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Hiring someone in Moldova is so hilariously convoluted and difficult that we have actually had to hire a professional HR manager as an employee of our company simply in order to file the paperwork to employee the company's founders (technically we also have an accountant and 1 employee but this would literally be just as hard hiring only ourselves). This woman has been working on site now for 2+ weeks and we are still not through the daily stacks of paperwork. Keep in mind we are 6 people (including the HR manager who is now also tasked with figuring out how to hire herself). This is all the subject of a future post I'll be writing but as a primer, I wanted to introduce you all to the world of Moldovan employment bureaucracy in the context of getting a job in the food service industry. 

While our team's collective western food service expertise is encompassed in Matt's 2 weeks at Taco Bell in high school, I have enough friends who have waited tables to know a few things. Namely, it's a hard job, but it's not necessarily a hard job to get. You walk into a restaurant, ask about openings, apply, and get in dependent on whether or not they see you as a fit. 

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no experience? that's fine! no, no we don't want to hear about any "record" - just sign on the line!


I'm not trying to oversimplify things but basically if you get the job you show up to work, they train you and you start. Hopefully by the end of the cycle payroll has you entered in and you get your check. Done and done. This is not the process in Moldova. If you want a job in food service (waiter, bartender, cook, whatever) in Moldova you need to know that...

#1 It's not the restaurant's job to train you, but the government's (but also the restaurant's?)

In order to be hired in food service in Moldova you need a health department issued little blue passport from the health department (no not THAT blue passport). This certifies a number of things from your personal hygiene to your basic knowledge on health topics. If some percentage of you are saying "that sounds reasonable" read on.

The point here is that the government has a declared responsibility for these things which they make you re-up on ever 2 years. As owners of our restaurant who plan to stand behind our own bar and serve customers legally we went through this process with the masses of teenage waiters and elderly babushka cooks. All the way through Vlad kept asking "so if my employee is found to have [name the disease of the day] and gets someone sick you're going to be legally responsible?" to which he received the reply of "no." This is also true if they cross contaminate food or outright poison someone. This basically means that there is a huge bureaucracy (spanning at least 3 offices in Chisinau) that certifies and trains people in a way that legally must be duplicated by their employers as a means to ensure that their staff are in compliance and because, at the end of the day, it's on the company's head. Needless to say there is a lot of needlessness here. If you are an employee entering the process expect a LOT of redundancy. 

#2 The government certification process was hilariously long and difficult

Go to this office and get a stamp certifying that you are you. They will print you a document with your picture and name and you will take that to another office who will stamp it. Then go to your doctor who will certify your health and stamp it. Then go to a radiologist who will give you a full torso x-ray (needed every year - sounds safe) who will also stamp it. Then go back to the first office and get them to stamp that you were at the 2nd office. 

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Getting the point? (source)

If you're lucky your company will have someone doing some of the legwork or at least telling you where to go (in our case we had Vlad who put a LOT of time in). In most cases that isn't the case though because cafes don't want to even consider people without the stamps. That means this is on you - 16 year old Moldovan teenager getting your first job. Good luck!! Consider it an "introduction to bureaucracy 101" class or a practical lesson in "how little Moldova cares about your time or theirs." In another practical lesson as to their views on privacy brace yourself because...

 

#3 There will be numerous indignities along the way

"bend over and spread your cheeks" - always fun words to hear in a government office. If you want to wait tables here you will hear them because Moldova wants to swab your ass. Twice 

 

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provided without comment

 

Dependent on how "lucky" you are that isn't the end of it either. At one office we were split into 2 groups, Vlad and Matt in one and myself and our employee in the other. They were assigned to room 7 and we were assigned to room 6 (supposed to be identical). They got their blood taken. We got our blood taken AND an STD test. For anyone who has never experienced this google it at your peril. Women get a pap smear. 

What does any of this have to do with serving tables or pouring beer at a bar? who knows. Certainly the people performing the test don't. Short of their fear that I will do unmentionable things to the food I can't imagine the need for tests of this type. Furthermore, the whole thing is endlessly silly because if I get certified an immediately contract something terrible and wind up getting someone sick the Moldovan government isn't going to so much as respond to comment. It seems like the most likely case is that they just wanna see your junk. 

