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The 90-year-old secret ingredient to Richmond’s oldest food festival

RICHMOND, Va. -- It’s a routine repeated year after year. Volunteers at St. James Armenian Church are slicing and dicing, prepping for the biggest event of the year.

Hi-Burgers, kebabs and baklava are staples at their annual Food Festival, but the main ingredient can’t be found in any dessert or dish. Church member John Baronian helped kick-off the very first Armenian Food Fest, Richmond’s oldest food festival, in 1958.

Six decades ago the festival was just an afternoon bake sale when a little more than 100 people showed up.

John Baronian

Now in its 59th year, the 90-year-old WWII veteran still orders all of the food for the three day festival which attracts nearly 8,000.

“The city of Richmond comes now,” said Baronian. “Armenian food is filling. When you get up from the table you’re not hungry.”

Fellow church members, like Rob Norris marvel at Baronian’s dedication.

“It is a lot of work. It is hard to count the hours,” said Norris. “John means everything to the festival.”

A humble Baronian deflects the credit.

“It’s a strong nucleus. We work together. We are all family. We all know each other,” he said.

Baronian said the festival is more than just delicacies. The festival promotes his beloved Armenian culture. The former owner of restaurants and hotels says while exhausting he can’t imagine missing the River City’s oldest food festival.

John Baronian. A man dedicated to St. James Armenian Church and its annual tradition that feeds the stomach and soul.

St. James Armenian Church

“It is still a good feeling. It is something I look forward to every year,” said Baronian. “It’s my life. It’s faith. Its hope.”

The 2017 Armenian Food Festival runs from September 8 through September 10. St. James Armenian Church is located at the intersection of Pepper and Patterson Avenues.

If you know of someone with an interesting story email me at gmcquade@wtvr.com.

Watch Greg McQuade's "I Have A Story" features Fridays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m.

Watch "I Have A Story" Fridays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m. If you know of someone with an interesting story we should tell, email gmcquade@wtvr.com