While I'm not sure who wrote the quote I've used as the title for this entry I'm sure we've all seen it circulate around the internet. In this process of starting a restaurant in Chisinau we have run into roadblocks in the strangest places and more ambiguity than I can quantify. If one were to identify a single thread of anger, disappointment and exasperation that pervades my postings (and much of my work right now) it is ambiguity. In most countries there is an easily understandable lines between what is and what isn't permitted. Furthermore, it is pretty easy to figure out where you will encounter difficulties. If you were opening a restaurant in NYC for instance there are numerous resources that could help you find the information on the startup process you need. In Moldova this is not the case. If I were to sum things up it would be that...
Nothing is easy but everything is possible.
This is supposed to be inspiring but terrifies me day to day.
Wait, you say - nothing and everything are pretty strong words. Well this all comes from the aforementioned ambiguity. We now know that there are 46 laws governing kitchen construction and equipment. What are they? no idea. I have seen 1 and in 47 pages it manages to say that the windowsills must be slanted so they can't be used as shelves. The others are, to the best of my knowledge, secret. The health department will not share them. There is no "easy 150 step guide." There is no one who has been willing to give us much of a consultation. Kitchens are just one of many many areas like this we have encountered. Ok, we get why nothing is easy but how is everything possible? Because in power vacuums formed by ambiguity in laws a certain type of people thrive. "Fixers," either within the government or without, are how things need to be navigated. This system is effectively putting faith in people with a certain arcane knowledge (and little to no accountability) so it's wise to start educating yourself fast. This is where we have found a number of true friends. Such as...
Some are more helpful than others.
Yes, other restaurateurs. This class of overworked people, constantly parodied on TV as unable to find time for family gatherings or to lead normal social lives have absolutely opened up their restaurants to us and helped advise and mentor us. It has surprised and overwhelmed me how much they have opened up and helped us. Not one single person has viewed us as potential competition (possibly a critique?) but as someone who will be better for the overall market. If I've learned anything here it's that this business has very little room for bullshit and less in Moldova. If you are running a successful restaurant here you probably understand that more choices are better for the whole market of eating out and that more voices in the restaurant industry will help bring about meaningful reform. Speaking of reform we have some new reform minded friends in...
Did I say the government? I was joking. We have not met anyone sympathetic there (though we are looking and I am an optimist). I meant...
MAR (www.mar.md) is the "National Association of Restaurateurs and Entertainers." They are a sector association that is working to promote cooperation between restaurants and to improve the state of the industry as a whole. This includes advocacy work on behalf of the sector and representing the interests of members to the national government. In short, literally a thing of my dreams. We have already received extensive help with contacts to suppliers, advice on the startup process and, critically, help connecting to more restaurateurs who are willing and able to talk to us about the startup process. Just having short informal conversations has been amazingly helpful to understanding how the process works. More importantly it is wonderful to hear someone say "don't worry, it's possible. We can help." This is what friends are for. And we will be remembering these friends when someday we're open and in a position to be helpful to someone else. In a business climate like this it's the only way.
In the meantime, if you're in Chisinau and want to support some really awesome cafes I recommend the following:
Opa Cafe - Excellent Greek food in the center
KIKU Steak and Wine - interested in a small intimate cafe with excellend food and a high class feel? This is your spot
Oky Doky - Real American donuts and bagels. 'Nuff said.
Trattoria - moderately priced, delicious food and great service by the state university