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Moldova is like that one weird kid in every school who swears he isn't looking but everyone knows totally is...

#4 There will be a 7 hour health class with no point whatsoever

This past thursday I got to attend my state mandated health certification class. It was 7 hours long and I didn't quite know what to expect except that Vlad and Matt had attended the day before and said it was the most boring, senseless, soulless waste of time in the history of the world. In a sense I guess I did know what I was expecting. 

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well said... but presupposes that time wasting is a problem. We need to start a little more basic that that here (source)

Anyhow, it was that and more. Let's start by noting that this is done in the Soviet education style. There are no books, materials, visual aids, discussions or interruptions. A teacher will regurgitate from memory, at an incredible speed, the lesson that they have given 1000x before, verbatim, and you must hastily write notes. In our case the first hour and a half was a listing of all the possible fines you, your employer, your company or your suppliers might incur during the course of your work along with the sums which vary according to many factors. Basically it was a list that was read for an hour and a half. This was completely without context and was, essentially, a list of the punishments that will be visited on you for messing up various parts of that later lesson if you fail to learn them then they are taught to you.

The second part was a knowledgeable, if irrelevant, run down on "health." Basically it was a 2 year high school health curriculum crammed into 3.5 hours. I could comment on how silly it was that we all had to sit there and listen to the fact that smoking causes cancer, etc as a prelude to being allowed to work in a restaurant but honestly I haven't the heart. Most of these people had literally never heard this before and had LOTS of questions. As my class was Russian and therefore much older this was quite amazing to see (explaining this is a talk about demographics here but people who only speak Russian generally belong to the older generation). This would be a good time to say "great work" or "I appreciate your service" to any of the Peace Corps Volunteers or their Partner Teachers who work tirelessly, and in the case of the partners without official appreciation (or often pay) to teach Health in Moldovan schools. A subject that is neither taught nor appreciated at any official level. From me - big thanks to you all. I hope there was at least one person in the Romanian language room who could tell the others how and why to wash their hands because they had been exposed to that information before by a PCV (because it's unlikely otherwise literally ever in rural MD).

 

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shameless plug well deserved

Ok, enough of that. The final part of the class was a 1.5 hour session on actual kitchen and restaurant rules. Sadly these were less "helpful" and more "crazy." How many cutting boards must you have? Multiples of 9. yup, you heard that right. 9 is the minimum and they all have a specific purpose. If you want more of one you need another set so it must always be divisible by 9. Sinks? lots (post coming soon on kitchens). Want to clean with chlorine? we can tell you how to dilute it properly. Actually, we'll do better! we will read you a dilution table for 20 min so you can copy it down. 

In case you didn't gather as much this entire class could have been accomplished by 15 cents worth of handout paper. 

#5 At last half of you fail the test the first time

The test for this 7 hour class is conducted the following day. It is a verbal quiz on topics covered during the terrible lecture. If you fail you can come back the next day up to 3 times in a row. Sadly, you will not be admitted to the test unless you can prove you attended the whole class. 

Ok, so ~1/2 of everyone fails the test - must be hard right? Not really. I'm not saying it's easy, especially if you weren't exposed to health topics much in school, but it isn't hard. Honestly, the failure rate staggered us until we started looking at things from a slightly different context. Education is different here. As a product of American high school I know that when the teacher says "this is important but won't be on the test" it's a cue to sleep.

 

 

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don't even pretend that I'm alone here

 

Furthermore, while dozing if I hear the words "make sure to copy this down" or "pay attention to this point" or "THIS WILL ABSOLUTELY BE ON THE TEST," I subconsciously jolt awake and start writing (strangely this mental training carried over to Russian perfectly). Criticize me as you will but this got me through college and does for most Americans. Call it tactics

This is not well understood in Moldova. As I said before that classroom was full of people hastily scribbling notes for 7 hours. That means when the teacher said "this will not be on the test" people kept writing with just the ferocity of the key points section. This yielded a MASSIVE pack of notes for most of the students to hastily crunch in the hallway vs a few short bulleted lists my colleague and I put together on the drive over to the test. Just as the teacher said, the key points section was quizzed - the multi page chlorine dilution table that was dutifully read to us was not. 

