A. Gary Anderson
Graduate School of Management

‘Community is Everything’ to Restaurant Leader

Incoming Executive Fellow Armen Karamardian ’93 shares lessons of pandemic and why failure is nothing to fear

As a 2022-23 Executive Fellow, Armen Karamardian ’93 wants UCR School of Business students to understand that, in business, they will not always have the right answers right away – and that’s OK. 

As Chief Executive Officer of Zov's Restaurant Group based in Tustin, Calif., Karamardian speaks from experience – most recently from March of 2020, when the pandemic essentially shut down the dine-in restaurant industry. 

Imagine running a 30-plus-year-old family business that has been hit by a disaster that even your worst-case scenarios could not have imagined. 

“When you’re in a fog and you can't really see what's in front of you, the one thing you can do is take it one day at a time,” Karamardian said. “And you can learn to tell yourself, ‘I'm not going to have the answer today. I may not have it tomorrow. But I'm not going to make a decision that is not well thought out.’ In baseball, you wait for your pitch and when you see the pitch, you hit it. And the same thing applies in business.” 

Karamardian speaks from experience. Growing up, he had a front-row seat to study the launch and flourishing of a family business. He speaks with pride about how his mother, Zov Karamardian, followed her passion for cooking at home to become a renowned and award-winning chef. She opened her first restaurant when he was in high school, and the business has grown to multiple locations across Orange County. 

Karamardian, who joined the family business after earning his business degree from UCR, said he hopes to use his experience to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders. He wants to remind them that “failure is nothing to be afraid of.” 

“Failure is something that you want to learn from,” he said. “You wear it like a badge of honor, because it's going to make you better.” 

‘Enjoy your ride’ 

Another piece of advice Karamardian shares for the next generation: Don’t spend too much time obsessing over career milestones. 

“Enjoy your ride, because you know, you can't rewind that clock,” he said. “So do what you like, and don't focus on the finish line. Enjoy the path on getting there. If you can figure out a way to get through your days enjoying what you're doing, you'll find a way to make a career out of it.” 

For Karamardian, a big part of career fulfillment includes giving back to his community. He serves as vice president for development of the Tustin Public Schools Foundation and volunteers with Tustin AYSO youth soccer. He also has remained connected with UCR, through lifelong friendships, guest lectures and serving on the UCR School of Business Dean's Advisory Council. 

“I'm of the belief that I'd like to leave this place a little better than when I found it. And Riverside's one of those places,” he said. “So, if I can do just my tiny part, I feel that's important. It's a lesson that I want for my kids to see, because you can't just take in this life – you have to give. That's how I was raised. Community is everything.” 

Learning from challenges you face 

The importance of community was reinforced during the pandemic, a difficult experience that nonetheless made the business stronger, Karamardian said. 

“A lot of our decision-making was based on keeping our staff employed. We have a great responsibility to those individuals who are part of our company, because we are one big family,” he said. “But what we really didn't expect was the impact of us continuing to operate for our guests and the impact it made for their families.” 

The encouragement from the community came from emails, phone calls and social media, he said. 

“It created a stronger bond, not only with our, our associates, but with our guests,” Karamardian recalled. “They said, ‘Thank you for giving us a reason to leave the house. Thank you for sticking with us. Thank you for considering your community when you made your decisions.’” 

The lesson he took from that experience: “If you believe you're making the right decision, for your staff and for your company, then that's the right decision.” 

Karamardian will be on campus Thursday, October 6, hosting office hours with Graduate Student Ambassadors, and speaking to students in Professor of Practice Raj Singh’s class, Introduction to Business, and later in the day to Assistant Professor of Teaching Kyle Ingram’s Organizational Behavior class.


UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox, Executive Fellow Armen Karamardian, and School of Business Dean Wang at the Executive Fellows Installation Dinner