How two Armenian-Canadian brothers became Toronto culture heroes
The famous phrase from the film Field of Dreams "If you build it, they will come" certainly rings true for Toronto's Tchakmak brothers: in less than 5 years they have built unique businesses which continue to flourish.
Growing up in Scarborough and Markham, brothers Raz and Shaunt Tchakmak would visit Toronto as kids, dazzled by the coolness of West Queen West where Antikka was born in 2017.
Equal parts coffee shop, vinyl store and live music venue, Raz recalls how the concept came to him:
I used to go to a lot of record stores in the city, and then go and have a good coffee somewhere else. One day I had an epiphany when I thought, why can't these places exist under one roof? That was the catalyst.
I didn’t have any experience working in any coffee shops, so I worked in two different coffee shops, then I got a business loan, and once we opened we realized we wanted to incorporate the music scene into what we do as well.
Raz opened the business on his own, and Shaunt was soon inspired by the freedom of entrepreneurship and the music scene, so he started helping out with the operation.
The brothers did not plan to open a second location but once they saw the space at 21 Kensington Avenue, which was offered to them through a friend who knew about it becoming vacant, they couldn’t refuse.
Shaunt initially resisted the idea, as he wanted to focus on DJing and pursuing his music. But upon seeing the space he had a vision, and the opportunity to curate music to a higher degree made him realize that this would only help his musical ambitions.
The Oud & the Fuzz opened its doors at the apocalyptic month of March, 2020, which meant that the business was initially not eligible for federal rent subsidies as it hadn't earned income as of the pandemic.
In a lot of ways, it put our concept and our business in a pressure cooker – it felt like we experienced things that would normally happen over 15 years, in just one year.
It tested our devotion to this concept and we were put in a position where we had to eliminate doubt, regarding how much believed in what we are doing.
That might have been the most valuable – and the most difficult – part of doing all of this.
Both spaces regularly celebrate Toronto's indie music scene, whether it's world, jazz, blues, soul or fusion, while proudly celebrating the brothers' Armenian heritage through beverages, food, music and kindness.
Antikka imports their coffee beans from Armenia's capital Yerevan, heating up the ground coffee in a traditional jazzve; they also sell wine from the region as well as dried fruits.
The Oud & the Fuzz offers a full dining experience, with favourites that include Mante ($10), Soujouk & cheese ($14), Madzoonov Kufteh ($18) and a fried whole fish platter ($45).
"We have come to the understanding that the ultimate form of preservation is relevance," says Shaunt.
"For a culture as ancient as Armenian culture, a lot of the time the traditions are so embedded in the past that younger people have a hard time sharing it and passing it forward, and so it tends to be shared in a very depressing context, given our history."
"And as important as that is, I think it's also important for us to celebrate our culture in a more positive way. There is so much beauty, and we want to share the happiness that it can bring."
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