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    Headshot of AGBU WE participant Arev Baldryan
    AGBU WE participant Arev Baldryan

The Sweet Taste of Success

Arev Baldryan

Reflecting on her life, Baldryan is certain that overcoming each obstacle that came her way has made her the person she is today—a strong woman who stands on her own two feet, confident that her innate power is key to self-realization.

Written for AGBU Impact Magazine 2022 by Lusine Minasyan. Photos by Ruben Otyan.

When she heard her name announced as the winner of an AGBU mini grant to help expand her small business, Arev Baldryan remembers feeling overwhelmed by a rush of emotions.

“A couple of days before, I received the good news that I had won a second chance at life and was now cancer free. Now, I earned the financial support to help grow my business, winning a pitch-battle among my peers. In less than a week, my life had turned around. I felt doubly blessed,” Baldryan recalls.

Reflecting on her life, Baldryan is certain that overcoming each obstacle that came her way has made her the person she is today—a strong woman who stands on her own two feet, confident that her innate power is key to self-realization.

Giving Up a Childhood Dream

Growing up in a family that placed much importance on art and culture, Baldryan enjoyed dancing, singing, and playing the piano during her early years. Even so, none of these pursuits could compete with her dream of a career that would fulfill her passion to serve others. She yearned to pursue the field of medicine.

“While other kids of my age would play with dolls and toys, my fantasy games revolved around inventing life-saving medicines for incurable diseases. My passion for medicine deepened as I saw how a close relative of mine became a prisoner of chronic pain and suffering. I was convinced that a medical career was a noble and worthy profession,” she explained.

Yet, when her time came to apply to medical school, Armenia was in the throes of, what many refer to as the “dark and cold” years. Post-independence shifts in the socio-economic arena affected many families and Baldryan’s was no exception. Not even informing them about her inclination for medicine, her choice fell on the Academy of Agriculture’s department of Hydrotechnical Engineering, simply because no additional tutoring was required for her to qualify.

Optimistic by nature, Baldryan committed herself to this path and gradually developed a genuine interest in engineering. Soon after graduation, she found her first job at the National Service of Seismic Protection (currently a unit under the RA Ministry of Emergency Situations), where she worked as a hydrotechnical engineer, as well as chair of the library and archive. Then for a short interval, she worked for a construction company and later for a publishing house, creating strong ties with specialists in multiple fields.

A Business Built on a Sense Memory 

After 16 years of work experience but no real prospects for financial or professional advancement, Baldryan reached a point where she wanted to be her own boss and apply her business and workplace skills to an enterprise of her own. The challenge was finding something that would not involve investing large sums of capital and human resources. She was brimming with ideas, yet, whenever she shared any of them with her friend, a business consultant, he didn’t hesitate to judge it as frivolous or simply not feasible. But Baldryan didn’t give up.

For Baldryan, if there is one thing on earth that tastes and smells like childhood, that’s halva, an Armenian traditional sweet made of sugar, wheat flour, and butter. The memory of its taste transports her right back to her childhood when her grandmother would often gather all the grandchildren around her to sweeten their day with this three-ingredient magic dessert. While Baldryan was playing in the garden, the waft of the sweet aromatic mixture roasting in the pan would lure her back to the kitchen, where she would closely observe exactly how the halva recipe was prepared.

Not long after her grandmother passed away, Baldryan woke up from a dream, longing to have a taste of her granny’s halva again. She felt something stirring in her heart—a feeling of excitement—when she realized that she had sampled many halvas over the years, but none came even close to her grandmother’s. “Prepare it yourself,” advised Baldryan’s mom when Baldryan shared her thoughts with her. At the time, little did Baldryan know that this single suggestion would lay the first stone of her business as a purveyor of halva at its best.

When standing in the kitchen with all the ingredients laid out before her, she realized that her observant child’s eye had captured all the nuances of the family recipe and she could precisely replicate the taste from her sense memory.

Shortly thereafter, her business consultant friend, who happened to visit her that day, gave the concept a yes, suggesting Baldryan commit to halva production. As it had never crossed her mind before, she was skeptical first, then decided to give it a try.

Spending sleepless nights in the kitchen and doing hundreds of experiments, she finally achieved the desired balance of texture, taste, and quality.

During her very first exhibition at the American Embassy in Yerevan, Baldryan found further affirmation that the product concept was superior. An American approached her booth and asked to sample some halva. “After the first bite, he closed his eyes and, ignorant of the brand name of the product, said, As if I have the sun in my mouth.’”

