Lyova Hovakimyan: from the shepherd's hut to the Traveler's Hut

Лёва Овакимян

I've been involved in the restaurant business since 2016 — that's when Cafe #2 opened in Dilijan, where I started working. I worked and studied history at the YSU branch in Ijevan, so I am a historian by my first education, and a sports tourism specialist by my second. My father is from Ijevan, and my mother is from Dilijan, in 2004 we moved to live in the village of Hovq, which is located between these two cities. We can say that we have chosen the golden mean.

Initially, my goal was to engage in tourism, and the most important step towards this was to study the history of my country. I started doing tourism in 2020, and since this year I have been known as a private guide in Dilijan. I organized classical tours, and also got a job as an instructor at the VereV Rope Park.

While working in a cafe, I had a dream to have my own cafe. In 2022, I had such an opportunity, I presented a business plan, which was approved by the jury, and I was awarded a grant in order to start my own business. It was a special program organized by the Aurora humanitarian initiative for the residents of Artsakh and Dilijan. Before I won, I was already looking for a location and thinking about what and how I would do it. I set myself a goal — regardless of whether I win or not, to start. I won in 2022, from January to the end of April, through my own efforts and with the help of friends and parents, I tried to organize a cafe space. After several stages, we were able to achieve the final result and on May 9, on Victory Day, the cafe "Traveler’s Hut" was opened.

I came up with the name of the cafe together with my friends. I was going through different options. Having worked in the service sector for 6 years, I knew what needs and wishes tourists have and what they lack. I decided to open a cafe that will be designed for tourists, where they will find everything that they could not find in other places.

This place is unusual: in addition to the cafe, we are also a travel agency. We have not yet started to fully engage in tours, but everything is ahead. Our goal is to develop sustainable tourism in Dilijan and Armenia, thinking about social, economic and environmental issues.

Our cafe has eco-friendly dishes, they are paper. We have a Dili Green Club, within the framework of which we clean the entire territory of Dilijan: plastic, aluminum, paper for recycling. We implement all this selflessly, together with tourists and local residents. In the "Traveler's Hut" we have organized a reception point for recyclable waste, which we send to Yerevan for recycling. You will see the eco-concept in every detail of our cafe. On the table you can see teapots filled with corks, and stools made of cardboard egg trays.

The Traveler's Hut is also a mini-library. With the help of the guests of our cafe, we have already collected more than 50 books. The Traveler's Hut is a place where a tourist can find everything they need. We have hiking equipment, trekking poles, tents, sleeping bags, which we provide for rent. We organize hiking trips, during which guests get acquainted with our nature, and during classic tours — with cultural monuments.

The menu consists of dishes prepared according to all the canons of "proper nutrition". We hold various gastronomic events. For example, a trip to the cuisines of different countries of the world. Once a month we prepare dishes of a certain country in accordance with its peculiarities and tastes. Slavic cuisine is open to our visitors this month.

We have already prepared cuisines from 6 countries: American, French, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Slavic. Next month we will be cooking Thai cuisine. We create a menu of three or four dishes, and for a whole month our guests can taste the cuisine of a certain country. We also prepare vegan versions of the dishes.

There are no problems finding food in Dilijan, we find avocados, arugula, and basil there. We also have a lactose-free menu. We prepare vegetable milk from coconut and almonds ourselves. Our menu includes vegan lattes, cappuccino, macchiato, etc. Moreover, we are already preparing vegan ice cream! And it's not just sorbet (frozen fruits). To get the consistency of ice cream, we mix coconut with banana, and we get classic vanilla ice cream from chickpeas.

We have a Tavush menu so the tourist can get acquainted with the local cuisine. Tavush cuisine is distinguished by special ingredients that are found only in Tavush. For example, in our menu there is a dish "konchol", which is prepared very simply: bread, water, melted butter, herbs, egg. This is a classic option. For vegans, of course, we cook in vegetable oil and without eggs.

We strive to create an atmosphere in which our guests will also get acquainted with Armenian culture and traditions. We have an ancient carpet, there is a khnotsi (a vessel in which cream was whipped until butter was obtained), there are karas (an earthen vessel for storing wine). The sofa you are sitting on is 50 years old, I restored it with my own hands. I brought all this from my family house.

We also had a "sarvori tnak" in the mountains (translated from Armenian as the shepherd's hut), from where khnotsi came to us. These are the huts where we went up for the summer, lived and grazed animals. In the corner you can see a barrel, which I also brought from there, it was used to store cheese. In that hut we had an old stone stove that had not been used for more than 20 years, the stones from which I used to build a stove in our "Traveler's Hut". We cook pizza, croissants and other dishes in it.

I am a historian by education and I strive to preserve history, including in the details of the interior. You may also notice that Armenian ethnic music is played here. One of the goals of the "Traveler's Hut" is to convey the atmosphere of Armenia to the cafe's guests

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