Aline Kamakian is one of those people who can inspire simply by existing. Her radiant energy and tenacious spirit constantly shine through. Aline worked as an insurance broker since she was 18, starting her own firm later on in 1993. She then began exploring her passion for food and her Armenian heritage. Her restaurant “Mayrig” came to life, offering delectable Armenian food to the Lebanese public. Things snowballed from that moment forward, and Mayrig now has several branches in various countries. She has also co-written the Armenian Cuisine cookbook, and started another restaurant: Batchig. We speak to her about girl power, entrepreneurship, and her passion for food.
You started your career as an insurance broker at the age of 18. Do you believe starting out so young helped you get a firm grasp on the industry more quickly?
I started my business at a young age; I had to! My father passed when I was 17 and I needed to pay for my studies. I was an insurance saleswoman for as long as I can remember. Starting off young gave me a sense of fulfillment and made me aware of things I did not see before. It helped me get a firm grasp on the industry more quickly, but this is not a binding condition. One can be of an older age and start a successful career, it is all about attitude and perseverance.
What were the biggest obstacles you faced when you started out, especially at such a young age?
At a young age, and especially as a woman, it is very difficult to be taken seriously when we talk business or sales. Some clients would consider us like a baby generation and treat us as such, others considered that while buying insurance they could buy me. I had to prove myself, always be firm and on my guard. Society makes it hard for women to pursue careers in sales or even in restaurants. Society condemns a woman who stays out late.
When you decided to venture into the culinary industry, was that a gamble that paid off, or did you know it will be a successful endeavor from the start?
From the very beginning, what I wanted to do was to make my father’s dream come true. The idea came up as a tribute to my father who wanted to share the Armenian culinary heritage with the world. When I had the chance to open Mayrig, I leaped over and made it happen. It was definitely a gamble. It was so quick of an idea and when Mayrig opened, many people laughed at me that “I was going to sell Soujouk and Basterma sandwiches”. But here we are 17 years later with Mante and Fishna Kebab served in most of the Lebanese and Armenian restaurants.
Being so successful in two extremely different industries: brokerage and restauranteering, what is your advice to young women looking to venture into either one of those industries?
Always follow your dreams, make it work even if the wall is too high! Let no one be in your way, seek a comforting and supportive entourage whether at home or with friends. Count your blessings, stay humble and have fun! It means nothing if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing!
Mayrig now has branches in Dubai, Riyadh and Yerevan. How does it feel being responsible for reviving the Armenian cuisine?
In Maldives as well, we are serving the menu at the Four Seasons Resort in Laanda. It is a great challenge, I won’t hide that. Putting Armenian cuisine on the culinary map was my father’s dream and my realization. As happy as I feel, as responsible as I am to leave this legacy to the world and give back to my society. For me the dream still continues. I hope that soon Mayrig’s cuisine will be present in Europe and the United States. I dream that one day people will crave Armenian food just as nowadays they crave Italian or Chinese.
How do you believe strong, inspiring female entrepreneurs such as yourself can inspire young girls to pursue their dreams?
For me it’s all about sharing. I love to mentor new entrepreneurs and to guide them. I share my mistakes and failures with them so that they can learn and not fall in the same whirlwind. It is the best way for them to observe and do. The more perseverant they are, the more they will learn.
What motivates you to keep going when things get too intense?
My family, my friends, my team, my employees and of course my father and his legacy. I have a support system that got more and more mature through the years and I know I can count on them however strong the storm is. What actually makes me push things even further is to see women entrepreneurs go through the path I took and succeed beautifully. This gives me drive and a reason to move forward.
What are your plans for the future?
For the brokerage firm, the plans would be to grow our portfolios in Lebanon even more and handle more corporate clients. For the restaurant business, as our team is getting bigger and more experienced, we will be opening more franchises of Mayrig and Batchig throughout the region and hopefully soon.