Russian pancake restaurant to launch in New York
Having widely celebrated the Maslenitsa carnival, the popular Russian blini chain Teremok announced its plans to open two outlets in New York by the end of the year, aiming to share part of the Russian cuisine with gourmands across the pond. thinkRUSSIA spoke with Mikhail Goncharov, the owner of the Russian fast food chain Teremok, about his idea of taking the brand West.
The Teremok fast food chain was the first in Russia to offer quality Russian cuisine, specializing in pancakes only. What inspired this business idea and why did you choose pancakes as the main dish?
My business idea was actually inspired by the opening of the first McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow in 1989. When I came there for the first time, I was impressed by the scope and the size of business, as well as by the quality of food. This business idea fascinated me, and I decided to create a similar start-up in the fast food industry. Making pancakes – Russian blinis – was a very obvious and logical choice to me, as pancakes in Russia are somewhat like pizza in Italy or burgers in the US. Hence traditional Russian blinis were doomed to become the main dish on the Teremok menu.
You started your business in 1998, when Russia was recovering from a financial crisis. Today Teremok has over 230 outlets in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. What are the differences between doing business now and then? Do you think the average Russian customer has changed throughout the years, and if so, how?
I would say the number of customers has grown. Russian average household income has skyrocketed and is much higher than in 1998. If 15 years ago a visit to McDonalds was a big and expensive event for family budget, today we see lots of average restaurants charging an average $20 billion, and these outlets are never short of visitors. What we offered to the Russian fast-food market was delicious blinis, cooked using unique and complicated traditional recipes.
Doing business is much more exciting today. Teremok works in various business dimensions, and always looks for the most experienced consultants and contractors to cooperate with. It applies equally to food suppliers, construction companies and public relations campaigns. Russian business has progressed throughout the years, and when I’m on business trips in Europe and the US, I always try to keep an eye on details, to determine what can be improved back home.
Competition in the Russian fast food market is fierce but, but Teremok has grown steadily. What makes your business successful?
Our approach is to accumulate international experience, analyze it, and take the best of it. As Russian writer Dostoevsky wrote, the originality of Russian culture is that we don’t have to compete with other cultures: neither Italian, nor French, nor German. We meticulously and with great attention learn about their lifestyle, traditions and way of working and simply try to adopt the best practices. I would personally add Japanese and American cultures to that list.
The Teremok team has recently visited Japan, where we studied the Japanese quality management system and visited food processing industries. We have a very good guiding principle – we are happy when we find any defect or imperfection in our business organization. We then analyze it and try to correct the system. Not to mention that we love what we do. We love it sincerely, not for money or profit, but for the opportunities that we have and for the positive feedback from our satisfied clients.
Recently, you announced Teremok's plans to enter the US market and open two outlets in New York. What motivated this decision and why did you choose North America?
Two years ago CNN ranked Teremok eighth among the world’s best fast food chains outside the US. Last year, USA Today listed us among the “Top ten foreign fast food chains we want in the USA.” We realize that our business principles meet modern international requirements and our end product – blinis – is clear to almost everyone. However, we are not going to promote the intention to enter the US market, we would rather prefer to open these outlets in a modest way and see how our business concept and our product will be accepted by the US market and international audience.
What goals has the company set for the US market? Can you tell us about any other exciting new plans for Teremok in Russia and abroad?
Our capital investments in opening outlets in the US are not high. We expect the same expense rate as in Russia. We perfectly fit in a relatively new and growing American concept – fast casual, which means that this type of restaurant does not offer full table service, but promises higher quality of food and atmosphere than a fast food restaurant.
As far as the new plans are concerned, we would at first like to come up with a unique product and a unique concept – selling traditional Russian blinis in a fast food restaurant. If this idea works out, we will consider going further into the U.S. market. However, we don’t plan very much ahead, aiming first at opening two restaurants and see how they fare, and then considering further expansion. The restaurant business is unpredictable, so we prefer to stay on the safe side and announce our plans carefully. In any case, we look forward to achieving success!
Have you ever been to any of Teremok restaurants and tried Russian blinis? Do you know any other Russian fast food chains?