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Boom and bust

Thessa Lageman
Journalist, Writer, Photographer
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piqer: Thessa Lageman
Wednesday, 16 January 2019

A Shakespearian Family Drama in Armenia, Beirut and Los Angeles

In this edition of Business Wars, you can listen to first part of the Zankou Chicken Murders, a fascinating story about an Armenian family of restaurant owners.

At the beginning, we can hear that the 56-year-old founder Mardiros Iskenderian leaves his house in Los Angeles, for the first time in months. It’s January 14th, 2003 and he is dieing from cancer.

He looks anywhere but into his wife Rita's eyes and says he feels much better today and is going to meet a friend at a restaurant. She doesn’t believe him.

By the end of this day, the business they started forty years ago in Lebanon will be shattered – perhaps beyond repair. Because just a few hours after he gently kisses his wife goodbye, he will kill his sister, his mother and then himself.

To understand what happened on that vital day, host David D. Brown, a veteran public radio journalist, travels back to Beirut, Lebanon in 1962.

Mardiros parents started the Zankou restaurant. One of his grandmothers always told vivid stories of the 1915 genocide, when they fled Armenia from the Turks, reminding the family: never forget.

In fact, these stories will come to haunt them in unique ways, for generations.

As a young man, Mardiros is accused of being an accomplice in a jewelry heist that went wrong but manages to convince the authorities he was innocent. While Rita’s parents forbid her to see him for years, they eventually marry.

In 1979, Mardiros gets hit by sixteen bullets but survives. In 1980, they flee the civil war and three years later, Mardiros opens a new Zankou restaurant in Hollywood.

You can listen to the second part as well, The Death of an American Dream.

While it’s a cliché that the history of every family empire includes scenes of Shakespearian drama, rarely does a legit enterprise involving something as innocent as take out pita wraps engender the kind of violence that runs in three generations of this family of entrepreneurs who fled war on two continents, only to see their business erupt in a bloody climax.
A Shakespearian Family Drama in Armenia, Beirut and Los Angeles
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