Aline Kamakian’s father had a dream to show the world Armenian cuisine. He passed when she was 17, but his vision lived on.
“His dream became my mission,” Kamakian said.
Mayrig opened in Beirut in 2003, and has since expanded to locations in the capital of Armenia and Saudi Arabia.
“It’s a very warm, Ottoman style, old house restaurant,” she said. “You feel as if you are going into your grandma’s house.”
With a background as a financial insurer, Kamakian had to learn as she went. In ode to the restaurant name, which Kamakian says means “mother,” she has learned everything from her own mother. What’s more, the kitchen has all mothers cooking.
In the heart of Lebanon, Mayrig has been through it all: the war of 2006, the war of 2008 and, most recently, coronavirus. But then the explosion happened. Everything was gone in 3 seconds.
“What we have is the floor and some of the walls. The rest? Nothing,” Kamakian said. “Mayrig needs a lot… All the kitchen equipment is blown.”
With no government assistance, support only comes from the community. It was difficult for Kamakian to accept help. She thought of her 85 employees, 20 who needed medical help and 30 who no longer had a home. Her nephew gave her some perspective.
“If you want to help them, you have to help yourself first,” he said.
Since then, Kamakian’s nephew had friends in the United States who launched a GoFundMe. In one week, the fundraiser raised over $50,000. With a $200,000 goal, the money will not only help rebuild Mayrig, but it will also aid the employees who lost their homes and need to pay for medical bills.
The Mayrig GoFundMe is one of many international forms of support since the Beirut explosion on August 4. Outlets like Bustle, The Cut and The New York Times have compiled ways to help out. In Los Angeles, Our Lady of Mt. Lebanon church is donating $50,000 to Caritas Lebanon and the Lebanese Red Cross.
Kamakian hopes to reopen in a few months, but in the meantime, is helping out through a collaboration with World Central Kitchen by cooking and distributing food. She pointed out the hundreds of thousands of people made homeless by the explosion, noting many are living in tents.
Aline is a restaurant owner in Beirut who has joined WCK relief efforts. Her restaurant Mayrig is next to the port where the explosion occurred. Aline was watching the fire when the blast happened. It knocked her down, she has lost use of her right ear and has several broken ribs pic.twitter.com/ImzJ8GhXeA
— World Central Kitchen (@WCKitchen) August 11, 2020
Reflecting on the day of the explosion, Kamakian said it was like a Hollywood movie: everything was gone. The two nearby hospitals were destroyed. No one could get to or from the restaurant because the roads were clogged with debris.
“You look around and you don’t know what to do,” she said.
The wounded helped the wounded more than anyone else, Kamakian explained. Unfortunately, there were also some people who took advantage of the situation and stole what they could find. Above all, Kamakian was most frustrated with the government.
Hitting the boiling point
“How can such ignorant, corrupt people put this in the center,” she said, referring to the storage of over 2,700 tons of a highly explosive chemical in a Port of Beirut warehouse. “It’s not a small town in the corner of the country. It’s the heart of the country.”
Lebanon has already been reeling from an extreme economic crisis. In the aftermath of the explosion, CNN reported the entire government of the country has stepped down, including Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
Swift action by the community led to clean roads nearby. Kamakian commended the way everyone came together.
“I just want people to know how much it’s difficult to come up without their help,” she said. “[It] gives you hope that you are not alone. It’s not something we can overcome alone.”