«We realised what freedom is.» The stories of three establishments that relocated to Kyiv

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How entrepreneurs from Mariupol, Kherson and Kharkiv dared to start a «new life» in the capital despite the full-scale war.

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The National Restaurant Association of Ukraine assures that almost seven thousand restaurants and cafes have stopped working in Ukraine since the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine began. Instead, more than two thousand new food establishments were opened, most of them in Kyiv and Lviv. Thus, thanks to Maksym Pustakov from Mariupol, the «Shawarma Center» appeared in the capital. Tatiana Dementeevska and Mykyta Karyi from Kherson set up a coffee shop, and Denys Yarmak from Kharkiv organized a chain of pizzerias.

Read in our article what they experienced and how they managed to revive their own business in a foreign city.

Maksym Pustakov from Mariupol: «There was uncertainty for a while»

«Shawarma Center»,

St. Teodora Draizera, 4,

daily from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Maksym Pustakov from Mariupol has been running his own business related to shawarma for almost three years. He had five points in his hometown. On February 24, 2022, he planned to open another one – in Slovyansk, while also renovating a new location in Kramatorsk.

«Three of my establishments in Mariupol were destroyed by a direct hit by Russian shells. Another two were looted by thefts or people who were looking for food. We managed to take only 10 per cent of the equipment needed for the operation of the establishment from Sloviansk in August,» – says the owner of the Shawarma Center.

On March 16, Maksym and his family decided to leave the city, because it was already too dangerous there. They covered 250 kilometres in almost two days, bypassing a large number of roadblocks, and survived the interrogations of the occupiers.

«We drove for 38 hours. The Russians forced our column to spend the night in some village, and in the morning we set off again. It was very difficult and scary. Our large family fit in a small car. Almost nothing was taken from the clothes, only documents and children’s items,» – he recalls.

At first, Maksym and his family went to Kropyvnytskyi. A week after the evacuation, they decided that it was necessary to get to work. They started going to Kyiv and looking for a location but realized that it was inconvenient and decided to settle in the capital. At the end of April, they rented an apartment and started looking for premises for an institution that could be rented. It took two weeks. Repairs were made for another two weeks, and the establishment opened on May 28.

«When we moved to Kyiv, it didn’t have the life it has now. With very few people and cars on the streets, landlords didn’t know if their tenants would return to work. Many left and did not get in touch. Therefore, for some time there was uncertainty as to whether the found location would be available or not,» – continues Maksym.

The family settled in Poznyaky, preferring to find a place to work on the left bank. Now Maksym plans to expand his business and is looking for premises on the right bank.

«After arriving in Kyiv, we opened a small kiosk because we didn’t have much money. Then the financial situation improved, and we began to expand: in three to four months, it quadrupled. Our business is doing well, we earn money and invest it in our own business. We want to improve, experiment, and develop,» – the owner of the Shawarma Center says.

The feature of his establishment is that the meat is cooked here on coal. Visitors liked this method of cooking, and the owners receive positive feedback.

«If there are regular customers, then the establishment is definitely successful. We are tracking positive results. Even in winter, up to 300 people came to us, which makes us very happy,» – Maksym Pustakov assures.

Entrepreneurs from Kherson about moving to Kyiv: «People were scared by the news from Bucha»

Cafe «Nezalezhnist» (Independence),

St. 32/2 Budivelnykiv (metro «Darnytsia»),

daily from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Tatiana Dementeevska and Mykyta Karyi are Kherson natives. For five years, they ran their own business and had four coffee shop chain locations in the city. They lived under occupation in Kherson for two months.

«We did not work only for the first two or three weeks of the occupation. People were frightened by the news from Bucha, almost no one went outside, everyone sat in their homes, – Mykyta recalls. – Over time, the city gradually began to revive, and we decided to open up. Three of our four establishments worked for two months.»

Russians often visited Tetyana and Mykyta’s coffee shops. Sometimes they paid, sometimes they took a drink and left.

«Sometimes we were even afraid to take money from them. Sometimes, they will make an order, you tell them that it costs 30 hryvnias, and they say: «Are you kidding me?» – Mykyta recalls.