This all gets to a much more interesting talk about education and educational systems that we don't have time for today. Suffice to say I'll end on the advice, to a fictional audience member who read this post and thinks "oh yeah - I'll go sign myself up for a little blue medical passport tomorrow!" and comes to the test - study smart, not hard. 

 

 

Tagged in: Bureaucracy Cafe
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Posted by on in Stories From The Field
On Menus...

Picture above from Listen 2 Uncle Jay and apparently taken in Tatarstan Russia. Good to know that "business launch" is not just a Moldova phenomenon :)

 

If you live in Moldova or have ever traveled here one question sticks out above the rest in terms of how constantly it is encountered and how frustrated it is bound to make any westerner.

 

Why does every restaurant have a 50 page menu with hundreds and hundreds

of items listed that they do not have. Furthermore why won't anyone, anywhere, just tell me what they have instead of making me guess half a dozen times before I hit something they will serve?!

 

Sadly part 2 of that question will forever remain a mystery. Matt and I once guessed every single beer on a menu (7) before realizing that a.) they only had non-alcoholic Chisinau and b.) the waitress had absolutely no intention of telling me that, preferring instead to say "no" to each one in succession.

 

Image available under Creative Commons (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/) and accessed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/justard/11892679423 The Cheerful Waitress

I smile because you're allowing me to fill my whole "saying NO to people"

quota today! soon I get to move on to "I don't know"

 

The good news is that today we are going to answer the first part of the question. Why are menus so big and why don't they ever have anything? To do that we need to descend back into the world of Moldovan bureaucracy. But first...

 

What is a menu anyhow and how are they made?

In theory this question has a simple answer. The menu is the list of things I want to serve to my customer and I make it however I damn please. At Ann's Snack Bar in Atlanta for example you pretty much eat the Ghetto Burger (Wall St. Journals' #1 burger in America 2007) she puts in front of you or she throws your ass out (something I have witnessed). That is their menu. Most places however have their basic menu + (maybe) a specials menu + (maybe) a chalkboard showing a "soup of the day" or something. Anyone who has ever lived in Moldova knows that none of that is the case here. The menu is very formulaic with Appetizer, First Dish, Second Dish, Meats, Fish, etc etc and is very very long. Only very modern places have pictures on the menu and everything is presented by weight (like the picture of the menu above with the o-so-delicious sounding "Salad Green Madness"). The reasons for these major differences between Moldova and countries outside of the post-Soviet world begin with...

The Health Department and their "Food Lab"

In Moldova the Health Department not only...

  1. dictates how your kitchen must be laid out specifying exactly what food is prepped where, how many employee showers you need (no joke) etc, (post on kitchen plan upcoming),

  2. selects a category of establishment for you (post here - additional post upcoming about insane profit limitations that accompany this classification)

  3. inspect and certify your establishment's cleanliness

  4. require testing for all your employees on food safety

they also...

  1. "control" your recipes to make sure you're doing them right (or something)

  2. certify your menu to make sure it conforms to the recipes you claim to be serving

note: this is only the national Health Department. The city Health Department has a different process entirely.

 

They do all of this via a giant Recipe Book of literally every recipe recognized as valid by the Moldovan Government.

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I, Stefan Cel Mare, King of Moldavia, Saint, Scourge of the Ottoman Empire,

cousin of Vlad "Dracula" Tepesh, and bequether of many road names

do hereby declare this scroll to be the final word on mashed potatoes.

 

In order to serve something in your restaurant it must be in the book. If it isn't in the book you must submit your recipe to a "food lab" so that they may recreate it (to make sure you weren't lying?) and then they put it in the book. You can imagine that this involves fees, time, lots of people who say "I have no idea" as a career, and more time. I can. We'll see because I'll update this post after we go through this whole process.

In the mean time I can explain a bit more of how this works. After the recipes are selected or submitted and returned you are given official "recipe cards" which are (naturally) officially stamped to indicate their relative importance when compared with your grandmother's recipe for mashed potatoes. These recipes are then placed in your kitchen and used by your staff. They must be followed exactly or there are consequences but more on that later. Let's see how this relates to menus...