Baldryan proudly explained to him that the name of the brand Arev meant “the sun” in Armenian. It was her very first foray in real-world consumer testing.

AGBU WE participant Arev Baldryan

AGBU WE participant Arev Baldryan
For Baldryan, if there is one thing on earth that tastes and smells like childhood, that’s halva, an Armenian traditional sweet made of sugar, wheat flour, and butter.

Expanding Despite Setbacks

Not even two years had passed since the launch of her business, when Baldryan found herself in the fight of her life. She was diagnosed with cancer. Though it was highly recommended that she take time out from work and adopt a more restful lifestyle, she refused to slow the business down. Instead, she kept making timely deliveries and keeping the product quality up to its high standards. The way Baldrayn saw it, “My customers shouldn’t know what’s happening behind the  box of halva they buy. They want to enjoy it, they will enjoy it.”

With her positive attitude, she was the one lifting her parents’ spirits, reassuring them that she would sooner or later find her way out of this life-threatening situation.

Soon, instead of easing the workload, she took steps to expand the business through the AGBU Women Entrepreneurs (WE) program, which offered her a three-month training course, consultation with experts, and an opportunity to compete for financial assistance with a mini grant.

Her health condition, the tough workload, and information-intensive training were tiring but bearable for her. Then came the added pressure when Baldryan’s parents both tested covid positive and were in urgent need of serious treatment. Feeling overpowered by these multiple burdens, Baldryan was tempted to quit the training right in the middle of the cycle.

“It was the WE staff that encouraged me not to give up. And because of their moral support and belief in me, I somehow found the strength to persevere. My efforts, hard work, and belief in my dream eventually paid off,” Baldryan gladly reports.

Her road to recovery came to an end right before the AGBU WE pitch-battle. Her latest test results showed no presence of cancer. A new lease on life was the greatest prize she could ask for, but on the much-awaited day of the pitch-battle, she was selected as a jury favorite for her courage and hard work.

With a trace of regret behind her soft smile, Baldryan muses: “I didn’t pursue a career in medicine, didn’t become a doctor, but many say that I am a healer by nature. I believe that, working with my doctors, my positive attitude throughout my battle with cancer helped me heal myself. That’s enough for me.”

She sees the impact of the WE Pro-gram on her business as transformational. Receiving entrepreneurial knowledge and skills, as well as financial assistance, she could purchase essential equipment for her operations to ensure long-term quality production. Most importantly, the program still helps her expand her horizons through discussions and lectures, locally and internationally online, as well as assists her in finding exhibitions where she can present her product.

“I have gained indispensable knowledge which I apply to my business daily. Plus,” she says smiling, “I learned that there is justice in this world because the WE Program is based on merit and free from corrupt practices. I was skeptical of the objectivity of its selection process when applying. Now all my doubts have been erased.”

Currently, she sells her “Arev” halva in Yerevan, Gyumri, and Charentsavan. In the short-term, she plans to open a cafe, where she can simultaneously sell and serve her product. Long-term, she hopes to export her products and compete in global markets.

“Nowadays, very few families serve home-made halva during special events, since it is time-consuming to prepare. Even fewer know that it was once the inseparable part of the Armenian traditional fare, and many tales revolved around it,” she says.

These days, Baldryan studies ethnography to reveal the forgotten customs and present them anew to the younger generation. “I want to revive all these traditions in Armenia and across the Diaspora through my production, encouraging a resurgence of halva on tables for any special occasion or a sweet treat for children just like I experienced,” she adds.

Eager to evoke the authenticity of bygone times, Baldryan uses only pure, natural ingredients and cane sugar and offers thematically shaped halvas in uniquely branded boxes for holidays like New Year or Easter. She also accepts individual orders and meets customers’ needs using all her creative talents.

Today, Arev Baldryan represents the quintessential optimist, finding silver linings in disappointments and always making the best of opportunities that come her way. She brings the strong work ethic, acquired experience and wisdom to face any business and personal challenge with confidence—the hallmarks of a true entrepreneur and an empowered Armenian woman.

This article was featured in the 2022 release of AGBU Impact Magazine. For more information on the AGBU Women Entrepreneurs, click here.

Leur générosité donnent vie à notre action

Leur générosité donnent vie à notre action

Հոկտեմբեր 13, 2022