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article imageOp-Ed: TV Host returns to his culinary roots in San Francisco Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Mar 9, 2012 in Food
San Francisco - Sunset District residents and coffee fans will be happy to know that the former Alvin’s Scrumptious Coffees and Teas on Irving Street at 18th Ave has now reopened as Robert’s Espresso.
“It has been about three weeks now since opening on Feb 15,” said Robert Ayanian who is pleased to help meet the need for more locally owned businesses. Since the dot-com-boom of the 1990’s the Sunset District like many neighborhoods in San Francisco, have been dealing with the increase of ‘formula retail’ or chain store franchises. They have proliferated the area.
“The coffee and espresso Robert offers here is delicious and I have faith he will be a success,” said his father, Zaven Ayanian, who stopped by to help out and to encourage customers to try a cup.
With Starbucks literally down the block right across the street on the opposite corner, Alvin’s was able to hold its own ground for more than 30 years by offering one-of-a-kind, time-honored traditional fresh-roasted coffee. Yet in March of last year, Alvin and Helen Azadkhanian decided to retire after being in business on Irving Street since 1976.
For almost a year the storefront that had been Alvin’s has been vacant, leaving residents and merchants to wonder what will fill the space next? The storefront is conveniently set along one of the busiest blocks of the Irving Street merchant corridor and Ayanian is confident he will be a success.
Now painted and fully renovated Robert’s Espresso offers a local alternative to that big name coffee “fast-food” outlet. As owner and sole proprietor Robert Ayanian is also eager to share his culinary expertise as a chef and caterer with the community.
He offered to this reporter one of his specialties, a double mocha espresso along with some ‘Nazook,’ a traditional Armenian pastry. With a special blend of spices the mocha espresso was delicious. The fresh pastry is a unique sampling of what Ayanian plans to offer. He foresees an array of fresh and original pastries and food items to rival the formula vendor competition across the street.
“I am not a stranger, I am a local and I grew up here in the City,” said Ayanian.
A graduate of University of San Francisco, he attended West Portal Elementary, Notre Dame des Victoires School and then Saint Ignatius Prep. With a degree in journalism and broadcasting from USF, Ayanian went to Hollywood to pursue opportunities.
He managed to get on TV as a host of his own show called “The Best List.”
“Actually, it was originally to be called ‘The B List,’ as in how movies are often described,” said Sonia Keshishian.
She is Ayanian’s cousin and staunch supporter. Some of her art and photography work currently adorns the walls of the cafe. “Robert is like a brother to me, so yes, I am partial,” she said.
Yet she was emphatic as she said, “I can testify that whatever Robert does, he does with commitment and dedication,” said Keshishian. She explained that even though the TV show Ayanian had hosted was on the local cable TV service and budgets were tight, “Robert stuck to it.” “He sought out local talent and businesses in the Los Angeles, West Hollywood and even Beverly Hills area,” said Keshishian.
“I know, she said, because I was a guest on that show, twice!”
She also mentioned that Ayanian also hosted the pilot episodes of two local TV game shows. The work in Hollywood was exciting but very competitive. In between television endeavors Ayanian supported his TV work by also becoming a realtor. After five years of TV hosting, Ayanian decided to follow another career path. “My parents both encouraged me to go back to school and do well at something I love. For Ayanian it was cooking. After he completed the program at Los Angeles Culinary Institute in Encino, he established his own catering business in Palm Springs.
“I was so glad that Robert returned to his roots,” said Keshishian. “Because, he always amazed us with his holiday dinners, he cooks up an outstanding turkey with all the fixings,” she said. And, with his flair for entertaining, Ayanian’s catering as “Chef Robert’s Culinary Experience” was doing well, until the economic downturn in 2008. “Suddenly all went bust,” he said. “Business dried up and people were not throwing parties or catering events as much,” said Ayanian.
Just as he thought another career venture had ended, he got word about the empty storefront on Irving. “It is like going full circle,” he said as he noted, “I used to work at Caravansary on Sutter Street while in college,” said Ayanian.
“Caravansary (that closed in 1999) was a coffee, tea and café spot on Sutter, (back in the 1970’s and ’80’s) and Robert was a ‘barista’ there, doing just what he is now, serving up great coffee and Espresso,” said Keshishian.
To wish him well in his endeavor, Candy Injaian who was his boss at Caravansary dropped by on opening day. “Robert has got the gift of serving the people with his culinary expertise,” said Keshishian and he has a real genuine good feeling for everyone, that makes what he does special,” she said.
Open 7-days a week, from 7: AM to 6: PM, Robert’s Espresso is located at 1708 Irving Street, between 18th and 19th Ave. For details visit web site or call 415-213-5779.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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