Changing the Menu

So you have your recipes. They are awesome food is awesome AND the card is stamped. Time to make a menu. Print out a sheet of paper and write all the stuff you want to serve on it. Be sure to include the weights of the items as that is required by law. I'd like to think this is a kind of (misguided) attempt at consumer protection but seriously who knows. Also stamp every page of your menu with your company stamp because otherwise it could totally be a fake menu that that lunatic down the street keeps putting on your tables (evidently a problem here before the advent of the stamp system?). Finally you get the Health Department to check and approve your menu. You now have your menu. Congrats. We're done here right?

[do we ever end on a happy note?]

 

Coulda seen that coming. You see the problem occurs when you want to do anything not on the menu or the recipe cards. For example...

  1. offer a "soup of the day"

  2. have a special based on combining various ingredients you have on hand

  3. innovate and try new recipes

  4. allow the customer to "have it their way" and customize their order

  5. cater a party with special orders

  6. have a holiday special

  7. remove an unpopular item

etc etc etc

Why are all these things problems? because every time you change the menu you need to register the change with the Health Department. This triggers a new health inspection for your restaurant. Unless you want that kind of hassle, fees, under the table fees (if you pay those) and random scrutiny every time you offer a soup of the day then you're shit outta luck. Those are the rules. Want fries with that steak instead of mashed potatoes? Is that variant on the menu? if not, no. Hosting your kid's birthday at my restaurant and he loves bananas so you want me to make a banana cake? shit. outta. luck.

Anyone see where this is going? If you've been to Moldova you do.

 

This is why the menus are so long. They need to list everything they ever would conceivably want to cook for weddings, events, parties, seasonal dishes, etc. This is why they never have those things.

 

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this is the point that I realized much of what I attribute to "Moldovan Culture"

is really a case of "insanely horrific laws that make no sense whatsoever"

 

Escaping the Madness

Restaurateurs in Moldova aren't stupid. The majority I've talked to have been the clearest eyed business people I've talked to here and they are generally super helpful and open. They understand that this system is stupid and outdated. Some of these laws date from the 1970s before they were legally called capitalists or even business people. People know this needs to be changed or "gotten around" the question is how.

Firstly, I'll give a rare shout out to the Moldovan Government. Most people I've talked to say this is in effect a "Dead Law" meaning it's still on the books but the recipes and menu oversight isn't enforced. In this way the government realized "this silliness isn't worth our time" and moved on to better things (presumably finding ever more interesting ways to make foreign investment difficult). This doesn't mean that you don't have to do everything I mentioned above (submitting the recipes, getting the menu approved, etc). It just means that if you make changes later no one cares (maybe?, we hope). The problems with this are twofold. One, any unenforced law is an invitation for someone "in the know" to come and jack you up for "on the spot fines." This is especially true of something like this where compliance is so tedious compared to what you want to do (soup of the day - seriously why do they hate my seasonal curry pumpkin soup so much?). This fear alone keeps people in line. The second problem is accounting which I will explain in a moment.

Firstly, I want to mention a few interesting ways around this mess. The main one, that Andy's and the big chains seem to use is having multiple menu inserts based on season ("menu de post," etc). Another is the "Business Launch [sic]" as shown at the top of the page where they rotate "specials" based on the day. Obviously this isn't that fun because you KNOW that every monday is that cool thing you like but you're busy and ever friday they have the white rice and pork-broth special. Even if they were good though there's no variation or surprises. These are at best partial solutions.

The most creative solution I've seen is Gastrobar's "Test Menu." Now I haven't talked to the owner about this (if any readers know him/her please introduce me) but this seems pretty clear to me. If anyone asks tell them it's not permanent. Fullstop. Pretty creative if you ask me.

