by Gayane Mkrtchyan, Suren Deheryan and Suren Musayelyan
While headlines are made over the high-dollar investments that join Armenia and Russia ever tighter, less noted but nonetheless significant connections are regularly being made on the level of small and medium businesses.
In fact, the number of such businesses is enough to warrant the formation of a council, with the sole purpose of assisting the development of trade between the two countries.
According to Ishkhan Karapetian, executive director of Armenia’s National Center for Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Development, Armenian business relations exist in about 70 regions of Russia.
In February of last year, the development center teamed with Russian counterparts, Expomedia and Expofar, to host an international seminar on franchising.
“There are frequent exhibitions which allow SMEs to establish ties with one another,” Karapetian says. “Interregional cooperation between Armenia and Russia has expanded, as a result of which a number of regions in the two countries signed agreements to set up joint ventures and increase trade turnover.”
Although businesses have built markets and contacts on an individual basis since the collapse of the Soviet Union, formal cooperation between small and medium enterprises in Armenia and Russia began officially in 1997.
Since then, SMEs have contributed significantly to trade between the two countries that, last year reaching $120 million. Thirty percent of the business took place in Moscow and Yerevan.
Representatives in Moscow and Armenia set up a commission in 2005 for the purpose of expanding cooperation in the SME sector.
Gnel Mayilian, head of the department for investment policy and market infrastructure development at Armenia’s Ministry of Trade and Economic Development, says that transportation is a major problem facing small businesses seeking export markets.
“Transportation costs for Armenian companies are greater than for similar businesses in neighboring countries. On the other hand, Armenia, unlike other CIS countries, is an attractive and liberal environment for investments in the region,” says Mayilian.
And, for businesses that needn’t rely on transport but rather on foot traffic, the Moscow-Yerevan commerce route is a two-way street . . .
All that coffee . . . Jazzve Café
Only three years ago, the first Jazzve café began to attract passersby near the Nairi cinema in Yerevan’s central Isahakian Street. Its catchy name and original presentational style—staff wear branded yellow uniforms and virtually everything in the café carries the Jazzve company logo—caught the public’s attention. It offered high-quality coffee in special mini jazvas (coffee-pots) served in smart surroundings under a mild jazz atmosphere.
“Coffee is served in copper jazvas to every customer. It takes longer for coffee in a jazva to get cold and also it is more pleasant to be served that way,” says the Jazzve company’s director general for marketing Tigran Safarian.
Today, Jazzve has a network of three indoor cafes plus a high-profile outdoor café in Yerevan’s Opera Square, making it effectively Armenia’s first coffee chain brand. It also has a Jazzve shop specializing in desserts, where customers can order the company’s branded pastries and biscuits as well as buying Jazzve coffee to take home.
Safarian says Jazzve’s guiding principle is to offer a nontraditional approach to the tradition of drinking coffee in Armenia. The company was founded by Artur Janibekian and Mikael Minasian, two members of the “New Armenians”, a club based on a popular TV game-show in which teams representing different cities or countries compete to create the sharpest comedy sketches. Janibekian is now engaged in business and production activities in Moscow while Minasian is a diplomat by training.
A month ago, Jazzve opened a branch at Moscow’s Rio trade center and Safarian says that they have plans to open Jazzve cafes in Tbilisi, Kiev and Minsk, as well as expanding in Yerevan.
“The goal is simple—for Jazzve to be known everywhere. We are guided by standards of international recognition,” says Safarian.
Moscow-Yerevan . . . Mexican Cactus Another favorite leisure spot in Yerevan with a Moscow connection is the Mexican Cactus restaurant that has a six year history in Yerevan, practically an old-timer on the ever-changing scene. Manager Agata Hovakimian says that before opening the restaurant they had worked for a whole year to develop the project.
“The idea belonged to Veronica Jonabendam (whose husband Robert is an investor based in Moscow). She had been searching for financial investors and eventually several Moscow-based Armenian businessmen agreed to make investments in their homeland,” Agata says.
Cactus is little Mexico in the heart of Yerevan. There are images of native idols and monuments, tablecloths in Mexican national colors, live Latin American music and on certain holidays a man in Mexican dress walking round selling tequila shots.
“On such days we sell tequila by the liter. It is at Cactus that many Armenians gain a taste for tequila. At first, they preferred vodka, but to our surprise they quickly took to tequila,” says bartender Tigran Avetisian.
Cactus created 30 jobs. The restaurant claims to serve more than 50,000 annually, numbers having quadrupled in recent years as its moderate prices are no longer out of reach for Yerevan’s emerging middle class.
If the name fits . . . Yerevan Magazine “Yerevan” magazine was first published a year ago, and has established itself as a source of leisure reading for the Armenian community in Russia.
“The Russian-speaking Armenian community of the Russian Federation is quite large, almost equal to the population of today’s Armenia, and it was no longer possible to ignore the fact that they needed such a magazine,” says deputy editor-in-chief Eduard Ayanian.
