Arlington Advocate, MA
Nov. 4, 2004
Couple revamps shop into cozy eatery on Massachusetts Ave.
By Brooke Leister/ Staff Writer
With dishes such as hot borscht, herring fillets, Armenian lamb shish
kebab and blinis with caviar, Café Levonya offers a taste of a world
few ever have the opportunity to visit.
Husband and wife team, Levon Ovassapian and Anya Kagansky, serve
traditional Russian and Armenia cuisine at their cozy, welcoming
restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue.
`The best compliments come from people from that part of the
world. They say, `That’s my borscht! That’s how I cook it,” Kagansky
The pair, who have been married for three years, bought the space
four years ago when it was a Russian grocery store. The space has
slowly evolved from the store to a small sandwich shop to its current
incarnation as an intimate restaurant with bright, cheery orange walls
decorated with colorful artwork.
`We had a vision for the restaurant. We wanted to do it from day
one when we met each other. We always liked to entertain,’ said
Often when they entertained, friends would compliment Ovassapian’s
cooking and say, `You should cook for the public, not just for the
house,’ Kagansky said.
Kagansky, who was a choral director in Siberia, moved to the
United States in 1989 with her son Michael, now a medical student at
Washington University in St. Louis. Her husband, formerly a classical
ballet dancer from Armenia, moved to the U.S. 10 years ago.
`I love the U.S.,’ said Ovassapian, 40. `Everything is for the
people. (Everyone) can do something.’
Soon after moving to Los Angeles, Ovassapian found himself running
Lavash Bakery. He was later transferred to Watertown to run a bakery,
by the same name, there.
For both, food has played an important role in their lives,
especially when they were growing up.
`If you got lamb and were cooking shish kebab, it had to be cooked
outside. You had to share with your neighbors. His (Ovassapian’s) shish
kebabs are outstanding. It’s very good, very different. He makes it
with lots of love,’ she said.
When they began making plans for the restaurant, the pair
envisioned a cozy, elegant and romantic space with music playing. All
has been accomplished in the restaurant, which seats up to 30.
`It’s almost like throwing a party in your house. If you put heart
into it, they’ll love it,’ said Kagansky, who also owns Anya’s Spa in
The recipes were all adapted by Ovassapian to suit his tastes.
While Kagansky, who calls herself an expert in borscht, supplied her
recipe, her husband adjusted it to his taste. Same with the blinis. He
adds a bit of sugar to offset the saltiness of the salmon and caviar,
which often accompany it.
When they decided to go into business together, Kagansky said they
shared the same vision. Since opening the restaurant, Kagansky has
learned to be patient.
`I work at the salon where you have to be speedy, but here you can
not be speedy. If a shish kebab cooks for 20 minutes, you can not speed
it up,’ she said. `People don’t mind if they are waiting, if you are
providing good quality… Nothing is pre-cooked here. Everything is made
Customers hail from many backgrounds, and some days Kagansky said
it seems as if everyone is speaking a different language.
`Russia had such a big influence on other countries,’ Kagansky
explained. `They all say, `Oh my god! My grandmother cooked that.’ You
want to teach your children, your grandchildren. You want to keep that
The couple’s friend Garen Avetissyan, who was visiting from
Armenia, said the restaurant offers Americans a way to experience
another part of the world.
`Whoever walks in here, everyone is just amazed, even people who
are used to this food from eastern Europe. People who have never tried
it before, their eyes pop out of their head. Some people never got
around after the Cold War to get to know this part of the world. Trying
food is the American way of experiencing the world,’ said Avetissyan, a
former Waltham resident.