The one gets the link to Kanapa (Sofa) website when starts searching for Dima Borisov in Google. What does this restaurant mean for you taking into account that you already have more than 10 other ones?
Dima Borisov: Kanapa is a dream. I planned to make Ukrainian gastronomic restaurant based on my own vision just after successful launch of "Barsuk” (Badger). Despite the fact that the majority of Italians go to Italian restaurants and the Spanish go to Spanish ones, the Ukrainians still eat everything staring with sushi, pizza and burgers and sing in karaoke with a shisha. But I had a dream to create a gastronomic Ukrainian restaurant with bourgeois atmosphere which was in our country before the revolution of 1917. After the revolution the bourgeoisie itself disappeared; Ukrainian food culture was destroyed and turned into a kind of the rural concoction. I wanted to do the opposite – to create modern Ukrainian cuisine in my own understanding. But it's not so easy. Physically, there were no people who could understand and share my vision.
And when that time I said "Ukrainian cuisine" they had a stereotypical association with bacon, dumplings, fried sausages and so on; it was not what I meant. So I decided not to be in a hurry. For three years I have created chief’s team and a concept of the restaurant in collaboration with my friend and well-known musician Oleh Skrypka. His deep knowledge of Ukrainian culture, his jazz&rock&blues compositions and ethnic music helped me to form a picture of the pre-revolutionary Ukrainian restaurant-salon. People come to Kanapa restaurant for a dinner ceremony, with respect for the cultural part of the restaurant - the live music. Meal is served in the form of Michelin tasting set: there are 20 minutes pauses in serving during the performance of the actor, afterwards, the second part of serving starts and it’s the time for communication. After this the scheme repeats. In my opinion this is very nice approach. Kanapa now is a top of mind place which should be visited at least once by every foreigner and also by every Ukrainian who come to Kyiv.
Do you plan to expand the brand of Ukrainian cuisine at its best expression as it was done in Kanapa?
Dima Borisov: I have been talking about this during half a year. I see a trend of modernized Ukrainian cuisine over which I personally have worked hard and continue to work. Gastrorock is the first such place after Kanapa. Now its format is Ukrainian Gastropub.
And this is not simple way too. It has been renovated during 4 months after a fire. Now it is ready for a new start and for a new concept. So the trend of modern Ukrainian cuisine really exists and I promote it. In the next six months I will present for at least two more Ukrainian formats. The first is the one I have been presenting for 2 years on our weekend picnics on Vozdvizhenskaya street. It is Chicken Kyiv - the modern Ukrainian gastrobar.The second format is a secret. But I can tell that I would like to make a legendary must visit place in the downtown of Kyiv.
What is the portrait of today's visitor of your restaurants? Who is he/she?
Dima Borisov: Of course, I have different restaurants and their visitors are different too, but I would say in general. Any guest buyer, any customer is a reflection of the owner of this business. My guest is a reflection of me. Middle class guys and ladies who are cosmopolitan, like to travel, they appreciate quality and value for money. These are positive, loving, family people aged 25-45 but the visitors have certain differences depending on the restaurant type. For example, the average bill amount in “Ohota na Ovets” is UAH 400 but it is already perceived as a luxury style restaurant, and most likely it’s due to the high level of cuisine which is presented here. “Baby rock” is a children's theme, and it works in synergy with “Gastrorok” and “Ohota na ovets” restaurants, when you leave a child, enjoy a delicious meal, and your kid enjoys the entertainment in another restaurant close to you. So my guests are different but their lifestyle is pretty close to mine.
What do you think makes the visitor come back again and again to Dima Borisov’s places in addition to the quality of food?
Dima Borisov: I want to believe that nothing more but just food. I am a supporter of gastronomic approach. Yes, for some guests the atmosphere is very important, though it seems to be rather intangible thing that can’t be planned. Very often the atmosphere is created by the guests themselves.
What are the drawbacks of the Ukrainian restaurant business today? You once spoke about discount cards and staff. Is there something else?
Dima Borisov: Well, discount cards are in the past now but the lack of qualified personnel is still the main problem. There is no conscious choice of this profession, people do not go deliberately to cook or to be waiters and most of them prefer to be average statistical managers.
We certainly do what we can in that direction, but it's still a long way to go. Well, the other problem is the lack of gastronomic culture. 98% of people still cook at home because of the economic situation, although it is not always really advantageous to cook at home. Only 0.5% of the remaining 2% really go to a restaurant for a meal, and 1,5% of people just want to show off. But step by step situation is changing for better.
How do you personally assess the situation in the restaurant business of the country today and what are the prospects?