There were also problems with products: milk was not delivered to the city, so they had to look for an alternative. They met a woman who lived in a village 40 kilometres from Kherson and kept a cow. So she started bringing them 10 litres of milk every morning.

«There was no coffee at all. The one that once cost 200 hryvnias per kilogram has risen in price to 900-1000 hryvnias. Paper cups were also in short supply. They made coffee in whatever way they could, – Mykyta Karyi laments. – And when the information about the referendum appeared, that we were supposed to re-register our individual enterprise in Russia, Tetyana and I decided that we would not pay them money, let alone cooperate with them. We closed the coffee shops and left.»

For four days the couple tried to get out of the city. There were three to four thousand cars at the checkpoint in Snihurivka, and the Russians did not let a single one through. We had to spend the night in the field, in nearby villages.

«The same woman who brought us milk to Kherson came to the rescue. She lived five kilometers from the checkpoint where the «Kadyrovites» were standing. We spent the night there three times, woke up at dawn and went to the checkpoint to continue our journey. Again, no one was allowed there. The last straw was that the occupiers began to approach the cars and threaten that if we do not turn around, our convoy will be shot. We learned that some are passing through Davydiv Brid. At six in the morning, we turned around and went there, and then to Kryvyi Rih. At seven in the morning, we were already at the first checkpoint controlled by Ukraine,» – says Mykyta.

In their car, they drove through 62 Russian checkpoints, and at each one, they were stopped, their documents and phones were checked. Russians took all their food.

First, Mykyta and Tetiana went to Odesa, where they spent two months looking for premises for a coffee shop. But they did not find anything worthy and decided to go to Kyiv.

«We arrived, rented an apartment, found premises in 30 days, repaired them in 20 days and opened in August. This building once housed a children’s goods store. We redid everything there ourselves: plastered the walls, painted them, and arranged the furniture. We have a large wooden table that I made myself. Visitors come and often ask where they can buy one,» – Mykyta continues.

They named their institution «Nezalezhnist», meaning independence, because they know from their own experience what freedom is and what value it has.

Now Mykyta and Tetiana work as baristas in a coffee shop. In the near future, they plan to expand, they are looking for another room. They want to gather a team and create their own network.

Denys Yarmak from Kharkiv: «There were almost no products in Kharkiv. We drove them from Poltava and Kremenchuk»

«Kvadrat» chain of restaurants,

St. Prorizna, 10,

daily from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

This year, the chain of Kharkiv square pizza restaurants turns 10 years old. The first institution was opened in 2013. In total, they started with four institutions. Today, Denys has 15 points in Kharkiv, and since October 27 – one in Kyiv.

«We wanted to start working in Kyiv for a long time, because here, as in Kharkiv, there are many students. However, before the full-scale invasion, the market in the capital was oversaturated, and the cost of rent was simply cosmic,» – says the network’s co-founder Denys Yarmak.

When the first explosions rang out in Kharkiv on February 24, the institutions stopped their work for two weeks. All the products that were available at the points were distributed to volunteers and soldiers. So they decided to work again.

«The start was quite difficult. There were almost no products in Kharkiv. We drove them from Poltava and Kremenchuk. We understood that we had to feed the people who remained in the city, and our employees had to receive at least some money,» – Denys recalls.

The search for a location in Kyiv took almost two months. Another month was needed for repairs. According to the co-owner, working in Kyiv is now more profitable than in Kharkiv, because there are more people and more opportunities.

«In Kyiv, our menu is somewhat smaller compared to what was in Kharkiv. And positions in it are more expensive by five to ten hryvnias. The reason is more expensive rent and higher salaries, – explains the co-owner. – However, I think our prices are fair. We try to adhere to the concept of the establishment so that you can come to us to eat deliciously and inexpensively.»

According to Denys, 75-80 per cent of visitors who came to their pizzeria for the first time come again, and more than once. Square pizza was very liked by both Kyivans and guests of the capital. Visitors leave only good reviews.

«Our plans are to open an institution on the left bank and on Sofiivska Borshchahivka. In this way, we will increase the radius of our delivery. Pizza with a different taste – «Four cheeses» – will soon appear. We have a strategic goal to become a kind of «McDonald’s» in Ukraine,» – Denys Yarmak admits.

Anastasia Koval, translated by Vitalii Holich

Photos provided by the establishments

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