Yevgeny Nichipuruk worked at the Silver Rain radio in his native Volgograd, managed the giant club projects Piranha and Zona, held the position of creative director of a large advertising agency, and was also an executive music producer and head of the A23 marketing communications agency (Allnighters Marketing Communications).
In such a tight schedule, there was a place for literature. Nichipuruk wrote his first story in 1999. For the last three years, Evgeniy Nichipuruk has been closely involved in restaurants and continues to write books.
How did you go from being a business event producer to a successful restaurateur in three years?
On the one hand, it all happened by accident. On occasion I came across an inexpensive room in the center - they decided to make the bar more for the soul. But he approached the question quite scrupulously. I studied the market and realized what exactly was missing. Therefore, the concept of "Cancer" immediately took off and was doomed to scale. At that time, I did not have real experience in managing and developing the restaurant business, and I did not have any global goals of implementation in this direction either.
On the other hand, in the 2000s I was a successful club promoter and the Night Life Awards plaque still adorns my office, so there was still some experience in the HoReCa segment. And I had great skills in project management, their creation and launching to the market. Yet at A23 we have created large-scale industry events for large clients.
I think it all came together, plus a love of gastronomy as such. In general, I think that one should really love everything that you do. Love and motivation can compensate for the lack of expertise. Literary experience helped too. But rather in PR. At first, many were very interested in what kind of bar I suddenly opened, and this gave additional starting traffic of guests.
Why did the restaurant business pull you in? What is its beauty?
Personally, I love the almost instant feedback on everything you do. For any “creator” this is almost the most important thing. You are as close as possible to the people for whom you do everything, and you can constantly feed on these incomparable emotions. The joy and contentment of our guests is very energizing and motivating.
Last summer I had an unusual experience: while on vacation in Sochi, strangers often approached me, shook my hand and thanked me. I have come across such manifestations from my readers before, but this time I was thanked for the restaurants. Well, it's also very interesting - to create a restaurant product and see how your idea takes shape, comes to life and over time becomes an absolutely independent and self-sufficient project.
Where did you start? How was the concept chosen and what is the secret of its success?
Our first project is "Cancer on Tishinka". This is a small space in an old house on Tishinskaya Square. I thought about the concept for a long time. I wanted to do something completely new, which is not in Moscow. And for an audience I understand. This is how the concept of “Russian beer gastronomy” was born, where crayfish took a key place. They were assisted by seafood, fish and old recipes for appetizers, which we presented in a new way. The menu immediately got a lot of dishes "from childhood". For example, sets of Soviet sandwiches or fried crucians with potatoes, but we have crucians without bones and potatoes are not simple, but in the form of mousse. Plus a large selection of premium imported beer and a revolutionary interior for a beer, where the central place is given to works of modern art, and an abundance of light allows you to see food on the plates. There are only 36 seats in "Rakova na Tishinka". But in the first month it showed an operational plus and paid off in five months. I realized that the concept has the right to develop, and so the network appeared.
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What is the most difficult part of developing a network from scratch? What unexpected difficulties did you face?
The most difficult and important thing is the team. It contains all your victories and defeats. Losses are also associated with the fact that we did not quite understand people, and successes are often associated with the fact that the right team members were in the right places. When you create something completely new for you from scratch, there is not much to rely on. You can only trust your intuition. And here the main surprises await you. All our failures of the first period are connected precisely with personnel errors. And where I least expected it.
What restaurants in Moscow and St. Petersburg do you like to go to? Do you study competitors?
I love the projects of Lucky Group, Ilya Tyutenkov, Boris Zarkov. I visit them often. But sometimes I look at very young guys. It seems to me that new talented names await us in the future. I have no desire to study competitors, I just love this culture, I like spending time in a restaurant. There are places that are tasty and comfortable. Although I think that ours is often much tastier.
Remember your first overseas restaurant? What surprised you the most?
I don’t remember the first one, but I know for sure what impressed the Roca brothers restaurant in Girona the most. At the time of my visit four years ago, this was the best restaurant in the world, and deservedly so. It is extremely difficult to call it just a restaurant. It is rather a gastronomic theater or a large-scale gastronomic journey, where you can experience all the emotions through taste and form. An absolutely amazing project of brilliant craftsmen.
How does your experience in advertising and marketing help you in the restaurant business? Could something get in the way?
First, the ability to manage complex projects helps. This is a very valuable experience. During the days of the marketing agency, I often led projects in the preparation of which more than a thousand people and more than 100 contractors were involved. In restaurants, the scale is not that, of course, but sometimes this business resembles the event sphere with the number of force majeure and the need to respond to them promptly at all costs.
Secondly, thanks to my experience in advertising, I mostly develop all the strategies myself and, judging by the result, quite successfully. I don't know what would have happened if I had to invite outside specialists. Perhaps we were waiting for another very expensive staffing mistakes.
Your holding includes not only Rakovye, but also the Morskaya sea food bar, Gashek gastronomic bistro and Rakovaya Grand Cru. How different are the audiences of these projects?
We can say that now the audience has become more diverse. We are visited by students, young actors, creative intelligentsia, entrepreneurs, politicians and businessmen from the Forbes list. It's great to see very different people choose our restaurants.
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It all started with crayfish? Why this particular product?
There was an absolutely free niche. Before our project, no one really cooked crayfish in Moscow, and no one really cooked delicious and varied. Plus, I grew up on the Volga, I understand this product very well. At the start, we used many of the skills that I learned as a child, and some of our recipes are traditional recipes from my family.
