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Vahe Baloulyan: “The most important point is to surprise!”


In tight critical situations only the best restaurants survive. In such times not everyone succeeds to create good projects. We decided to take an interview from one of the best restaurateurs of Armenia Vahe Baloulyan and talk about crisis, projects and about the fact that how important it is to do what you love. This is the best example for those who are trying to distinguish themselves in life. 

- Let us start from an unpleasant but important topic. Increase of dollar caused inflation of imported goods. It concerns mainly alcoholic beverages and fees of leased premises. Notably either the income of many people decreases or prices increase. What happens in your restaurants? How was inflation reflected in them?

 v4b6BkIda.jpg-Inflation concerned the import of alcohol in consequence of which prices of some wines In Vino increased. However, it is worth noting that it concerned the wines we buy from importers and the prices of the wines imported by us remained unchanged. Surely it is a mistake from the economic point of view since in that case we get no income but since  In Vino is rather an educational project the aim of which is to revive the culture of wine , tradition of wine-drinking to Armenia we carried out a policy of democratic prices from the very beginning.The case with Tapastan is easier. We opened our doors in the period of crisis. Then gradually more democratic dishes were added in the menu by taking into account the fact of students and those who have suffered in consequence of the crisis. 


-And The Club? 

The Club is a little bit different case. We are always updating the menu. The prices in the café are rather democratic. As far as the restaurant is concerned there is no change in the prices but it is impossible to have the same democratic prices as we have in the café. The Club is targeted at high cuisine and the prices are based on the work which is enclosed in every dish and very high-quality products imported from abroad. We do not do it because we find that every imported product is good but because we use such products which do not exist in Armenia. We also use local products if it is possible for a certain dish. I would like to note that even here products are not cheap the reason for that is the fact that many people having no relation to the crisis take use of the situation and raise prices. 

-What do you think about visitation of customers? Do you feel deficiency or no? 

-There is no deficiency of visitors though by lapse of time solvency of people decreases. If the visitor used to drink wine costing AMD  7000 now s/he orders one costing AMD 5000, if s/he used to take one costing AMD 4 000, now-AMD 2000, etc. In any case In Vino provides guests with an opportunity to pass their leisure with no special expenses.

- In general, according to the opinion polls our restaurateurs do not complain. There is even an opinion that during challenging times man needs more relaxation, entertainment and alcohol. What is your opinion in this respect? 

-In order to avoid information leakage many state: “It is necessary to say that everything is alright and at that time everything will really be alright”. However, many are not really contemned. If you want to have a more realistic picture then I will honestly tell you that the situation in the country is getting worse, people earn less, consequently everything cannot be that good, i.e. people lie about the bad situation in the country or restaurateurs hide the truth by saying that nothing has changed for the worse. It is impossible for these two factors coexist. In its turn, we serve all the layers of the society. For tourists or those guests who simply visit Armenia dollar increase is not noticeable: their money mainly comes from different sources. But for local people making 70% of our visitors that change is rather significant. 


-Some sources inform that challenging times have also positive sides. 

- Yes, probably, but not for small and medium-sized businesses. People reduce their secondary expenses and focus on main problems adapting to the current situation. But it is better when the times are not challenging. 

-What do you think is paramount in the restaurant success: cuisine, bar or ambiance? 

-Everything is interrelated. Even if there are restaurants with no proper ambiance but with good cuisine, then it creates the required ambiance by itself including the design and the restaurant visitors. You can be in a charmless room, but the waiter, manager, cook can smooth all the shortcomings with their ideal treatment. And vice versa, you can be in a restaurant with perfect interior and design, but maybe your wish to visit that restaurant again will fall off because of cold service.In any case, the main point is the cuisine. It should always astonish. If the restaurant is not able to astonish it means it is not distinguished yet. Every time when visiting a restaurant I want to see and enjoy everything I am used to and want to get astonished. “What is your novelty? Oh, I have not tasted it. This flavor is not familiar to me yet”. It is difficult to achieve. It requires permanent work and that is why our restaurants are always in process of development. 

-What are the outcomes in Tapastan within a month? 


-The problem is not the same here: “We should state that everything is alright and everything will really be alright”. Though everything corresponds to the plan, even better than expected. Tapastan is a restaurant of small portions and in Armenia people eat with eyes and the idea of having a meal in small portions is a novelty. Some guests do not imagine that it is possible to satisfy hunger with such small portions and even after they have had enough both mentally and physically they still look for food with eyes. But we love novelties and share them with our guests. 

-Tapastan and In Vino are located next to each other. How does this factor effect visitation? Positively or negatively? 

-We are very happy seeing visitors of In Vino also in Tapastan and vice versa. By the way the outcome is really interesting: dropping in at Tapastan after In Vino people were amazed that it is not In Vino. It seemed to them that it is the continuation of In Vino in a larger interpretation. However, by lapse of time it all came right: for having a meal people go to Tapastan, for wine- to In Vino. Though all the wines of In Vino are offered in Tapastan as well. 

-Do not you bring food from Tapastan to In Vino?

-Only desserts. Generally everything can be brought if desired, simply some problems may occur when paying the bill. Besides that, the tables are not meant for food with knives and forks in In Vino which are necessary in Tapastan. 


