By Jesse Hollett
Clay Today Online
GREEN COVE SPRINGS, FL – Shahen Musinian and Izabelle Kardian believe the best way to share the history of their motherland Armenia is through their food.
The couple, having been married 28 years, lugged their culture through three separate countries – each more different than the last – and ended up in Green Cove Springs (just south of Jacksonville), the location of their new restaurant, Mush Armenian Kitchen.
Having opened for business Tuesday at 1600 Idlewild Ave., in a storefront just under 1,000 square feet, the menu contains Mediterranean staples absent from Green Cove Springs such as kebabs and gyros and house made hummus with some lesser known menu items such as baklava and baba ghanoush.
While not all items originated in Armenia, Armenian Mediterranean cuisine developed simultaneously and what they don’t share in geography, they make up for in the similar ingredients and spices used. Musinian said the menu items come from recipes he grew up eating and cooked for his family.
“I think it’s very important to keep our traditions, educate other people and kind of get them familiarized with other cultures and what they’re all about,” Kardian said. “We’re very family oriented, we’re very close, we like to get together and we wanted to bring that and this kind of family atmosphere to this place so that people can be comfortable.”
Many of the tapestries on the walls are works done by their parents. Below them sit framed printouts detailing historic sites, ruins and churches native to Armenia that Musinian and Kardian hope customers will enjoy while they eat.
The impetus behind the tableside printouts, Musinian said, is to help people better understand Armenia, a country he said most people know little about. “If I say I’m from Britain, I’m from England, everyone knows where England is,” Musinian said. “England is no older than Armenia…Armenia has somehow been forgotten in the world, but Armenia has given the world lots and lots of actors and war heroes – it’s got a rich, rich history.”
Aside from sharing his culture with the community, owning a restaurant has always been one of Musinian’s dreams.
The family invested roughly $65,000 of savings and loans into the restaurant, storefront and equipment. Despite the cost, Musinian appeared delighted on his progress and business endeavor as they put the finishing touches on their storefront Monday.
“This really is as they say dreams come true, it’s a dream come true,” he said. It was a long trek to get where they are now, the two admitted.
Musinian and Kardian, along with their two children, immigrated from Armenia to Israel with their parents in 1993. Kardian’s parents sold their home in Armenia to pay for plane tickets to Israel.
Musinian said after the fall of the Soviet Union in in 1991, that Armenia’s infrastructure largely fell apart. The family rationed food and struggled to find water. Kardian said she was pregnant at the time the rationing began.
“The electricity was on 45 minutes a day – but you never knew when those 45 minutes were coming,” Kardian said.
They stayed in Israel for 10 years before the United States accepted the family as immigrants through its lottery system.
Kardian said owning the restaurant still feels like a dream. “He cooks really good, and we were joking at first, ‘oh, you need a restaurant,’” she said. “The kids were little and we were just trying to” get by.
“We came here without nothing,” she said. Mush kitchen is open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Sunday.
This story originally appeared in Clay Today Online, and is republished with the expressed written consent of the author.