Don Craig is known by just about everybody as a promoter of restaurants, clubs and bars. He is so well known that recently; he recounts, he was eating out in a Moscow venue he had never been to before, and somebody came up to him and started asking him questions about the place as of he was working there. Through his site âMoscow Interactsâ and many other activities, Don Craig has quite simple become synonymous with expat nights out. Now he is managing âDonniesâ a huge bar and food venue just behind Mendeleevskoe Metro, as well as still being involved in all his other projects. Itâs going well. Kim Waddoup caught with him:
Kim: What do you feel about this crisis, is it different from previous crises?
Don: Iâll talk about how it is affecting the restaurant business. We have had a number of hits. Firstly, the antismoking laws affected business quite seriously, then we had the sanctions coming in, and it became difficult to get some products. A lot of people changed their business plans, and stopped catering for expats for example, but in Donnieâs I didnât change anything. What I did here is to find local substitutes for imported products. We managed to keep the menu as it was, the worst problem was with alcohol. The cost has gone up quite considerably, and we canât pass all of that onto the client, so thatâs the reason that we are doing so many different things here, to diversify the business. But the Russians really donât seem to be that bothered, the change in smoking rules probably was a more serious problem than the sanctions.
Kim: So you opened this Bar and Grill just as the crisis was staring to be felt, in November, but you have been pretty successful in getting people into the bar. How did you do that?
Don: In December we actually had the best sales that this bar has even had. The first thing I did was improve on the beer selection, then I moved onto the menu and concentrated on items that people actually like. If you take the American Diners, and the American Bar and Grill, and put it all in one basket, this is what we offer. And the prices are very reasonable. Basically, we give people what they want at a price they can afford.
Kim: You certainly provide a lot of information for people through your website, and Facebook activities. Do you cater only for the expats, or is it for the wider Russian community as well?
Don: No, expat business has shrunk, and itâs now between 70-80% Russian, but I am still involved with expats a lot. In the 90s, Russians followed expats to new bars and restaurants. Now, I donât think the owners can tell the difference between Russians and expat clients. The foreigners like to go to places like the Hudson or Papaâs because these places are clean and good fun, the Russians are the same, they go to places because they want to, not because of foreigners. They want to listen to good music and enjoy themselves.
Kim: Donât you think the music scene in Moscow has become a bit limited?
Don: There are still various bars, which put on live music, like Krisis Zhanra, Rhythm Dolls & Pistols, and Blues Cafe, but itâs not everywhere. In the old days, there used to be live music every day or all over Moscow almost everywhere, now you are lucky if you can find it once a month.
Kim: Tell us about the Curry Club. Itâs been gong on for 2 years now?
Don: No, itâs going on 6 years now. Itâs a kind of barometer for the expat community. If lots of people are going to the Curry Club, like they are now, then everything is all right.