvard (64), meaning both Martirosyan parents are near or above the age threshold recommended by California governor Gavin Newsom for self-isolation. Ovakim has had several health scares over the years, but still took some convincing to step away from the stoves, particularly when there were locals pouring in for platters of grilled meat.
“It changed in like three, four days,” says Armen. “At first it was a lot of Armenians coming in and saying that the media just likes to blow things up. But I was doing my own research, seeing the percentages, and I’m really worried for my dad. He’s had sepsis, and was in the hospital two years ago for an irregular heartbeat.”
Even before the closure, Martirosyan was physically using himself as a shield between his parents/co-workers/partners and the outside world, including asking anyone putting in an order to wait outside. “We have a lot of people come and just gather at the door,” he says. “It just wasn’t safe anymore.”
Armen was the only one running food, and the only one handling transactions; he’s gotten a one-star Yelp review for his efforts so far, from someone who didn’t like being told to wait on the sidewalk by the owner of a restaurant whose dining room is less than six feet wide.
Martirosyan is taking it in stride. The restaurant has found success in the modern marketing age, and has fans from the nearby community as well as across social media. A few years of stable traffic and extremely low overhead means that the family is able to comfortably take some time off, for now. But without further guidance at the local and federal level about how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last, or any kind of government subsidy, the future is just as unclear with Mini Kabob as it is for anyone else.
“I’d rather be a part of what’s happening now,” says Martirosyan of the many closures currently taking place across Los Angeles, “than part of the problem. I’d rather take some time off, make sure my mom and dad are cool, and everyone is safe. We all need to be a part of the effort.”