The magazine is the brainchild of its editor-in-chief Ida Martirosian, and it was developed under the direction of “Sharm”, a TV and entertainment production company in Yerevan.
Yerevan is printed in Moscow and distributed in Russia. The deputy editor says that there is little sense from a business viewpoint in selling it in Yerevan, but they can not deny Armenians access to a magazine that bears the name of their capital.
“It is ours, about us, and if even 700 people have a need for this magazine in Yerevan, then they must have it,” Ayanian says.
The magazine sells well in Moscow’s large Armenian community, in St. Petersburg, and in the regions of Krasnodar and Rostov. Copies even sell in Siberia, though the local Armenian community is small.
Yerevan is unlikely to be published in Armenian because so far there is almost no market for it in the language. Even so, Ayanian thinks that it is only right that the magazine’s editorial office should be in Yerevan.
“Yerevan is our heart. It is here that the best feelings are born. And finally, we, as Armenians, want to have a good magazine that will be our brand in the world,” Ayanian says.
The first goal of the project was to reach out to the Armenian community in Russia. The deputy editor says this was the easy part, since they knew that there was a potential readership of millions who had never visited Armenia, but who were connected to it by kinship and emotion.
“The name Yerevan has a meaning for us—it connotes a visible place. We want to turn Yerevan (the magazine) into Armenia; it must become a synonym for Armenia. If a foreigner somewhere hears the word Armenia, with the aid of our magazine he should no longer doubt where it is located—in Asia, Europe or Africa,” explains Ayanian.
The first issue of Yerevan was published in May, 2005 and its circulation has risen now to 60,000 copies, of which 5,000 are bought through subscription and the remainder through kiosks. The magazine costs 2,500 drams (about $5.50) to buy, expensive by local standards but the quality of the product is also very high. The publishers say they are currently planning an English version.
The magazine’s “Without Borders” section presents stories about different countries, some with a local Armenian community, others not. Ayanian says that their goal is to introduce the reader to the history of other countries and to draw parallels with today’s reality in Armenia. The latest issue, for instance, looks at the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.
Other sections are dedicated to Armenians who live in different countries, or to people who are somehow connected with Armenians. The arts section presents Armenian artists both past and present, from Yerevan and further afield. Armenian businessmen in Russia are profiled in a special section.
Ayanian says that Yerevan maintains a particular standpoint—it contains no politics, and deals with economic matters to a limited extent. The main stress is on culture, business, and interesting personalities.
Staff at the editorial office of Yerevan say that their goal was not to create the best magazine in Armenia, but to produce something that could sell alongside magazines of international quality in Moscow.
“Armenians also want to have a quality magazine on hand to show with pride to their Russian friends and say ‘read it, you won’t regret it’,” Ayanian says.
Success by any name . . . At Burcho's His family in Yerevan know him as Razmik Danielian, but if you’re looking for him in Moscow, you’d better ask for “Burcho”.
Some 300 meters from Savyolovksy Railway Station sits a building that looks like a temporary warehouse in a neighborhood of commerce, in the center of Moscow. It is where Razmik Danielian is known by the name of his restaurant.
Part casual, part fine dining, At Burcho’s is a prime destination for Armenian, Georgian or Azeri cuisine, among a dozen or more restaurants featuring similar menus.
Its success as a favored landmark of Caucasian cuisine has a simple formula: “It is a good place to eat,” 66-year-old owner and chef Danielian says.
Danielian moved to Moscow six years ago after receiving a job offer to work with two friends in the Bastille restaurant. After three years he wanted to be his own boss, so Danielian came up with a $100,000 investment, and At Burcho’s was born.
Quickly, and without advertising, Danielian put his name—more precisely “Burcho”—on the culinary map of the big city.
“My advertisement is my delicious meals,” Danielian boasts. “We cook everything at this place—kyufta, kebab, barbecue, khash, Georgian or Azeri dishes, but it all is prepared with my method.”
Chef Razmik named his Moscow café At Burcho’s for a purpose. “Many still know me by this name from Yerevan. (The nickname is a reference to Danielian’s stocky build, when he was a wrestler in his youth.)
Burcho/Razmik started his self-taught chef career in 1986. Before moving to Moscow he worked at several restaurants in Armenia as a chef, and in 1990 he even had his own restaurant called Vanatur, in the northeastern Yerevan suburb of Jrvezh. The Moscow restaurant seats about 80 and employs 14 (including six cooks), all Armenians who moved to Moscow from Yerevan.
With a five-year lease about to expire at At Burcho’s, Danielian recently rented a space twice the size where he has opened a new restaurant, this time calling it simply “Burcho”.
Convinced of the power of brand recognition, Danielian paid about $2,300 (65,000 rubles) to own business rights to the name “Burcho” throughout the Russian Federation.
