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Little Armenia: Shawarma, Falafel and the Feeling of Home


Michael Karakash

TWO OLD MEN seated across from each other in a red wooden booth speak loudly in Armenian while swallowing the last oily bites of their falafel sandwiches.  Arms swing through the air as if words and bodies are in a coordinated, expressive dance, while creamy t ahini sauce drips off leftover pita bread nestled in greasy white wrappers. Those who don’t speak the language misinterpret their rapid banter and raised arms as signals of an oncoming fight and take cover at the other end of the small shop, meanwhile shielding their keba bs and falafel.  Over the sizzling of falafel balls casually dropped into hot oil by a dark-haired woman behind the counter, a radio can be heard.  Oh, gimme the beat boys and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock n’ roll and drift away.  

The song is hard to hear, but it’s amplified by the heavily accented, booming baritone of one of the old men, punctuating his conversation each time the chorus comes on. When a verse begins, the men resume their loud conversation in Armenian as if nothing happened. When the song finally ends, they push back their wooden seats, stand up, tell the dark-haired waitress to give them another doogh, a salty yoghurt drink, and sit down again as if they were comfortably seated in their own home.  And in a way, they are: Falafel Arax, a Lebanese Armenian falafel and shawarma sandwich shop located in the heart of Little Armenia, Los Angeles is an essential outpost of the community they belong to.  It is where Armenian families have their prolonged, talkative dinners. It’s a place where mothers bring their children for an after-school snack and also where Armenian American businessmen can escape for an hour during their lunch breaks, loosen their ties, slip into a relaxed conversation in their first language and grumble about their stress. It is one of the last surviving connections to their cultural past, consistent and unchanging in the middle of a rapidly evolving Los Angeles community.


Since the 1970s, there has been a surge of Armenians moving into the East L.A., Hollywood district. Like many other ethnic communities such as the neighboring Thai Town, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, and Historic Filipino Towns, Armenians thrive where they feel accepted without the fear of racism or economic exclusion.  Little Armenia is the re-creation of an Armenia that once was and a preservation of a traditional lifestyle in a modern American setting. 

Despite denial by Turkish authorities, experts and scholars confirm that because Armenians were a group that had been consistently oppressed since the genocide that took place at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1915, they have a long history of mass migration out of their tiny landlocked territory they inhabit in Eastern Europe, into hundreds of surrounding countries. The result is a fragmented identity unified by their Armenian roots and flavored with spices of different cultures.  Even as a young Armenian boy growing up near L.A., I never knew how to explain my family history to the overly curious schoolchildren on the playground.  “What are you?” they would ask aggressively. “I’m half Armenian and half Turkish,” I would proudly and incorrectly say to them. It sounded right to me, growing up in a house where my parents spoke Turkish with each other, switching into Armenian when communicating with my sister, cousins and me (forever referred to as the kids, even as our generation gets older), and where we, the kids, spoke English amongs ourselves. It wasn’t until one day when one of my uncles told me that I was only Armenian and scolded me for ever thinking myself Turkish, that I became conscious of what it meant to be an Armenian raised by immigrant parents in America.

Los Angeles is considered to be home to the first and largest Armenian diasporic community — one that is in the midst of developing a new identity while trying to hold on to the old language, customs, and habits, that even at times seem foreign to younger generations of Armenians. A spot where Armenian men can buy cigarettes, get their tires changed, drink bottle after bottle of anise-flavored hard alcohol—Raki—and order a falafel sandwich, singing along to their favorite American tunes, but later blast traditional Armenian music in their cars. Monica Plaza, two blocks n orth of the boundary marking Little Armenia, is no exception.

Falafel Arax, located on the L-shaped plot of land called Monica Plaza, sits directly on top of an old gas station that was converted into a row of tiny shops in 1982 by the savvy businessman Ardashes Ohanessian. A recent Armenian immigrant from Beirut, Lebanon, Ardashes hand-selected the plot to house his new Falafel shop, modeled after his brother-in-law’s sandwich shop in Beirut, named—creatively—Falafel Arax as well. Ardashes, or Ardo, as he prefers to be called, along with his wife Sosi, his daughter Natalie and his son Tony, make up four of the 166,498 Armenians that came to Los Angeles during the New Migration in 1982 to be a part of the Armenian-American community and add to its vibrant and growing culture by bringing the falafel to Little Armenia.
I chose this shop right off the map!” Ardo says, as he opens the morning shipment of fresh pita bread from a nearby Armenian bakery that he refuses to name.  “It’s right in the middle of everything—Little Armenia, Pasadena, Glendale, Malibu, The Valley, Orange County—all of it!”  If you actually pull out a map and mark the location of Falafel Arax, in Little Armenia, you can see that Ardo was right. Each major city in Southern California is nearly equidistant from the point of Falafel Arax. 