How is a restaurant born? Is the design concept yours too or do you trust the design team?
I always work out the concept carefully myself. The terms of reference for the designers from me is a very detailed presentation with meticulously selected "pins" and painted chips, with an already drawn seating chart and thoughtful technical issues. It's easier for them and me. But the idea of the restaurant itself is always at the forefront, then you understand who your visitor is, what he would like, how the food should be placed on the table, what kind of light should be, what chips, taking into account the specifics of the kitchen. I think over all this long before the designers start working.
You have also realized yourself as a writer. Planning to write about food? For example, something in the style of Barbury's Hedgehog Elegance?
I’m unlikely to write a book entirely about food. But I love to incorporate gastronomic moments into the text. For example, in my last novel, Tract, the heroes consume very tasty stewed venison and whitefish sliced meat in the North beyond the Arctic Circle. And they wash it all down with vodka from ice cream glasses.
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Are you thinking of owning your own restaurant farm? How difficult is this task in the Russian realities?
Probably every restaurateur dreams of this. Although, of course, it is impossible to close the entire food cycle on your farm, you can do something completely exclusive that would give you a competitive advantage. The task is not so much difficult as laborious. Since this business is also completely new for me, a good team should appear with which it would be possible to implement it.
Let's talk about numbers. What is the secret of the Cancer business project?
Our success is based primarily on a unique concept - almost every table orders the main feature of the restaurant - crayfish. It's not a cheap product, but a lot of fun. It keeps a very high average check: 3,500–4500 rubles. per person. And the lion's share in this check is occupied by crayfish. A high average check with great popularity guarantees a large revenue. This is where the commercial success of the network lies. Most restaurants to get 3200 rubles. per guest, you need to sell several dishes, but here it is just 1 kg of crayfish, to which they will definitely order drinks and more dishes.
How much money does it take to set up a restaurant chain?
Recently we evaluated our own investments in a restaurant holding and came to a figure of about 400 million rubles. Someone spends such amounts on a couple of restaurants. In 3.5 years we were able to build a network of eight projects. Some of them have already paid off several times, while some new ones have yet to do it. We look to the future with confidence.
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At what stage of development is your restaurant holding today? What are the plans?
2020 has made its own adjustments. At the end of 2019, I presented to my colleagues the development strategy of the holding and was almost sure that we would develop at a rate of five to six restaurants a year. In 2020, we were able to open three new restaurants, but this is the result of work in 2019. The point of no return was passed, and we needed to open these projects. Nevertheless, despite the crisis, we plan to develop further and believe that there is an opportunity to develop our flagship network by opening points in Moscow and the Moscow region.
We also launch a franchise. In 2021, the first regional Rakovaya restaurants are to appear in several Russian cities, which we are opening together with regional partners. I have a dream to discover two more new concepts. But let's see how realistic this is in the era of the global crisis.
Recently your products appeared in the Azbuka Vkusa network. How difficult was it? What are your plans for the development of this area?
So far, Azbuka Vkusa sells only crayfish. But in the future we plan to expand the offer. These will be finished products and semi-finished products - hits of our restaurants. It was not easy to get to the Azbuka Vkusa counter. I consider this one of the main achievements of our team in 2020. It took several months of hard work and communication with network management. In the end, as far as I know, everyone is happy with the result. And I hope that in a year we will count at least 15 products from our network.
How do you assess the potential for entering premium food retail? Will there be a splicing of a restaurant and a store in the future?
It seems to me that this direction has great potential. Especially in terms of semi-finished products. I am sure that people will now cook more at home, but making many of their favorite dishes at home is extremely labor-intensive, and sometimes simply impossible. And here we, restaurateurs, who are ready to go through half the cycle on our own, come to the rescue. So that the buyer can only slightly finish the favorite dish.
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Do you have so many things to do that helps you concentrate and not lose your grip?
I have been doing meditation for more than ten years: I meditate at least four times a week from 30 minutes to several hours. It helps to keep consciousness normal, fills you with energy and gives you the opportunity to concentrate on your goals, and in addition, helps to fight stress. And, of course, sports. I'm not a fanatical athlete, but I definitely go to the gym several times a week. Mainly running or doing fitness. I recently discovered squash.
How do you relax? Did you manage to relax in 2020?
I rested mainly in isolation outside the city, with books and walks in the woods. However, I managed to see the sea twice. In the summer I visited Sochi, and recently I was in Bodrum for the first time and once again visited the fabulously beautiful and diverse Istanbul. Without these trips, it would have been very difficult for me emotionally. I believe that sometimes everyone needs to change the situation in order to then be able to move further towards their goals with maximum energy.
What are the main challenges for you in 2020? How did your businesses and you personally experience the pandemic?
By and large, survival was the main concern. No matter how pretentious it may sound. I think that we are like in a war. And it is important not only to survive, to withstand, but also to win. Manage to reverse an extremely difficult situation and not only save resources, but also be able to develop. 2020 taught a lot. It is important that all his lessons lead to the correct conclusions. It is an expensive university, but very efficient.
Globally, no matter how difficult it is, I am grateful for this year. Our businesses go through the crisis with dignity. We have not closed a single restaurant, we have opened three new ones. Retained most of the team. I saw who is who in a crisis situation, which helped to understand who can be relied on in the future. This is very important and worth a lot. I am sure that difficulties will only temper us and make us even stronger.