#CBfriends: Iconfood


In our #cbfriends section, Iconfood bar manager Asker Khashev and head barista Nika Alekseeva spoke about the values of the holding and the right utensils.

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you choose your profession? What was the turning point?

Nika: It was 8-9 years ago. I lived in Kamchatka and was mainly engaged in the sale of skis and mountaineering equipment. Once I met a friend on the bus who had flown in from Vladivostok, and she told me that there in a coffee shop the barista asked her favorite color and taste and brought her a cappuccino with syrup and colored foam. This surprised me, and I started looking for coffee shops in Petropavlovsk. But as it turns out, we don’t have coffee shops, and we still don’t. But in a children's ice cream store, where there was a small coffee machine, they prepared me a big, big cappuccino and sprinkled a cinnamon heart on top. I started going there often and eventually got a job there, went to St. Petersburg for the whole summer - looked for coffee shops and worked part-time in them. This is how my journey across Russia began, and now I’ve been in Moscow for 4 years.

Asker: For me, this is probably a matter of chance. By and large, for a young guy who has just arrived in Moscow, the choice of vacancies is not that great. I was lucky - my friends worked in a premium restaurant, which became my first job. Of course, I had to learn everything very quickly. There was a lot of literature available to employees, naturally, “The Bartender’s Bible” and other books, which I began to study, and I became interested in bar history. Mostly wine and cocktails - I studied the huge drink list and spent every free minute in the restaurant's wine cellar. This is how my journey in this profession began. As for the transition to the job of a bar manager, it happens smoothly for those who strive for something, want to learn more, invest knowledge in themselves. This is how it all turned out for me.

How did you start collaborating with Iconfood?

Nika: Once, when I had already arrived in Moscow, a friend took me to a cupcake shop. There, for the first time in my life, I saw cupcakes - large, colorful. I tried coffee there and forgot about this place for a while. About a year later, while walking around the city, I again came across this establishment with colorful benches that attracted attention. I went inside, and it turned out that there were vacancies for a barista, a head barista. I just wanted to change my job, got an interview and have been working as a chef barista at udcafe for 3 years now.

Asker: And I am at the origins of the company - there were a lot of my friends on the team, and they invited me to join. I started working at Iconfood when there was not a single restaurant yet - the first 4 restaurants opened in a very short time, within six months. At the moment, we have 12 restaurants in our network, but probably from the first day I realized that this was an interesting, ambitious project that would not be like anything I had seen before. Naturally, I was interested in this, and I have never regretted cooperation in my life.

What is the ideology of Iconfood establishments ? Is it the same for the entire chain or different for each establishment?

Asker: At this stage we have 4 concepts, and each, of course, has its own characteristics, but what we strive for is, first of all, quality and consistency.

Nika: And speed.

Asker: Well, speed is already mechanics. As we say, we create restaurant brands that become an integral part of your life. But the emphasis is still on quality. One of the cornerstones for our restaurant holding is originality - we try to be innovators. A lot of things that are now common in many restaurants in Moscow were absent in restaurant culture, and it was we who introduced them. For example, when we first came to Afisha’s Picnic, we were the only place that sold burgers. Now at this festival there is not a single point that does not sell them.

How does your ideology relate to the tastes and presentation of drinks?

Nika: First of all, it is expressed in varnishproper serving: we use fairly simple and really high-quality dishes.

Asker: If we talk about design, then, of course, the most important thing is the candy, but in order for this candy to be chosen, an appropriate wrapper is needed. Therefore, we try to use original dishes and serving, to harmoniously combine different items, for example, combining teapots and cups with metal elements.

drawing on coffee

This udcafe (on Paveletskaya) opened quite recently. Is it difficult to develop new network points?

Nika: It was difficult to open the second one.

Asker: The fifth one was difficult to open :)

Nika: For Asker it was the fifth, and for me it was the second.

Asker: But it really was like that, I agree with Nika.

Nika: Then you understand where you made what mistakes, and the process is debugged, so now it’s very easy to open another one.

Asker: Yes, we had 4 restaurants for about 3.5 years. And when we came to the conclusion that at this stage all 4 establishments were firmly “standing on their feet” and we needed to move on, we opened 2 new points with a difference of a month, already together with Nika. This was very difficult. Naturally, there were some omissions, mistakes and everything else, but now we open 4 points a year, and this happens very easily, because all the nuances have been worked out, the details are known, everyone knows what they must do before the opening of a new establishment.

Nika: Again, we work as the same team, each with their own area of responsibility. And before, it was, of course, difficult - recruiting staff, training, understanding what equipment would be needed, thinking through the technology of the bar, the ergonomics of the space.

Asker: Now I can draw a plan of the bar with my eyes closed.

Do you have a ritual without which you cannot start work?

Asker: This is perhaps a classic ritual for everyone who works in the restaurant business - to drink coffee in the morning.

Nika: This is probably true in any job. For me it's a double espresso because I'm checking the equipment settings - they're just about to bring it to me.

double espresso

Are the bar cards the same for all establishments in the chain?