 

The Problem With Anything but Legal Reform - Accounting

Finally I will explain where the "recipe cards" get truly devious. Even if the Health Department never comes by and checks that you are using exactly as much cumin as you said you would per kilo of pork shoulder the Moldovan IRS does. That's because these recipe cards get entered into your official accounting tallies. So does the menu. For example, if I say that we use 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of salt per x liters water to brine x kilos of meat and I decide to put less meat in the brine one night I'm responsible for spending according to the recipe. Meaning that if the recipe says that I should have used 1 kilo of sugar and I used 2 the company cannot legally buy the second kilo. Conversely if I was supposed to use 2 and I used 1 then I am subject to a government fine.  

 

Consider this a little teaser to upcoming posts about the accounting system here. We're quite new so we have a whole lot to learn on this front. That said, I am pretty ready to say that the accounting rules in Moldova are the single largest compliance problem for business here AND are structured in a way that yields far fewer taxes than owed. Anyhow, all that is to come.

 

In other news, now you know why the menus are so long here and they never have anything. And here I just thought they were being silly...

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tagged in: Bureaucracy Cafe
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First Entry - What is my business?

That first picture in the entry is my (on the right) and my new business partner Matt Stahlman proudly displaying our thanksgiving deep fried turkey and a ladle covered in yellow (?). We like to cook. More than that we like to eat.

As you can find out if you read our bios we have just completed a two year service with the United States Peace Corps in Balti Moldova and have decided to stay here in order to start a small business based on our three favorite things: American BBQ, Beer, and Development through Entrepreneurship (compared to the first 2 the last one there is a mouthful). As volunteers we used our cooking skills to raise funds on multiple occasions for causes we believed in. Now we are hoping to use those same skills in the service of the twin goals of starting our own successful business (our first), and proving that such an effort, though widely decried as impossible, is not only possible in Moldova but a real way for someone with a good idea and a lot of drive to build a future for themselves. Enough about that though (it's covered over here) on to the business.

The Partners: 

Take a look at our profiles on this site to hear more about us in our own words: David, Matt, Vlad

 

The location (Chisinau): 

For those of you not from Moldova follow this link to read up a bit on Chisinau - Moldova's largest city and capital. We do not yet have a location for the business but we intend to be near to be the center of the city. 

Wikipedia - Chisinau

Food

Our passion is for slow cooked BBQ and this is something at which we excel. Our restaurant is going to serve slow cooked BBQ from smoked pulled pork to half chickens to shashleek (for a Moldovan-American twist) to much more. Additionally we'll be serving side dishes commonly found with BBQ in the states such as baked beans, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, cornbread and much more. Over the course of two years in Moldova we've shared our BBQ creations with many of our American and Moldovan friends and are very excited to make them available to Chisinau at large. 

The menu is going to be very simplified compared to a normal Moldovan restaurant and will be split into "main dishes" and "sides." We're aiming for the whole menu to be presentable on one page (not including specials).

 

Stay tuned to this blog for when we release the company website including the final menu and more. 

Beer:

We are committed to serving quality, local products and this extends to our second passion - beer. Stay tuned to hear about our drink menu. 

Atmosphere:

The suppliers of our cafe will be carefully selected with consideration to supporting local entrepreneurial efforts and to presenting customers with engaging stories of startup efforts in Moldova. The cafe will strive to serve products made locally which convey the message “Made With Pride In Moldova.” These stories will be conveyed to the customers in the form of short, engaging, stories that accompany the selected products either as handout cards or incorporated in packaging. 

Furthermore, the walls of the cafe will clearly tell the story and emphasize the values of the business by providing engaging, startup oriented decorations for clients to ponder or interact with. Example techniques include whiteboard paint for tables to serve as “brainstorming corners,” inspirational quotes scattered throughout the artwork, and an “idea wall” where customer will be challenged to write and post their ideas for new business or social startups that the city of Chisinau could use. 

What's Next?

This post is just meant to give an overview about my business so that readers can have some context for future posts. Fundamentally this site isn't really about specific industries but more generally about business in Moldova. Future posts will cover a lot of topics from business registration, business planning, contracts, etc etc etc in the Moldovan context. Obviously a lot of this builds off of the fact that I'm starting a restaurant so there is going to be a focus there. It's our hope at OSE that in time we'll be able to find contributors from other industries to share their experiences as well :)

 

 

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