Old country mentality is good Armenian business
Published: Monday February 14, 2011
Growing up around a family-owned luncheonette operated by Armenian immigrant parents, I quickly learned a few tricks about success.
I learned that good business meant good profit and that time was irrelevant. I was taught that busy souls have no time to become busybodies and that the customer was always right --- unless he argued over his bill.
My parents, both of them genocide survivors, also had one other bit of advice. If time meant money, there were not enough hours in a day.
They referred to this as the "old-country mentality" and expected nothing less from their children.
I wasn't particularly keen about it. To me, playing sports and engaging in after-school activity seemed like more fun than flipping burgers and busing tables. I'd look for any excuse to stay after school, even if it meant for trumped up disciplinary reasons.
How was I to know that out of this tiny food operation would come two college tuitions, endorsements for grandchildren, down payments on homes and other major expenditures that produced a comfortable lifestyle?
Eventually, I got a glimmer of the truth that you worked like a dog so you wouldn't have to live like one. But it took a lot of barking by my parents before I realized this.
I was taught to respect a dollar. My father had a classic saying whenever we turned our nose up at that amount.
"In the good, old days, the dollar you didn't have used to buy you four times as much," he said. "Take full advantage of its value."
They worked long and hard so we could have a better life, so we could work just as hard for our own children and they could do the same for their children. Business became a vicious Armenian circle.
As someone quite oriented with the business world, I can tell you that some of this old country wit is missing nowadays. Gone is the personal touch my folks strived for in their establishment. They didn't own a hotel in Las Vegas or some or some high-end manufacturing plant. They kept it simply --- a mom and pop operation with my brother Setrag and I the essential employees.
"The senior prom is Friday night," I announced one day. "I'm thinking of taking a nice girl."
"Is she Armenian?" my mom interjected.
"Then see that you work a double shift on Saturday," she mandated.
If the girl had been Armenian, I could have wrangled a day off.
I see it now, that without small business, there would be no big business. My grandfather eked out a living sharpening knives around his neighborhood. It put bread on the table and shoes on your feet.
My uncle sold ice door to door on a truck that had no doors. My dad graduated from a school of higher learning and ran an eating place for 40 years, dying on the job without a decent dowry. My mother worked in a candy story with her sister before joining him after marriage in the early 1940s.
Nobody got rich but they earned a decent living.
I know a computer engineer who has changed jobs so often in an attempt to reach the Promised Land that he is unemployed and back to where he started from 40 years ago.
Not long ago, I took this 90-year-old woman to an Armenian grocery story in Watertown. She asked for a ride and how could I refuse? We should all make time for the elderly, even if they are not related.
The hour was well after 6 on a Saturday night and I did not think the store would be open. The woman knew otherwise.
"See, I told you," she said, as we pulled to the curb and saw the lights. A woman was slicing basterma. Her husband was ringing up sales while the daughter was organizing pastry.
Customers rushed in and out until we were the only ones left in the store. The woman dallied around to her heart's content, choosing all the things that might raise havoc with her cholesterol.
"At my age, who cares?" she said. The owner smiled at our overflowing basket.
"So what time do you close around here?" I asked.
I gazed at my watch and noticed the time at 6:45. I felt a sudden surge of apology.
"I hope we didn't keep you," I said. "We could always come back another time."
The owner gave me his best business look and spoke with assurance.
"If we had closed the door the 6, we would never have enjoyed your business," he smiled, ringing up a hefty sale.