Now, Falafel Arax can be found directly underneath a mysterious office building adorned with a large sign that says “IMMIGRATION” in all capitals, and on the left of a much smaller Thai food restaurant. As you walk in, the first thing your eyes are drawn to are two flags—the Lebanese flag and the Armenian flag—taped to the back of the cash register directly in front of the door. To the left, just above the white wooden counter perched on a lone music speaker sits an oversized statue of two symbols of freedom—Armenian and American—fused together. A fierce American bald eagle with wings in the shape of the two peaks of Mount Ararat, a symbol of Armenia’s national identity, stands over both the Armenian and U.S. flags.

On the other end of the restaurant, Tony, a second- generation Armenian and the son of Ardo and Sosi Ohanessian, slices chunks of meat off of a rotating cylinder of beef while joking with the customers. Tony’s father, Ardo, with his pure white, slicked-back hair and curling silver mustache has a flair that allows him to relate to the older men and women who frequent his shop, speaking in Armenian or Arabic. Tony, the younger, hairless version of his father, is the connection to the constantly expanding younger generation, fluent in both English and Armenian. According to the most recent census, the median age of residents in Little Armenia is 35.4, with the bulk of its residents being between the ages of 20-24. Associating with the youth is a key factor in the success of any business, especially one like Falafel Arax.

When Tony is running the shop during the day, the 20” LCD TV that balances on top of tubs of Tahini sauce behind the counter is turned to the latest sports game or news station, drawing the customers in as they eat their Mediterranean delights. Although Tony has been living in the U.S. since he was eight-years-old, and he’s now forty-four, when I told him I was Armenian, his smile widened and he became more relaxed. With that simple revelation, the interview became a conversation. Little Armenia is changing, but the Ohanessian family continues to make their sandwiches and maintain relationships within the Armenian community.

Tony runs the shop after his father Ardo goes home every morning, but Ardo is the shawarma and falafel master, in control of all his senses. He can season by taste, cook by smell, and control the level of heat by sound. He is aware of everything happening around him as he rips off the plastic encasing the fresh, warm pita and slices each open using a fourteen-inch stainless steel blade in his right hand with one clean motion. The vanilla-white countertop dividing the kitchen from the seating area is just tall enough to block the view of his preparations for people of average height .  As I rise on my toes and lean forward to get a better view of his actions, his fingers move more quickly as he flashes his eyes in my direction every few seconds with an air of mystery. He guards his secrets closely. 


The Armenian people have been a migrant population ever since the late fourth century, yet it was during the Armenian Genocide in 1915, when the Ottoman Turks killed nearly 1.5 million out of 2 million Armenians, when the largest movement occurred. The survivors scattered throughout the world, primarily to the Middle East and the United States. Historians believe that approximately 240,000 of the Armenians who survived the genocide were forced into slavery and converted into Islam by Turkish invaders, disappearing into different parts of the world, while the other half created thriving communities in the Middle East, with the largest in Lebanon. Ardo was one of the Armenians who grew up in Beirut, tracing his roots to the genocide.

While the Armenian Genocide of 1915 is thought by historians to be the main catalyst for Armenian migration to the United States, California, and more specifically Los Angeles, had already been a powerfully seductive symbol of freedom for Armenians, beginning in the late 1800s. The first recorded Armenian to set foot in California in 1876, Mardiros Yanikian, came to Fresno expecting a paradise, but decided he had entered a city more closely resembling H ell and soon moved to Philadelphia, where he founded an Armenian community that exists to this day.

Fourteen years later, in 1890, three brothers from the Tashjian family left a village in Armenia and came to the San Bernardino Valley, where they relied on their stone-cutting knowledge to cut and sell tombstones. News of their success in this strange place spread to Armenia and to Armenians on the East Coast of the U.S, inspiring an rug merchant named John Pashigian to come to Los Angeles and open a new business in 1901. The Armenian population of Los Angeles continued to grow steadily as more and more men left the old country in search of opportunities for their families. Between the 1930s and the 1950s, due to the Great Depression, there was a mass movement of Armenians out of the valleys and farmlands of the U.S. and into more industrialized city centers, mainly Los Angeles and modern-day Little Armenia. 