-Do you keep track of global restaurant trends?

-It is necessary for us, since we have just opened a new restaurant in Cannes and we are the partner of one of the restaurants in California. But the issue is different: to track and repeat or to learn and do everything in your own way? One will not gain proper influence only by following. Authority does not repeat the other authority but teaches how to create something more interesting, diverse, delicious. Repetition is not interesting! 

-I shall explain why I am posing this question: it is the year of those establishments where dishes of small portions like your tapases  are many. 

-No, I did not know about it, but if it is so overseas,  then it would have happened in Armenia approximately in 2017 (laughing). Actually the idea of tapases is rather old. When opening the Club the initial idea was to have tapases and crepes. Then our friend, having a French restaurant, decided to join us. The result was the restaurant of the Club. Back to 2002 that idea existed and when an opportunity was provided we did not miss it. It is superb that the time chosen by us coincided with the world trend and I am happy that Armenia is one of the first countries. 


-Such a small and diverse assortment has been presented in the Club recently. Is it related to the success of Tapastan? 

-No, not at all. During the design period of the restaurant to be opened in Cannes an idea occurred to my friend and partner of all restaurant projects Andranik Grigoryan and it was related to films and their acts, and dance movements. The dish is presented in the following way: first act, second act and third act. It is the situation when a wish occurs to change something without getting rid of the old one, like the situation with a child. You bring him/her up and know him/her since birth but with the age you want him/her to learn new things and surprise you but not to forget about the main values. 

-Please tell a little bit about the restaurants of Cannes and California. Do they differ in conception ? 

-Yes, a lot. We take some part from different places but we never repeat anything both in the interior and the menu. The French cuisine in Cannes is more of modern style, it is not Armenian but will have Armenian elements. 


-Do you advertise it in any form?

-Yes, we spread information. Though if you open a restaurant in Cannes and it has success, is endued with name and prestige, it is actually already self-presentation. And we are sure that it will be so. The restaurant is located in a very interesting place-it is the first building on the main street of the old city. Both the street and the old city are called Suke. Respectively the restaurant is called Suke Premier-Suke first, also wonderfully fits with film and Cannes film festival.The building is built on a rock and the inner wall of the restaurant is a part of the rock. It looks rather unique and interesting. Let us wait and see what comes out of it as we have just opened it.As far as the American restaurant is concerned it is also located in a district where many film studios are settled. The Stage has been settled for more than a year and has already gained the love of visitors. And though we are only partners and do not actually manage it but soon I guess we will handle it too.The cuisine is California Fusion. The fact that dishes from all over the world are presented in the restaurant is very interesting though all of them are made only of Californian products. For example, if the dish contains not Californian products then our chef replaces them with Californian ones by applying all his skills and imagination and the result is Californian Fusion. 

-How do you manage to create such ambiance in three restaurants located in Yerevan? 

-We are guided by the following principle: create what we love and what we would love to see and what we have not met anywhere yet and not something that already exists somewhere else. The basis of the intention is the ambiance where friends, near and dear ones will feel relaxed and comfortable. Though there are cases when meeting guests you realize that they will not stay. We are happy to host everyone but it is impossible to delight everyone: the walls are not shining, the floor is not marble, there are not any golden shades. There are people who drop in at asking when the repair works will be over and leave (laughing).They realize that the place is not suitable for them. 


-Which one out of these three restaurant would you have given preference to as a visitor? 

-I love passing my time in the café of the Club a lot, when it is necessary to cloister myself not to be bothered and work.  When inviting friends for dinner Tapastan and the restaurant of the Club are on equal levels for me despite the fact that the ambiance in Tapastan is more democratic and serene.The Club is closer to art in respect of its service manner.  Every dish is drawn here and the manner of service is counted. Such approach exists also in Tapastan but it is not an end in itself we simply love presenting in a nice way. There are also nourishing homemade dishes here. And if you want to have wine then surely visit In Vino as there is no similar establishment where the selection consists of more than 800 wines.

-Where do you take all your ideas from? 

-Definitely the ideas occur when reading, traveling, seeing and getting to know others’ experience. In my case also genetic factor exists as my father used to be a restaurant specialist. When we were travelling he did not miss any restaurant: he stopped, looked  and studied. I was just a child, of course, and did not understand but it was amazing for me.   By background I am a management consultant and restaurants and wine are my hobbies. And I am doing both of them with great pleasure. 

-Do you have new plans, surprises, concepts? 

-There are but the situation in the country is rather challenging and tough. Of course I could open one for myself but people should be able to visit. Salary, taxes, buying of food. But if people do not have money it is difficult to open a new establishment no matter how interesting your idea is. 

-Do you prefer wine making or restaurant management?

-All together.  Wine making is not profitable yet. When you plant vines then you need 5-6 years for getting any outcome. From financial point of view expenses are huge in that respect but enjoyment is inexplicable. It is like talking about your child with pride: “I have a daughter” or “ I have a son”, and the same here “ I am making wine”.Hovakim Saghatelyan, my friend and partner engaged in wine making, says: “Everything that is in the heart of the wine-maker is enclosed under the wine cork”. If it is dark in the heart and soul then you cannot make good wine. And if you want to make good wine then you have to clean up your soul, i.e. clear yourself. No way without it!

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