First published in the Aug. 20 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
After more than four decades of grilling up its signature plates, Massis Kabob is changing things up a little bit.
The family-owned local brand, which has amassed six mall-based locations since launching in the Glendale Galleria in 1976, plans to open its first stand-alone eatery next week, just down the street at the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Glendale Avenue.
The menu and kitchen philosophy will remain the same, but customers will have the ease of parking and plenty of tables.
Gevik and Peter Baghdassarian — the brothers who now run the business their late father, Hacop “Jack” Baghdassarian, founded after immigrating to the United States from Iran — said they specifically aimed to foray into the brick-and-mortar world in the Jewel City, where it all began 46 years ago.
“We wanted the first stand-alone flagship to be in the city where so many Armenians call home,” Gevik Baghdassarian said this week. “We want something for the Armenian community and for the city that gave so much to us.”
Massis Kabob was a novelty upon launching, with its Persian-blended Armenian cuisine that, at the time, eschewed the typical offerings in a mall food court. After a slow start that saw Hacop Baghdassarian explore a baked potato business on the side, the so-called “original kabobery” finally caught on, beginning its gradual spread to other malls throughout the Los Angeles area.
The Baghdassarians said their father aimed to develop an on-the-move format for the cuisine, as opposed to the higher-brow seated Persian restaurants of the Westside, while maintaining its fresh daily, made-to-order menu.
Coincidentally, the Baghdassarian patriarch embarked on the journey with fellow immigrants Andrew and Peggy Cherng eventually being his neighbor in the Galleria as they were getting Panda Express — their attempt to make Chinese a fast-casual cuisine — off the ground.
“He wanted to have an easy-to-go format,” Gevik Baghdassarian said of his father. “He really wanted it to be affordable and approachable. That was the really cool part about being in malls. It’s the most democratic approach to food.”
With a stand-alone restaurant, the brothers have two goals in mind. One is to expand on the to-go pickup format they experimented with when the COVID-19 pandemic initially closed shopping malls. The second is to attract the local or nomadic customer who wants a familiar and fulfilling meal but doesn’t feel like going to a mall.
You can order via the app and have the meal brought out to your parked car, pick up the preordered meal inside or take the traditional order-and-sit route. If you take the latter, you have the options of sitting in the cool and well-lit indoors, thanks to the fishbowl-style window walls, or having a seat in the shaded wraparound patio. Either way, you have a view of the mountains.
“We think this store will be a big hub for people who want to pick up,” Peter Baghdassarian said. “Here, I can just pull up and I don’t have to leave my car. We’ve invested a lot in technology because we try to be as competitive with people who have 1,000 or 2,000 chains.”
That doesn’t mean the mall locations are going anywhere. Gevik Baghdassarian noted that malls have largely been re-envisioned as destinations for weekend social outings, so those groups of people will need a meal or two. People also often flock to malls to escape the hotter summer and autumn days.
As with those prior locations, customers will watch employees receive orders, retrieve the meat — prepared throughout the day — from the fridge and grill it to order in full view. Basmati rice is prepared fresh daily as the base of each dish, as is customary in Iranian cuisine.
In addition to sodas, the restaurant will also offer on-tap beer and bottled Armenian beer. A large print of the famed tatik-papik monument in Artsakh also adorns the wall, as with the other locations, but is this time gazing upon the kitchen area from the side instead of tucked alongside the menu behind the counter.
The brothers plan to have a soft opening as soon as next Friday, and will host a block party at the site from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3.
That event will include live music performances by Armenian singer Harout Pamboukjian and a mariachi band, with additional music from a DJ and various giveaways, as well as an ice cream truck and stands serving churro sundaes and traditional Armenian coffee made using hot sand. The full Massis Kabob menu will also be available for guests.
The restaurant is located at 300 S. Glendale Ave., in a former location for Conroy Flowers and then 1-800-Flowers. Gevik Baghdassarian said he’d long eyed this location, as Colorado Boulevard links Glendale to the 5 Freeway and Eagle Rock, while Glendale Avenue spans from the 134 Freeway and into Atwater Village.
“I wanted it to be a nice corner,” he said. “I think this is the second busiest intersection in Glendale. These are the two gateways to the city.”
Not bad for an eatery whose founder, as laughable as it sounds now, was often accused of being “too ethnic” when trying to break into the L.A. food scene.
“It’s my dad’s dream and legacy,” Gevik Baghdassarian said.