Above: La Méditerranée owner Levon Der Bedrossian
Levon Der Bedrossian remembers sitting on coastal Beirut right on the Mediterranean Sea and feasting on fresh and delicious mezze platters with his friends and family. He moved to the United States in the 1960s, and while he fell in love with the country and decided to make a life in San Francisco, he never forgot this memory.
In 1979, Levon decided to open a restaurant that brought him back to his adolescent years of life by the sea.
Opening a restaurant was always a dream of Levon’s, but he lacked culinary experience. Luckily, he remembered the way his entire family used to cook together, and he wanted to create a restaurant atmosphere that mimicked this close family feel.
His son Vanick says, “They would come together in the building and all cook together. He remembered the experience and decided to recreate it as a homage to his childhood.”
And that he did. At the time of opening, Mediterranean cuisine was still relatively unknown. Levon named his restaurant La Méditerranée, or La Med for short. He founded La Med on three pillars: high-quality homemade food, attentive service, and reasonable prices.
The Next Generation of La Med
Keeping with the sentiments of his father, Vanick Der Bedrossian always felt drawn to food and the culture that comes with it. The pull was so strong that he studied anthropology in school with a focus specifically on food culture.
After graduating, Vanick decided to work in the family business for a while. He says, “I really just thought I would help my dad out for a couple years, get my foot in the door and get some experience and then go off and do something else. But I loved it because a restaurant in many ways is such a profound cultural experience.”
La Med is no exception; it offers options such as djajiki cucumber yogurt dip, avgolemono soup, and the Chicken Cilicia.
Vanick’s favorites: the homemade harissa dip, falafel sandwich, and the deliciously sweet baklava for dessert. He says, “If I’m not careful I think I could gain a hundred extra pounds just from that baklava, but thankfully running a restaurant is very busy.”
All of these specialties were carefully crafted by Levon with his own culture in mind, and the menu has stayed relatively unchanged for the last 40 years. Vanick says, “I think for a lot of us, we don’t get to travel that much. But restaurants are a very easy way for us to connect with other cultures.”
Vanick has loved working in the family business, and he says that it’s the perfect combination of trust, community, and understanding when you work with family members which results in a successful restaurant business.
La Méditerranée has consistently been deemed “Best Middle Eastern Food” and “Best Mediterranean Food” by multiple publications. When asked why, Vanick says, “I feel like the type of restaurant that we are is harder and harder to find today because it takes a lot of effort to have prices that are reasonable and approachable for people, have service standards and the ambiance and atmosphere of a restaurant that’s really about environment, and the quality of the food and the ingredients. We’ve really been able to maintain those three.”
It’s most impressive that La Med has been able to hold itself to these high standards of service, ingredients, and accessibility in San Francisco, consistently ranked one of the most expensive cities in the world to live. Vanick says, “It’s the daily attention to detail that makes it happen,” and it’s this effort from the entire team that results in La Med’s success.
The restaurant has been so successful that Levon and Vanick have opened new locations. Levon continues working full-time to this day, constantly striving to maintain those three fundamental pillars on which he built his restaurant so long ago.
La Med and COVID-19
Maintaining these pillars hasn’t always been easy, though, and COVID-19 has definitely produced its own challenges. However, Vanick and his father never lose sight of their community.
“We never closed,” says Vanick proudly. La Med has continued to serve San Francisco during this difficult time by not only offering takeout, but also supporting many hospitals in need.
Vanick notes that they have been able to send weekly meals to the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management during the pandemic.
“What they do is very admirable and we’re happy to contribute in the way that we could. We’ve been sending them a lot of complimentary baklava hoping that a little something sweet might be able to help brighten up their day.”
Even in times of need, La Med has consistently been able to promote its mission while keeping a sense of community and family in mind.
Even though Levon moved from Beirut, the city of San Francisco is the Der Bedrossian’s new family. They look forward to a time when they will be able to completely reopen for their community, because everyone needs a bit of baklava in their life.