The movement of Armenians to the U.S. during this time is referred to as the Old Migration, and those that came after 1976, around the time of the Lebanese Civil War, are often referred to as part of the New Migration. Census records and estimates indicate that the current number of Armenians in the world is approximately 11 million, with only 3.3 million living in Armenia. The Armenian diaspora, which includes all Armenians living outside of Armenia, more than doubles the number of Armenians in Armenia to about 7 million. Of those 7 million, nearly 500,000 live in the United States, and Los Angeles has the highest population of Armenian immigrants, numbering 166,498, or 40%.


Just as Armenians have been consistently moving all over the world, creating new communities and merging their cultures, the falafel, now found in diners and cafes, in markets, at food trucks, in souks and casbahs and strip malls worldwide, has also been in constant motion, becoming a key part of many different cultures and a ubiquitous point of contention and curiosity.
As recently as 2006, Iraqi radical Islamists launched an unsuccessful campaign to ban the sale of falafel throughout Iraq for the reason that it was not available during the life of Prophet Muhammad. 

Then in 2011, researchers in Jordan, a neighbor of Iraq, conducted a study that fed an unnatural amount of falafel to lab rats to record the short-term and long-term effects consumption had on the liver. While eating only falafel for every meal, every single day of one’s life may lead to some yellowing of the liver as well as food boredom, after thousands of dollars and months of observations, the study found that in moderation and paired with other food and beverages, the falafel is considered safe, just like all other food products.

It has even spread to the United States, infiltrating the minds of all ages through popular culture.
"Alright. Hey. Alright. Good job, guys. Let's just not come in tomorrow. Let's just take a day. Have you ever tried shawarma? There's a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don't know what it is, but I wanna try it."

If you're a Marvel buff and you normally stay after the credits for a chance to see a glimpse of an upcoming sequel (I am not this person, usually) then you would have heard Robert Downey Jr.’s, (a.k.a Iron Man in the film, The Avengers) suggestion become a reality.  If you chose to stay, you would have seen all six members of the Avengers, worn out after saving the entire world, sitting in a Mediterranean sandwich joint, similar to Falafel Arax, eating shawarma sandwiches.  A man behind the counter is wiping the spit, where the rotating chunk of beef hangs during the day, and an old lady is sweeping away the messy remnants of a long work day while the six Avengers reflect in focused, savory silence for 33 seconds, just munching and staring off into space.  After one last crunchy sound bite , the scene ends and the final credits roll.

Apparently this scene has led to a surge of up to 80% in shawarma sales throughout the United States, mainly in the Hollywood, L.A. and New York . People want to be doing and eating what’s cool, so if someone who they think is cool is eating beef shawarma, then they want to eat beef shawarma.  Now, if you type in "what is shawa..." in the Google search bar, the second suggested search is "what is shawarma in the avengers" (with no question mark of course, because the Google generation has no need for meaningless punctuation when time is of the essence). 

Only five months after the release of The Avengers, in September 2012, both shawarma and the falafel made global news, after the satirical online news source, The Daily Currant, published a fake interview with Michelle Bachmann.  In the interview, “Bachmann” was quoted as saying, “…Falafel is a gateway food.  It starts with falafel, then the kids move on to shawarma.  After a while they say ‘hey this tastes good, I wonder what else comes from Arabia?’…We need to stop these terror cakes now, before they infiltrate any further.” In less than six months, the faux- Bachmann interview was shared on Facebook 270,000 times, and tweeted nearly 5,000.

With its crispy outside and warm, f luffy inside, this fried ground chickpea concoction along with beef shawarma has been the source of political drama and conflict between Palestinians, Israelis, Lebanese, Armenians, Turkish, Greeks and many other Mediterranean cultures, each claiming it as their own national food.

