Stepan Panosian

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Excerpt from 11/1/2005 issue of AGBU Magazine article:
FROM THERE TO HERE: COMING “HOME” TO YEREVAN
by Suren Musayelyan

“A common effort . . .”

They are both young and energetic, with a background in business administration, who came to their historical homeland to work and live.

Stepan Panosian, 29, and Sam Samuelian, 28, are from Lebanon. But Stepan was raised and lived for 24 years in Cyprus. They met as students abroad and it seemed right that when both decided to repatriate they should set up a partnership in Armenia.

Sam moved here in 2001, continuing his studies for a MBA at the American University of Armenia. Stepan came here later, in February 2003.

“Man is like a tree. It will grow where you plant it and the sooner you uproot this tree and plant it in a new place, the better it will grow,” says Stepan, who met a Hayastantsi girl and got married in Armenia.

“I felt that Lebanon was not my home,” adds Sam. “Once I visited Armenia I felt what it is to be an Armenian in the Armenian land.”

A year ago they opened their business venture together, Square One, a stylish restaurant that has become hugely popular with Yerevan’s young adults.

About 300-400 customers visit Square One every day attracted by its American and European menu, high-quality customer service, music and atmosphere.

Each customer spends about $4.50, say the restaurateurs, adding that hygiene and hospitality is their policy at all times.

Sam and Stepan admit that running a business in Armenia might be difficult at first, as one has to learn new written and unwritten laws, but after some time it gets easier.

“Bureaucracy is time consuming and makes your work less effective,” says Stepan. “Besides, people with Soviet-style education are mostly unprepared as a labor force, while representatives of the younger generation seem to be more ready to learn new things and change.”

Square One’s co-owners say they attracted Lebanese capital to set up their business in Armenia.

“We decided to start with a restaurant, which was a convenient choice of business for us. Unfortunately, our potential investors in Lebanon were at first afraid of investing in an Armenia-based business as the country had a bad name,” says Sam. “But as we proved that ours was a successful business investors started changing their attitude.”

Now, according to Sam, they want to initiate another project connected with semi-prepared-food products in Armenia.

“There is no easy way of making money in the world. One should examine the business environment well before starting a business in Armenia,” says Sam. “Thinking that, well, I am an Armenian and Armenia is my country does not guarantee that this country will accept you with open arms. Business is business and it has its laws.”

Stepan and Sam say that from the outset they didn’t examine well the local food market and didn’t make a correct comparison of local and international food prices and now they have to raise prices in their menu a little to stay competitive in this business.

“Food in Armenia is more expensive than we thought it was,” says Stepan, adding that they are particularly pleased to use partly food of local production.

Now Stepan lives in a one-room apartment together with his wife. He says he enjoys the city life and sees the changes happening around: “The state is doing a lot, but people, too, should feel that Yerevan is their home and try to keep it clean.”

For Stepan dual citizenship is an awaited change in Armenia’s constitution. He says that few Diaspora Armenians would reject their foreign citizenships to become Armenian citizens and that’s why this law is needed for people like himself to become Hayastan citizens.

“I’d like to see myself living and working in Armenia, expanding my business, enlarging my family,” says Stepan.

Sam, who rents an apartment in central Yerevan and will be joined by his girlfriend from Montreal soon, has the same expectations regarding his citizenship. He is also encouraged by the competition among local banks in regards with mortgage plans, hoping that it will soon help him buy a home in Armenia.

“It’s a pity to live abroad, when we have such a great country that simply needs a common effort to be built,” says Sam.