FRESNO — In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Fresno had a thriving Armenian community in the southern part of town known as Old Armenian Town. Old Armenian Town is a large area of downtown Fresno where most Armenian immigrants first settled in Fresno. It was the center of Armenian life in which Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, playwright and short story writer William Saroyan, born in 1908, grew up and where he gleaned many of his early stories.* Valley Lahvosh Baking Company began as the California Baking Company, and was founded in 1922 by Armenian immigrant and master baker, Gazair Saghatelian. It remains one of the oldest, most recognized and respected Armenian monuments in Fresno.
Gazair was an original member of the hardworking and industrious Armenian immigrant community who first settled in Fresno with his young family and worked long hours to start his own bakery more than a century ago.
“In the 1920s and 1930s, it was a vibrant Armenian neighborhood,” says current president and granddaughter of Gazair, Agnes Saghatelian. “Our family had the bakery and lived next door. Everyone knew each other in the area, there were many Armenian immigrant families, shops, the Armenian Church, the historic Emerson Elementary School, and thriving businesses. My mother and her siblings lived and grew up here. (The Emerson School once stood on Santa Clara and L Street. This school was the site of Fresno’s first high school and the institution in which William Saroyan and many Armenian children were educated. [Santa Clara and L St]).
The bakery originally started when Gazair started baking their authentic Armenian bread for the local Fresno community. He became famous for creating the original Peda bread and other Armenian breads which he skillfully baked every day; in the 1930s, he introduced his fleet of trucks that delivered his fresh bread locally, adds Agnès.
The bakery continues to be operated by the Saghatelian family and still occupies its original location opposite the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Holy Trinity. The church is the oldest Armenian Apostolic church in the western United States, located in the center of Old Town Armenia, a ten to twelve block area of downtown Fresno. This area remained predominantly Armenian until the mid-1950s. The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The exterior of the church remains virtually unchanged since its completion in 1914.
After Gazair’s death in the mid-1940s, his son, Sam Saghatelian, continued to bake, and the business took on the name Valley Bakery. The name remained the same until it became Valley Lahvosh Baking Company in 1994.