Dima Borisov: The process of opening / closing restaurants is constant. A lot of interesting places are being opened now and some restaurants are being closed due to external reasons like has happened with Russian Yakitoria (it is out of date in its format since there are Ukrainian alternatives like Sushiya for example). Now many businessmen listen to my recommendations to use the crisis as an opportunity to open and create some nice and unique locations. It's a process of natural selection and it is connected to the market in general, and this is not bad. About 40 bars are scheduled to be opened in Kyiv within next three months.
Are innovations and technologies very important for your business?
Dima Borisov: I am the leader on the market in the sense of using technologies. There are sockets and all types of chargers by each table in my restaurants. Our system of service is centralized and the staff uses iPads in their work. In addition, our GastroFamily electronic bonus card (which is the part of loyalty program) is very effective and successful in the market. We have electronic opportunities for settling the order, making reservation, paying through Settle app and getting delivery with the help of “Royal service online”. This service runs on fully electric cars, by the way. There are free charging stations for electric vehicles close to my restaurants, so it is profitable for them to come to me, to charge, to collect orders from my restaurants and to deliver them to clients. A year ago the share of my restaurants in “Royal service online” was only 20%, now it is 80%. As such, innovations are very important and helpful.
Buy the way, what is the reason for such deep love of the electric vehicles and of Tesla in particular?
Dima Borisov: This story has been lasting for 15 years already. This is my fundamental and conscious choice to have an ecological approach to life, and it is not only about electric cars. All my businesses have been certified by ISO 2014 environmental standard quality control 15 years ago. You see the effect of ecological approach to life in all my restaurants: walls with plants, tables with plants. Ecology means also the purity of the relationships among people in life, the ability to give and to love. Therefore, it is one of my inner basic values that I use in all aspects of life. Tesla is the best electric car in the world in terms of all characteristics. Now I have a second Tesla car and I love it. But as I see, unfortunately, our society is not ready yet for such approach.
I know that you have also other projects like publishing the "GOLOD” (Hunger) magazine and you have the farm. Please, tell about them a bit.
Dima Borisov: The magazine "Golod" is a kind of social project, I don’t sell it. We are now preparing its online version. For me it was important initially to have a printed version. But now we want to make a more dynamic online magazine in addition to a paper version. We collected a lot of interesting content during our gastro trips.
As for the farm, it is already 10 years old and it is basically a vegetable one because it is not profitable to deal with meat so far. If we talk about needs of my restaurants I can say that I need 200 000 heads of bulls aged from 1.5 to 4 years old to get only 10% of stake meat. It means that I use only 70 kg meat of 700 kg bull. So, unfortunately, beef farming is not developed, it is very resource-intensive. But in the nearest future I will be more active and involved in this farming process. In the next couple of years I will have already about 100 restaurants all over the world, so for me it is a big plus to have my own products. Now I have to use American meat, as such, the price for a steak in “Ohota na Ovets” turns out to be UAH 1000.
Your restaurants are called “Dima Borisov Family Restaurants". The word "family" is the key one, and it is true not only in terms of business but also with respect to private life. How do you manage to be a loving husband, a caring father and a successful businessman?
Dima Borisov: Well, I’ve thought that it is impossible to combine all these things before I met Lena Sapunova (now Borisova). I hired her when she was managing "Love and hunger" network. Six months later after hiring her as a manager I’ve realized that I need her also as a woman. My stereotypes changed. I am just lucky with her. We went through the hard way; we have our second marriages and four children for two of us. In our business and family life everything went perfectly. We have the same values; we bring up children being an example for them, as well as for our employees. I do not accept the theoretical management. Also my wife and I have a perfect distribution of responsibilities. We created our restaurants’ family together. She is my right hand, my general manager who is fully engaged in operational activities. I am a brand-chief; I form strategy and marketing, work with guests. So it goes on like this.
What future do you want for your children? What do you want to change right now in our country to make this future better?
Dima Borisov: I wish them a bright future. The main thing I want to change is the education in our country. I’d like it to be competitive with European and Western one. But it can’t change even in 10 years, unfortunately. Teachers and students do not make a conscious choice in this profession and their future. Students just learn something to get a piece of paper (diploma) and to be able to earn 5 cents. I want it to change.
Please, name the top 5 restaurants in Kyiv excluding Dima Borisov’s locations and a great chef.
Dima Borisov: I can name only two restaurants: "Shoti" and "Lubimy Diadia” (Beloved Uncle). We have a great chef Denis Komarenko, gastro cafe "Tarelka” (Plate). Bon appetit! :-)
Interviewed by Anna Vishtak