Despite growing up eating shawarma, as it’s known in Armenia and Lebanon, also known as çevirme or döner in Turkey, or gyro in Greece, guss in Iraq, and tacos al pastor in Mexicothe list can go on and on with almost every country having their own name for the similar hunk of lamb or beef or chicken that roasts while slowly rotating on a large spit—my cousins and I could never agree on the name of what we were eating. We just ate it. Walking along the streets of Turkey, we followed the trail of roasting, seasoned meat until our noses led us to lines of people marveling over the master shawarma cutter, slicing away with his two long knives. The cooking style is basically the one unifying global aspect of the shawarma, because the seasoning, type of meat and presentation changes by region. 

“The Greeks use frozen meat they defrost as they cook,” Ardo tells me. “Our meat fresh—delivered every day!  Turkey tries claim this as their own,” Ardo says loudly in his broken English as he swings his long knife through the air and points it at the shawarma in the corner of the shop. Ardo doesn’t smile much, but there is a hidden geniality in his strident voice.

Which country is the originator of shawarma (if you can even decide to call it that) you ask? First, you shouldn't ask this question if you are in a crowded place mixed with Middle Easterners and Eastern Europeans. Second, as an Armenian whose family grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, I feel obliged to say either Armenia or Turkey. If that doesn't satisfy you, then you can feel free to turn to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary that officially added the word shawarma to its database in June of 2009.  The exact definition now reads “SHAWARMA:  A sandwich especially of sliced lamb or chicken, vegetables, and often Tahini wrapped in pita bread.” If you go a little ways down you'll see the important part:  Origin of SHAWARMA: Levantine Arabic sh?wurma sliced lamb on a skewer, from Turkish çevirme, literally, turn, rotation, from çevir- turn.”  How much more literal can one dish get?

Even though Ardo and his son Tony proudly proclaim that the falafel is a Lebanese/Armenian cultural fusion—a process that has been passed down and perfected in their family for decades—they acknowledge the popular idea that the origins of the fried chickpea balls can be traced back to the Copts in Egypt as early as the 4th c entury A.D. Where it comes from has nothing to do with what it has become, I’m told. “We’ve been here a long time,” Ardo says in Armenian. His hands tightly grip the counter top, as he closes his eyes and bows his head.  “If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t have stayed.”

Outside, the falafel duels continue, but when you enter Falafel Arax, and you look past the three red wooden tables, past the posters advertising the “Armenian Spring Dinner Dance, featuring Armenian Popstars” and rise on your toes to see Ardo piling fresh vegetables onto a warm pita sliced open and stuffed with crispy and steaming falafel balls, you know that the customers here in Little Armenia don’t have politics on their mind. Falafel is their birthright. 


Every morning at 7:00am, Ardo comes to his shop and unpacks boxes of fresh special meat delivered daily from an unnamed, secret location.  “It is special meat, from somewhere.  I don’t say to you,” he tells me in his heavily accented English.  He then slices, dices, and cuts away all of the excess fat from the beef chunks, and uses an even more secret family seasoning to bring out the flavor while it roasts on the metallic tower. No part of the meat is wasted. Ardo stacks the thinly sliced meat on a 20-inch metal spit, and piles nearly five inches of the separated gelatinous white fat directly on top of the meat. As the spit continues to turn all day, the fat slowly melts and consistently drizzles down, keeping the meat moist and juicy with it s own natural flavors. Adding his own flair, Ardo then tops the spit off with a round, red tomato. By 10 AM , after the stainless- steel spit has been rotating for a few hours, the entire shop is filled with an aromatic cloud scented by the cardamom, roasting meat, and the garlic sauce that is handmade in the back kitchen by Ardo’s wife Sosi. Ardo walks through the kitchen, unlocks the front door and smiles. The first customers start trickling in.

Using a long, thin knife resembling a machete, Ardo skillfully slices the overly blackened skin of the meat with the speed and agility of a fencer, quickly spinning and stopping the spit with a metal spatula. As he’s prepping the beef, a woman enters the falafel shop that is now bathed in the morning sunlight streaming in through the glass-paneled front windows. She is dressed in a psychedelic eggplant blouse paired with dark green pants and black Chanel shoes that match her Chanel purse tucked tightly under her arm. She is unmistakably Armenian. She turns my way, tilts her head back and throws me a fake smile as she orders three beef shawarma and one falafel sandwich in Armenian.