Nika: We don’t have franchises, so the only slight difference is in the alcohol license.

Asker: If we are talking about udcafe, then the bar menus are, of course, the same; it would be strange if there were different drinks at different points. Therefore, the cards are identical, and, as Nika said, where there is a license, there is alcohol.

You regularly present seasonal and themed beverage programs. How do you look for ideas and what guides your creativity?

Nika: There are certain flavors that can be called “top” that guests would like to drink all the time. There are also delicious combinations whose names do not sound, so they are less popular. For a drink, you need to clearly choose the taste, name, and presentation so that, as Asker said, it is “candy.”

Asker: I went to sommelier school, so I have a clear idea of compatibility. Based on this, I come up with drinks, and I try to come up with them so that no one will have them. Naturally, this is not one or two drinks, but a whole line, for example a summer offer with lemonades and smoothies. I always try to make a program that would include original drinks forconnoisseurs and gourmets, although I understand that they will sell less, and drinks for guests who want simple and understandable combinations.

meringue on a stand under a cloche

Do you take a more practical approach or do you get inspired?

Nika: I have a “cabinet with shelves” in my head – here are the ingredients, here are the cooking methods. And, as Asker said, the combination itself is already in your head: without even trying, you understand what will happen.

Do you like to experiment, for example, with new syrups? Or do you stick more to classic combinations? Why?

Nika: Everyone likes to experiment!

Asker: Of course. It happens that you are sitting at the bar, answering letters, and suddenly it dawns on you: “What if ...”, and you can immediately try this idea.

What is the key in choosing glassware for the drinks you prepare?

Nika: I just take a glass in my hand - if I like it, I buy it. I recently ordered a glass from Complex Bar - we don’t have a drink for it yet, but I like holding it in my hands, the look and shape, so we’ll make a drink specifically for this glass.

Asker: The glass has already been ordered, and the drink will come with it J But there is also one point here - how the dishes look, the tactile sensations from them - this is very important, but, of course, you need to take into account how they will behave in use – is the glass thin, will it break frequently. The choice is made depending on the combination of all these factors.

Nika: Again, it is important how the drink is revealed in this container, because each drink needs its own container. For example, if we are talking about coffee, alternative brews or cold brews, a certain form is needed for aroma and taste.

Yes, if we talk about Americano, then in your country it is served in tall mugs, and in many coffee shops - in cappuccino cups.

Asker: This is because Americano in America is served in precisely such mugs.

Nika: After all, udcafe is American history, so we deliberately place such emphasis.

American style barware

Why did you choose Notneutral for hot drinks (special order “Complex-Bar” for Iconfood)? Was it difficult to agree on supplies?

Nika: This is amazingly beautiful and aesthetic tableware. Now I just had a cup of espresso - we use it precisely because of its shape, so that you can drink and at the same time feel the aroma of coffee. After the rate jump, they were no longer supplied to Russia, so we order them from the states through Complex-Bar. Drinks look amazing in it, it’s nice to hold in your hands, and it’s nice to look at. And since it is no longer available in Russia, this is a plus for us, because it is now represented only in our establishments.

Do you see the benefits of cooperation with Complex-Bar?

Nika: Of course. I’ll have a tasting soon, I don’t yet know which drinks will eventually be included in the autumn offer and I’m ordering glassware one at a time just for the presentation. The order is delivered the next day, we don’t pay for it, I show the drinks to management, they approve, and we place the order. It is very comfortable. If you need syrups, they will be delivered the next day.

Asker: For me, this is the mechanics of work at the highest level - in this regard, Complex-Bar has no competitors. For example, if I order one bottle of syrup at Complex Bar, tomorrow I will have this only bottle.

creation of cocktails by a professional bartender

If we talk about syrups, what are theWhat are the advantages of MONIN?

Nika: There are any tastes.

Asker: Yes, the key competitive advantage of MONIN syrups is the widest range. I don’t know what should come into my head for me to call and be told “there is no such syrup.” I think MONIN makes syrup out of everything. There are many syrup manufacturers, they all have a standard line, and if we are talking about something original and interesting, then, of course, MONIN has a much wider offer.

On the eve of PIR 2017, we are interested in exploring the generational aspect: what drinks do visitors of different ages choose? How do they react to new products? How do they look at the menu and how do they order? Is there a difference in their behavior, or is it invisible on your part?

Asker: Of course, some original innovative things resonate more with young people - this is natural. The older generation is traditionalists in any case, so they need something familiar and recognizable.

Nika: Since I work with coffee, for me, first of all, taste is important, and everything else will “catch up”. For example, alternative methods of brewing coffee had a very difficult time entering the Russian market. Although we started developing the coffee sector very late, now Russia is moving very quickly on the topic of coffee - we are catching up with Europe - in a couple more years, and we will overtake it. So innovative ideas still remain and are consolidated, regardless of their adoption by different generations. Moreover, our generation is growing, and soon we will be “those adults”: new products are accepted more and more easily. Of course, it’s difficult for my grandmother’s peers in this regard now, but generations change, time changes, so every year it’s easier and easier to implement some idea.

espresso drawing

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