The Philanthropist

41317_1_untitledjpgWhat happens when you import the best of chocolates, the best of gelato, the best of coffee and put it all together in one place like?  You get a glimpse in the inner working of Zareh’s mind. For the past three years this he’s been operating a chocolate shop in La Canada because doesn’t believe there are good chocolates in Los Angeles.  “You have Godiva which is like garbage.” He took the ‘hip’ factor from Starbucks and the ‘fun’ factor from Basking Robbins, added quality ingredients from Europe and combined them into on cutting edge and trendy store offering tasty treats. “Even the gelato we fly from Europe. Nothing is made here. All the chocolates are hand made,” he says with pride.

What makes the chocolates special is that they have no preservatives and very little sugar. The richness of the taste comes from the high cocoa content. “Most of the chocolate that they sell in stores, like See’s and all those [other stores], most of the percent of ingredient which they don’t tell you, is a lot of sugar.”

To prepare for such a fragile product, Zareh built a cellar to keep them at the right temperature and brings in a fresh shipment every 6-8 weeks.

Being a chocolatier is a long ways away from being a “techy” engineer. “It’s nothing to do with [being a] chocolatier,” stresses Zareh, “it’s the drive of business.” He sees himself as an entrepreneur and has invested or is considering investing in a variety of start up businesses, from restaurant, ladies clothing to high tech, amongst many. “It’s just the rush that you get of starting a company, a new idea.”  Basically he looks for the ‘wow’ factor. To him it’s about the principles of the business that apply to any endeavor, from owning a store to running a company. “Overall [it’s] the fundamentals and the creativity that comes from starting a business. And if you do it right of course. You can do it not right and repeat another ‘me too’ [product]. There’s hundreds of them. Those are different. That doesn’t excite me.”

His biggest investment, the one he calls his ‘big bang,’ was the company he started in 1997 and sold in 1999 to Ciscy Systems for a very large sum. It all started with three people at a table with a napkin and a pen and quickly grew to a company that employed over 200 in a year and a half. As head of the engineering department Zareh oversaw the work of 250 engineers and delivered the world’s first optical radiant router (a big teleport system that routes internet data optically) in 15 months. ‘That’s the thrill that I’m talk about. That’s the rush of going and doing something,” he says with a glint in his eye.

Although born in Iran, Zareh attended school in Philadelphia and is now enrolled in a global business program in London through the HEC Paris School of Management and NYU Stern School of Business for his MBA. He also has engineering and mathematics degree from Villanova University on the East Coast and an Engineering Master’s Management degree from Santa Clara University along with a business certificate from UCLA’s Andersen School of Business.

When asked if he was doing this for a purpose or for fun he replies “it’s for a purpose. Fun is part of everything. Everything I do starts with fun. I would not do it if it’s not fun.”  He believes that today’s business environment is global and it’s important to look for opportunities in that arena. “If not, you can’t be as successful as you wanted to be,” he says. “Right now it doesn’t matter where your company is. Right now people publish their sales number and does it depend on the local economy? I don’t know because in the web they can buy it [the product],” he explains. Zareh uses his little chocolate store as an example where they get orders from their website from all over Europe and the U.S. “Basically do we care what happens in London? Of course. Do we care what happens to the Euro, of course.” Whereas a mere three or four years ago the mentally was to start a company, establish the business, become successful then expand into the global market, now companies must start globally. If not then he believes the success of the business would be limited. “That’s why I want to really learn about global business. All the projects I’ve done have been global.”

Zareh believes in globalization wholehearted. He and his wife they take their children, 12 and 9 years old, to different parts of the world every year; from a small village in Peru, to the ruins of Machu Pichu, to the Galapagos Islands to small villages in Armenia. He wants them to grow up to be good people, be aware of the environment, be honest with themselves and not be selfish. “To not be selfish you have to understand worldwide what’s happening. Everybody’s your friend.”

Loving the global life, and having lived all over the U.S., they still choose to live in Los Angeles. “I think L.A. is the closest thing to get multicultural. I think it’s very global,” he says describing all that the area has to offer from the ocean to the mountains.  “And I like the people. And of course the weather. You can’t beat that,” he says with a small laugh.

Zareh doesn’t know what the future holds for him or for his chocolate store. He wants to see what happens to it in the next few years, perhaps open other location but he doesn’t think this is the right time to expand but he’s keeping a close eye on the opportunities. In the meantime he and his wife are dedicated to giving back to the community by helping the children of the world. “I’m a firm believer that in any community the best you can do is for the children, from education to health, because children are the ones that are going to carry on the [next] generation.”  Globally they build schools in Armenian villages and locally they support the Children’s Hospital of L.A. which he considers one of the gems of the city.

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