If you've never had excellent Turkish delight, deceptively simple bits of chewy, gelée-like candy often flavored with bergamot or rosewater, sometimes shot through with pistachios, you haven't been spending enough time in Middle Eastern shops or reading C.S. Lewis. Or hanging out with Armand Sahakian, the Lebanon-born and Pasadena-raised candymaker who operates a 3-person business out of a tiny shop in Canoga Park.
Behind the storefront, hung with blinds and looking deceptively like a laundromat, a huge sign that says "Nory Locum" -- as if you'd magically know what that was -- and a far smaller sign suggesting that you might ring the doorbell if you want admittance, you'll find Sahakian's cluttered office and stacked boxes of candy like you've stumbled into a confectioner's secret warehouse, which in a sense you have.
Go further back, and you'll find the kitchen, the two huge copper pots -- one that dates back 30 years to when the previous owners moved from Hollywood to the current location -- and the enormous bags of sugar and nuts and starch, the trays of candy, and most likely Sahakian himself, probably pouring his latest batch of Turkish delight, perhaps flavored with bergamot, maybe pomegranate, maybe rose, maybe loaded with pistachios or almonds.
It's a tiny operation, Sahakian figures maybe 1,000 square feet total, and with all of three people to run the business, two of whom are part-time. Sahakian is the only one who makes the candy, from a recipe he learned from Dickran and Arman Jibilian, the couple from whom he bought the company in June of 2009. Trained first in the family shoe business and later as a chef -- he graduated from culinary school in Orange County -- Sahakian worked at the Hyatt and the Sofitel and then for five years as director of catering and restaurants at the Santa Anita racetrack before quitting to work for himself.
"I was looking for a business so I could spend more time with my kids," said Sahakian, who has two small daughters whom he plans to "send to college with candy." If the 530 pounds of Turkish delight that Sahakian makes every day are any indication, his daughters can probably plan on grad school.
The candy factory is small and efficient and friendly, or at least Sahakian is. It also looks a lot like what we imagine a cocaine processing facility looks like. There are wooden trays filled with white powder stacked neatly in one corner, equipment next to more trays and bags of white powder, and a machine -- for cutting the candy -- with even more trays of white powder. It's powdered sugar, mostly, although some of the trays contain starch. Imagine if Charlie Bucket had grown up to be a DEA agent.
As for the name, Sahakian says that locum or lokum is "what we call it in Armenian," and it means, literally, "contentment of the throat." Turkish delight, however, is the more common name for the candy, which originated in Turkey ("Asia Minor at the time") about 500 years ago when, supposedly, "a sultan got sick and tired of hard candy."
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Sahakian says that he just saw the ad for a business for sale, not realizing the connections to his own heritage: he later found out that the previous owner's "nephew's sister is married to my cousin." The candy is something he grew up with too. Sahakian said that they'd eat the stuff "instead of Snickers," fashioning a kind of S'more by pressing a piece of Turkish delight in between a pair of round sweet biscuits. Try that the next time you're around the backyard bbq with your kids. With or without your tattered copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or maybe your complete works of Claudia Roden.