The two large mirrors strategically placed at either end of the falafel shop do more than create the illusion that the little sandwich joint is larger than it actually is, as the woman fixes her henna-dyed red hair in her reflection. “I trust you,” she says to Ardo in Armenian, “Make the sandwich the way you want—you know best.” Ardo chooses the juiciest and best-cooked parts of the beef to make the sandwich, opening the French roll, spreading a generous amount of sesame Tahini sauce on the fluffy dough, and toasting the finished product in an antique griddler. He picks up the pressed sandwich with his bare hands, slips it into a brown paper bag and hands it to her. She pays with her crisp $100 bill and quickly trots out of the shop. Almost immediately, a homeless woman enters and asks for change for $1.00. Ardo gladly opens the cash register and hands her four quarters and takes her crumpled dollar, while keeping his eyes on the frying falafel balls and turning shawarma. Falafel Arax serves a different purpose for everyone in Little Armenia.


If you aren’t paying close attention to the exits while driving down the US- 101 Hollywood F reeway, then you will probably miss the small green sign that reads “Little Armenia Next Exit.” Once you exit, there are a few others indicating the designated area marking off the ethnic neighborhood of Little Armenia. The legal designation of the small Armenian square in L.A. was spearheaded by the Armenian National Committee of Hollywood and proposed to the Los Angeles City Council by Councilwoman and representative of East Hollywood, Jackie Goldberg, in the year 2000 after she was approached by the ANC and convinced of the large role of the Armenian immigrant population. While many Armenians were in favor of getting their name on the map, a few, like Tony from Falafel Arax, were indifferent to the idea. Armenians have always been a large part of the community in East L.A. and after they put up the sign marking Little Armenia, there seems to be less Armenians here now than before, he tells me as he trims the dripping savory fat from the slowly revolving tower of beef shawarma.

When Ardo and his family first came to Hollywood, he didn’t know a single word in English. Armenian was the only language he needed in order to start his business, sell his products, and keep his family comfortable, but things are different now. Every year Little Armenia experiences a steady shift in demographics, as Armenians move further into Los Angeles and Glendale, and other minority groups move into Little Armenia. Currently, the largest racial group represented in Little Armenia is Latinos. According to data compiled from the 2000 Census, Latinos make up nearly 59.1% of the total population of Little Armenia. The neighboring and even overlapping community of Thai Town has 80,000 Thais living in and around Little Armenia as well, impacting the demographics. In order to keep up with the changes, Ardo and his son Tony have had to become masters of languages. “The only language I don’t speak now is Japanese,” Ardo jokingly says to me.“Tony speaks the Spanish.”

Thai Town, Los Angeles was designated by the Los Angeles City Council in 1999, which both inspired and infuriated the Armenian community, who felt as though they deserved to be recognized first due to their earlier presence in Hollywood. If someone with no prior knowledge of Los Angeles were to walk down Sunset Boulevard, they would find themselves entangled in an ethnic jumble. Thai restaurants, Armenian restaurants, Thai hair salons, Armenian hair salons, Thai bakeries, Armenian bakeries, Thai grocery stores, Armenian grocery stores—all interspersed—because even the official boundary lines of both Thai Town and Little Armenia overlap. The circular Santa Monica Plaza that houses Falafel Arax is also home to “Thai Food Spicy and BBQ,” and a building advertising “Thai Therapy.” Even though the parking spaces are distributed equally amongs each store in the plaza, most customers who enter the 15-car lot park specifically to grab a quick bite at Falafel Arax. 


As I walk down Santa Monica Boulevard and turn into the small plaza that houses Falafel Arax, I mentally keep count of each Armenian that I pass, easily identifiable by their accents, their attire, their scent, or even their facial features—dark eyes, long noses, dyed hair. I dodge a Mercedes that speeds past me leaving a ghostly trace of a crooning Armenian love song and slip by an Armenian teenager dressed in a red and green jumpsuit, loitering in front of the falafel shop, I and walk in. As I walk, I can’t help but wonder if they realize that I, too, am Armenian, even though I don’t fit the bill. My normal-sized nose, my American accent, brown-rimmed glasses, and burgundy plugs jutting out of my ears are all things that would make any traditional Armenian mother cry herself to sleep every night. I enjoy the feeling of inconspicuously navigating through Little Armenia like a spy. During a volleyball tournament that was held in the only Armenian high school in Little Armenia , named The Rose & Alex Pilibos High School, I positioned myself close to the Armenian players on the rival team, and skillfully and secretly translated their plays and strategies from Armenian to English for my teammates. 

