As I followed in the footsteps of Leo Tolstoy and Lenin no less – both of whom studied at Kazan Federal University – I touched down in Russia’s sixth-largest city (dubbed the third capital) with a week to go before we the Grand Opening of our prestigious Asia Asia restaurant in Kazan.
Familiarizing myself with the awesome teams, the currency and price point of our products was paramount: I had a lot to learn in a short amount of time and certainly no time to finish War & Peace. This mission had to have diplomacy at its very core.
The venues, all situated in Kazan’s best five-star hotel (Kazan Palace Hotel), are all stunning; to see Lock, Stock & Barrel rammed on a Friday night with some awesome live music and a full dance floor and bar filled me with pride. Asia Asia is possibly more chic than the Dubai original (minus the fabulous views offered in Dubai Marina) and The Central is a unique hipster NYC 'style burger, beats and shakes style joint.
Meeting up with some of the Dubai team, area Operations Manager Jono and Assistant Executive Chef Bruce, it was nice to see some familiar faces in this new city. On the odd evening where we could head to town the two kindly, alongside the legendary Entertainment Manager in Kazan (Ruslan), lead me into town to experience some of the ‘competition’.
Thankfully, there isn’t any in essence. Lock, Stock & Barrel already has the reputation of being the best live music bar and venue in the city (as many people told me in the wee small hours), Asia Asia is also a class above the rest. Regardless it was fascinating to experience Kazan’s nightlife offerings; my favourite spot (outside our group of course) was this dodgy little after-hours karaoke bar where one of our resident DJs was dropping some seriously soulful and funky house circa 6am.
Bizarrely – for me jetting in from Dubai – a) you’re not allowed to smoke indoors (however, shisha is totally cool); b) I spotted people kissing (a big no-no in the Sandpit) and almost leapt up to grab security to stop them before realizing we were in a loosely normal city/country where kissing a member of the opposite sex in public really isn’t that much of a big deal. Another mind-boggling aspect of being there was that with sunset happening around 9.30pm (or later), sunrise started around 2.30am. This definitely plays on the psyche.
Work-wise I managed to link up with a few key players in the city ; a representative from the city’s largest university (and the second oldest uni in Russia), one from the local government sports committee, another from a local radio station, a couple from Mercedes Benz, Yandex, Siemens, and a few more key potential clientele.
As we kick-started the official Grand Opening of the Asia Asia restaurant co-founder and owner Freek Teusink stated that night was the 21st anniversary of the opening of his first bar in Egypt that started it all: the original Papas Bar in Hurghada. Since then, and over 40 venue refurbishments and rebrands later, as it stands today our nine venues in Dubai are now joined by three in Russia with more on the international horizon.
Leaving you with a 17th-century quote from Tsar Alexis of Russia “Делу – время, потехе – час” which vaguely translates to “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. And nobody likes to drink with a dull Jack… thankfully the team at Solutions are all for hard work and playing hard and have allowed me to do just that for many years; here’s to many more successful international ventures still to come.