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“DON’T BE AFRAID OF DOING BUSINESS IN RUSSIA”

A.C. LAWRENCE, Business mir #18 - 2011-01 MAIL PRINT 
Café des Artistes is one of Moscow’s hottest restaurants and features 4 to 6 art exhibits every year. The restaurant’s glittering clientele includes patrons ranging from artists to politicos, celebrities, ex-pats and tourists. Artists love to exhibit at Café des Artistes, where their works attract considerable attention from both Russian and international buyers. However, few people are aware that the man behind the restaurant’s success is Swiss restaurateur Dolf Michel.
What makes Café des Artistes so universally appealing? How do you manage to keep such a diverse clientele?
People come to the restaurant because they know that we feature a Swiss-quality kitchen with consistently good food.
They have come to trust us and word of mouth accounts for the wide range of people who dine at Café des Artistes.
For example, Bill Clinton came to the restaurant on the advice of his Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who became a regular when she was in Moscow.
I have a wonderful staff and built up a loyal clientele that has followed me from restaurant to restaurant since the 1990s
How did you develop an interest in art? Has it always been a passion or did it begin with the restaurant?
I’ve been interested in art since my youth, but it became part of my daily life in Russia. When we opened Teatro and Metroplole in the 1990s, there were huge empty walls in the spaces and that’s how the gallery idea started.
It was the top time to launch a new restaurant concept in Moscow back then.
Do you have a private art collection? Do you acquire art as an investment?
I have kept one piece of art for myself from every show since 1992, so you can imagine how big the collection has become! I have hired two students to inventory and catalogue the collection, which I hope to eventually exhibit somewhere.
The pieces don’t necessarily all reflect my personal tastes and include a wide variety of styles and media, but the collection is purely for my personal pleasure.
In your opinion, how has Russia evolved since you arrived in 1990?
I’ve lived through putsches, financial crises, bank collapses and soaring rents over my 20 years in Moscow. There were moments when I felt like going but I had a loyal staff of around 100 people that I couldn’t just leave in the lurch.
I’ve felt at home in Moscow since the first day I arrived here and consider that I was lucky - even privileged – to have moved to Russia when I did. Throughout the 1990s, one was able to do things in Russia that would have been impossible to do anywhere else. The context may have been uncertain, but I did everything myself and had great fun living in Moscow at the same time.
Russians are now experiencing a general rise in their quality of life; it’s virtually a daily progression.
Do you have any advice for Swiss nationals who want to set up businesses in Russia?
My advice is not to be afraid of doing business in Russia, but do your homework and get a good partner. When I arrived in Moscow it was a lot easier, I didn’t even speak the language in 1990 but was considered to be somewhat exotic and I learned fast. It’s also important to adapt to Russian business practices quickly.
You used produce flown in from abroad when you opened your first restaurant in Moscow, is that still the case?
Yes, 80% of our vegetables, fish and meat come from Western Europe. There is no way to consistently source good produce in Russia although we buy more locally in the summertime. It’s seasonal, but excellent Russian potatoes are available throughout the year.
Can you tell us about your interest in Russian wines, such as Clos Burnier?
Swiss winemaker Renaud Burnier bought a few hectares on the Black Sea in 2000 and began producing excellent Russian wines. I promote the product whenever I can because it’s really exceptional; I believe that it can compete with wines from anywhere in the world.
Whenever I pour a glass for someone to taste, they look at me sceptically at first but even wine connoisseurs are amazed that it’s a Russian wine!
In September, 2009 you opened a second Café des Artistes in Berlin; do you have plans to open others in the future?
No, the Berlin restaurant was a spontaneous decision. More and more Russians are buying apartments in Berlin as real estate is relatively cheap there and it’s only a 2 hour flight from Moscow. Many Russian artists made the move to Berlin as well, attracted by low rents on art studios. I bought an apartment in Berlin myself and when a restaurant became available on my corner, I decided to open a second Cafй des Artistes there.
How many restaurants have you opened in Russia and how many are you involved with at the moment?
I don’t even know how many restaurants I’ve opened in Russia since 1990! Maybe 10 or 12 different places? When I opened a second restaurant in Moscow a few years ago, I realized that Café des Artistes was too demanding to split my time between the two. I will never open another restaurant in Russia again; people expect me to be at Café des Artistes and associate the establishment with my physical presence.
Where would you recommend your Russian clients holiday in Switzerland?
Many of my clients go to St. Moritz as there is a landing strip for private planes there. When I’m asked to recommend a more private destination, I often send clients to Thun in the summertime.
It depends; I usually just ask myself where I would go myself at that particular time of year.
A.C. LAWRENCE, Business mir #18 - 2011-01  MAIL PRINT 
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Ежедневные новости и аналитика из Швейцарии и Европы, политика, экономика, интервью

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