In his thesis written in 1923, when he was at the University of Southern California, Aram Yeretzian writes, “As there is ground for precaution and exclusion of corrupting influences from abroad, there is an especially great need to keep the inexperienced youth from abroad from coming into contact with the corrupting elements in Los Angeles, and to surround them with better influences, with a proper social environment, pure amusements and innocent entertainments.” Apparently, this young Armenian in his colorful jumpsuit (number nine in my mental count of Armenians I have seen on my approach to Falafel Arax) is seeking safety and finding his innocent entertainment in beef shawarma sandwiches and fluffy fried falafel balls.

While some young Armenians find solace in falafel, others have united and formed coalitions and organizations with a strong base in Little Armenia, committed to the cause of spreading recognition of the Armenian Genocide. One such organization, the Unified Young Armenians, has a strong presence in Little Armenia and is the sponsor and organizer of the Armenian Genocide commemoration march that takes place every year on April 24. During these marches, thousands of Armenians come out of their houses, take time off of their jobs, and swarm the streets, carrying Armenian flags, Lebanese flags, Persian flags, American flags, Mexican flags, and handmade banners highlighting quotes and statistics. Although there is a large Armenian population in Turkey, this is the one day Armenians with strong roots in Turkey (including myself) who are also known as bolsahye, don’t advertise their past. “SHAME ON TURKEY!” “1915 NEVER AGAIN!” “TURKEY IS GUILTY OF GENOCIDE!”

Bodies trudge down the blocked-off streets, as voices scream and chant passionate slogans in unison. Some old men and women walk in silence, reflecting on the atrocities committed, while younger Armenians run up and down the street leading the chants and encouraging the masses to yell louder. In these moments, Little Armenia temporarily overshadows its neighboring Thai Town and attempts to be more visible on the map. While Tony and his family are in support of the marches that occur down their street, they never stop popping the chickpea- based falafel into the fryer or pickling more turnips. The perfectly monitored slab of beef never stops spinning.


Wednesday at 5 o’clock, three hours before closing, all the seats at Falafel Arax are taken. At one table, squeezed tightly next to a napkin dispenser and a bottle of Sriracha, sit two old Armenian women and a man, quietly eating their meal and speaking in hushed tones. At the far end, a man in a black suit with dark sunglasses paces the floor, relaying news of the recent murder a couple of streets down. “Another one bites the dust,” he says, shaking his head as he watches the shawarma rotate. “Meghke,” “What a shame,” Tony says in agreement while slicing tomatoes with one eye on the crisping beef. As the balls of ground chickpeas sizzle, a man saunters up to the register and asks for sarma—stuffed grape leaves, homemade by Sosi everyday. The old man, Sako, hungrily stares at the four wet, dark-green wrapped grape leaves.  “Heema beedi udem,” he says. There aren’t any free tables, but he says he is going to eat them right now. Taking his food, Sako walks outside to the parking lot, places his drink and plate on the roof of his 1980 faded blue Mercedes and sets a table for himself. He has his emergency napkins close at hand, ready to wipe off the olive oil that drips down the sarma, and a green glass bottle of Gazoz, a tarragon-flavored soda imported straight from Armenia, open and available ready to wash down each bite. Sako doesn’t mind the cool breeze in the open air that gently ruffles his loose black pants, and half-buttoned dress shirt open to reveal his dark patch of chest hair, like Velcro waiting to fasten onto something. With his dark green vest layered atop a light blue Member’s Only jacket that cradles his well-fed belly, Sako is in his comfort zone and no one can bother him.

When the sun begins to set, the amount of light drops below a pre-set threshold, causing over 210,000 streetlights in the city of Los Angeles to slowly flicker on. In Little Armenia, the streets are never dark.  An eerie orange glow emanating from the streetlamps positioned all over the parking lot of Monica Plaza illuminate the now empty falafel shop. The counters are wiped down; the beef shawarma is no longer rotating on the spit, and the once-sizzling sound of falafel balls is replaced by the gentle hum of refrigerator motors. Outside, two Armenian men share a cigarette under the brilliant fluorescent light of the FALAFEL ARAX sign, laughing away their stress from the day.  Hours have passed since Tony pulled the metal gates shut, double bolted the door, and unplugged the bright pink “OPEN” sign, yet Falafel Arax is far from being empty.k letter