“As I intend to open several such restaurants in Moscow, I don’t want anyone else to try to use this name for his business,” he explains.
Danielian says that in comparison to Yerevan it is much more difficult to set up your own business in Moscow because of bureaucratic delays and an extended list of regulations requiring a special license—noise, air, security, fire, health and safety, etc.
In Armenia, Danielian says, the order of setting up a business is more streamlined—you can complete it within just two months compared to up to half a year in Moscow.
But, in Moscow, the organizational hassles are diminished by the potential of a bigger market once the doors open.
At first, mostly Armenians and Georgians dined at At Burcho’s. Today, though, Russians outnumber Caucasians.
“The Russians liked very much our khash (soup made from cow feet) and barbecue,” says Danielian, who eschews fancy design or live entertainment in favor of simply offering tasty food.
“In Armenia people order a meal without looking at the menu and then are surprised at the huge bill. But in Russia, especially Russian customers study the menu carefully and only then order what they can afford,” Danielian says. “Comparing prices of restaurants in Armenia and Russia, I can say that prices at Yerevan restaurants are not lower than here in Moscow.”
In January, when presidents Putin and Kocharian launched “The Year of Armenia” in Moscow, about 400 guests were served kyufta and dolma prepared by chefs from At Burcho’s.
“No dish will be put on a customer’s table until I taste it myself,” Danielian says.
This year Danielian also plans to open a restaurant in Yerevan, undaunted by the mushrooming of the dining out industry there in the past few years.
“I will call it ‘Burcho,’ too, because the older generation in Armenia still remember my cuisine,” Danielian says. “I don’t open a restaurant as some rich men do, just to say they have a restaurant. It is my job to make a good name for myself. Our Yard . . . Nash Dvor
Call it “Nash Dvor” as the restaurant is known in Moscow. Or “Mer Bak” as it is known by its Armenian owners.
By any name, though the location is Moscow, the cuisine is decidedly Armenian at “Our Yard”.
“Delicious khash from 9:00 am”, says its outside advertisement, a call for passersby to come in for the pungent cow’s feet soup that is a wintertime tradition in Armenia and a novelty for the Muscovites.
Located on 1905 street, named for Russia’s first revolution, guests to Our Yard are greeted in Armenian (“Barev dzez. Hametseq.”), and offered Armenian newspapers, by Armenian waiters and waitresses.
“We wanted to create an Armenian environment here so that people used to it or nostalgic for it could enjoy their time here,” Our Yard director general Hayk Ghukasian says. “What you can see in Armenia, what will cross an Armenian’s mind, can be found at our place.”
The restaurant, opened in 2003, is part of a chain that includes Stariy Faeton, Okhotnik, Bakhchisarayskiy Fantan, Staraya and Kalitka, founded by Gagik Navoyan, 52.
Our Yard is the largest, occupying three floors with a seating capacity of 600. While the décor is Armenian, the cuisine also includes Georgian, European and Asian dishes.
The restaurant works with a number of firms supplying products from Armenia. Ghukasian says it is their priority to work with Armenian producers as they want to support the country’s economy and advertise Armenian products in Moscow.
“We stress our work with Armenian producers,” Ghukasian says, adding that he takes pleasure in offering quality on par with what Russians produce.
“The Russian market is large, and we also have our share of advertisement. People visit us, drink Armenian wine and go to other places and also ask for Armenian wine,” Ghukasian says. (Even French guests often request Armenian wine, Ghukasian says, even though Our Yard has a list of French wines.)
When Moscow announced the “Year of Armenia” in January, Our Yard was crowded with notable Armenians, including renowned dudukist Jivan Gasparian.
Ghukasian, who is from Yerevan, has been in Moscow six years. He says he became acquainted with the restaurant business in his hometown, but decided to invest in the industry in Moscow because the market is bigger.
Our Yard chef Slavik Harutyunian is also from Yerevan, where he was deputy chef at Armenia restaurant for 20 years before moving to Moscow in 1991.
“I am the one who decides whether the product is good or bad. If it is not fresh I send it back. And they must bring me what I require,” he says.
The chef has seen the assortment of products imported from Armenia grow considerably in his years in Moscow and, with them, changes in diner expectations.
“Customers now are more particular about food than before, as there are many offers of restaurants, serving all sorts of meals,” says the 59-year-old chef, who has been working in the industry since the age of 18.
Chef Slavik has 14 cooks working under his direction; 10 of whom are Armenian.
“Many Armenian dishes need a special approach,” the chef says. “An Armenian would do it better than others. Besides, Armenian waiters often have to explain to foreign guests for example how to eat khash.”
As time, politics, economics and social conditions have changed both Moscow and Yerevan, Ghukasian says the restaurant business is becoming more competitive.
“It is difficult to stay in business today. The selection of restaurants in Moscow is great, but many people want to come particularly here,” Ghukasian says. “We are open to all people, but we are particularly happy to see Armenians here any time.”