Recently, in the center of Chisinau, there emerged a new restaurant specialized in barbeque dishes and in serving of authentic Moldovan beer. The place is called Smokehouse: BBQ, Beer, Community and it embodies the idea of three young men, two Americans and a Moldovan, that wanted to open in the heart of the capital city a place that will gather local and foreign citizens, that truly appreciate a high quality barbecue and a skillfully brewed beer. David Smith and Matt Stahlman, after spending an amount of time in Moldova as members of Peace Corps, decided to open a business that would bring the taste of true American barbecue to this new region. Without any previous experience in the field, the two enthusiast along with Vlad Shuleansky, their Moldovan business partner, after a year of struggling with local bureaucratic rules and after long lasting arrangements and preparations, on June 26, 2015 managed to finally open the Smokehouse Restaurant. MadeinMD team made an interview with the owners of this place about the menu and the problems their business faces in our country.
Tell me, what is the specific character of your restaurant and what kind of audience it is intended for?
We started a year ago as an American barbecue restaurant, but we didn’t target specifically americans. Our place was visited by various categories of public, local and foreign citizens, members of embassies or diplomatic staff. There was nothing quite like that in Chisinau. The reason we picked our food type – the barbecue, is because we realized it would be an interesting taste for Moldovans: traditional American food cooked using Moldovan ingredients and Moldovan products. There are a lot of flavors in our products, but it’s not really spicy, or something strange, is just simple meat. Our hope is that a lot of people will enjoy the food and the atmosphere. Our staff speaks English, Romanian, and Russian, the customers are always welcomed with a smile and we are visited by a lot of our friends here. We put a lot of work in the level of service and in making our restaurant a place with happy and friendly atmosphere.
What dishes from your menu would you recommend?
If you’re here on a Wednesday the wings are fabulous, the Pulled pork and the ribs are also appreciated by our customers.
What are the main issues on which you focus in working with clients?
The clients are our friends. When they come here we basically know them by name.
What are the main problems for this type of business in Moldova?
Oh my god. We can talk a lot on this matter. The short answer is there are two big types of problems: one of them is Moldovan bureaucracy, at city level, state level, it is designed to prevent you from starting a business and there are a lot of obstacles in this matter. We opened the place as quick as we could and still continue to have several issues. The second problem is the cooperation with other local companies, suppliers or other types of partners. We experienced problems with delivery terms, with the availability of certain products when we require them. Now we have about 20 suppliers, but truly can rely on 2 companies. The service in Moldova is at a very poor level and it is not good for business. Actually we can talk for hours on the problems we encountered, while making business in Chisinau.
What about the promotion of your restaurant? Do you have any problems in this matter?
Not really. But we have an advantage, we are well positioned geographically. As former peace corpse volunteers we know a lot, if not all the Americans from Moldova. Most of them found out about our restaurant from each other. Besides our friends, the place is promoted on Facebook, TripAdvisor. The feedbacks and client’s opinions are also very important to us.
What do you think about a Romanian/ Moldovan cuisine?
I lived here for three years, with a Moldovan family and I’ve eaten a lot of mamaliga, brinza, mujdei, different variations of Moldovan food. I spent some time sampling conserves and house wine, and in generally I love Moldovan national food, but I think it’s a lot different from what we serve. When we started the business we made a deal that we cannot have on our menu any food that people know. `Our food is very strange because there are no barbecue restaurants in Moldova of this type. We need to offer something that shock, something very different. So you can try something new, enjoy that and then comeback. However tomorrow, for the independence day (the interview was made on 26.08.2015) and only tomorrow, we set a plate of Moldovan traditional food with Moldovan beer (all the beer in the restaurant is local).
What are the criteria used to choose domestic products?
Quality first! We intend to buy only local stuff, but there are products that are not available in Moldova, for example, buns, like wonderbread buns, which are not too chewy. We called about 25 companies that make buns, which couldn’t help us. We visited them, gave them the recipe and asked if they can cook the buns for us and they refused. After that we were forced to find a company that brings us frozen buns from Poland. This is probably the only thing we use that is not Moldovan. Vegetables, beans, meat, everything is from Moldova.
What is your opinion about the quality of Moldovan alimentary products?
The quality of Moldovan products, as well services is many times quite low. We have to struggle in order to find the quality we need, especially in case of meat. For example, it took over 2 months to develop a relationship where the supplier delivered the products that we ordered. The meat we get is of great quality, but the companies refuse to deliver it consistently, whenever we require and in quantity we require. This is general attitude, It’s not that the product is bad, it is just not consistent and they are not willing to help you. The crazy thing is that we don’t buy a small amount. Even if there are 45 companies that make bread in Moldova, we have to import 12.000 buns from abroad. And that is a lot. Someone could have made good money here. Fore example, there are companies that sell potatoes fries and they import them from Romani. It is insane! Or, one of our delivery companies, stopped delivering meat, because their driver was on vacation. This is not how the business is done.
How fully can domestic products cover the needs of your menu?
90% or even more. We buy ketchup, spices, some of the mustard, the buns we mentioned above and the rest is practically local.
With what local companies/ manufacturers do You cooperate most often?
Litra Brewery and other Moldovan beer manufacturers such as Beermaster, Elvis from Puhoi or Gotter from Ciorescu. Also we work with Rogob, Pegas, FruitBox, though it is not a producer, more a supplier. A lot of staff we buy from Metro. To highlight the suppliers that we consider most interesting to work with, we can emphasize ther cooperation Litra Brewery, cause it is highly appreciated by the clients and offers a lot of varieties of beer.
How can you characterize cooperation with local manufacturers/ suppliers of products?
As we mentioned above, the most positive cooperation is with Litra Brewery. Their product is amazing, but they have trouble keeping it in stock. We started to collaborate with Elvis, visited them, talked to them, discussed what we plan to do and started to sell their beer. You can’t do that with larger producers.
Are there any financial benefits in use of domestic products in your business?
The main benefits are the quality and an easier acquisition procedure. Importing some of the products is quite difficult, for example from financial point of view Argentinian chicken is 3 times cheaper than local, but it is of lower quality. Products that travel a long distance and are frozen are not so good for barbecue.
In conclusion we cannot say there is a certain financial benefit in using local products.
What would be the role of your restaurant in promoting local products and Moldovan brands?
Promotion of local products is part of our brand and our philosophy, we all believe in Moldova and love Moldova. In our menu we emphasize that all the beer is local. We also appreciate the brand Matei, a special snack for beer, made from goat cheese and other natural products. We want to sell a story, and producers like Matei and Litra a are best in this matter. For example we asked several companies to give us promotional material, but they don’t really have an interest. So we are marketing their products for free, because we appreciate them. There is so much room for new, innovative ideas and products in Moldova, but the things standing in the way are the local bureaucracy and lack of quality promotion.