March 23, 2020

Piter's People – Darya Aleksandrova



Piter's People – Darya Aleksandrova
"We don’t use [Julia Child's] recipes, although some people assume we do. The connection is more about the atmosphere, about her love of life and good feelings," Darya says.  Elena Bobrova

Starting out as a journalist in southern Russia, Darya changed her life dramatically when she moved to St. Petersburg. While working as a waitress, she already pictured her future as a restaurateur. Yet what she could not have predicted is that it all would come to roost in "the house where dreams come true.”

Darya, tell us your story.

I was born 34 years ago in Rostov-on-Don, in Russia's South. I moved to St. Petersburg 11 years go. I studied at the Russian Presidential Academy of the National Economy and Public Administration, but in my first year, all I did was journalism. I actually never worked in my area of specialization, as it turned out to be very boring. I was busy in student media, then had a sales job, but ended up working in a magazine. The project existed for a year, but then the economic crisis of 2009 happened. The magazine was shut down, so I went to St. Petersburg, as nothing tied me to Rostov-on-Don any longer. 

I always loved the city and had visited it often. Actually, I came in February 2009, to participate in a Personal Growth Training seminar. I met Stas there [her future husband and business co-owner], so at the end of the course I decided to move to St. Petersburg permanently (although we didn’t have a relationship at that time). But from the very beginning, I realized I wouldn’t go back into journalism. 

I decided to become a waitress, although I had not had any experience in food service before that. But I had my goal, and I came to learn. It may sound a bit presumptuous, but filling out my job application and answering the question: “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” I wrote “the head of my own restaurant.” So I started my career in Teplo restaurant, where I spent three and a half years. Stas worked there as a bartender, and that’s why later we launched our business together. In January 2013 we opened our first coffee shop, Small Double. 

Julia Child Bistro in St. Petersburg, Russia
Julia Child bistro is located on quiet Grazhdanskaya Street. / Elena Bobrova

When did Julia Child Bistro appear in your life?

Our coffee shop was lovely and had a confectionary. We like to think that Small Double was our school, where we studied intensively, but probably didn’t learn that much.

In 2015, a lady visited, spent quite a bit of time at the bar, watched us attentively, and proposed getting to know one another. It was Tatiana, who owned the Chao Mama hostel on the parallel street. She planned to upgrade it and turn it into a hotel. And there was a café next to it, which she wanted to be something new and different. So she proposed that we create a coffee shop there. It was spring; we went to Grazhdanskaya Street, looked at the space, and said: “Yes.”

Chao mama hotel in St. Petersburg
View of Voznesensky Prospect from Chao Mama hotel. / Darya Aleksandrova

But then Tatiana disappeared, reappearing only in the fall. She called and asked casually, “So have you made up your minds?” Then she proposed a bigger space with an additional hall and suggested we launch a proper restaurant. So we opened Julia Child in August 2016. Six months later we realized we needed to do something with Small Double and, in the end, we closed it. 

Certainly, we learned about Julia Child from the movie Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep. Actually it was Stas who came up with the idea. I think we watched the film again, discussed the name, I don’t remember exactly. We don’t use her recipes, although some people assume we do. The connection is more about the atmosphere, about her love of life and good feelings. 

Darya and Stas both work in Julia Child Bistro. / Darya Aleksandrova

Of course, few people in Russia know who Julia Child is. But we didn’t think that the public would understand. We simply decided that we wanted her name and that she matters to us. Quite often we get asked about her, and we are ready to answer it 100 times. These days we have many foreign visitors, especially from the US, so they love our story.  One of the clients even told us that his father worked with Julia Child. [Editor's Note: This interview was done before the COVID-19 crisis, which has devastated the tourist trade. Almost no one is traveling to St. Petersburg, including Americans.]

Our cuisine is European, but with the chef's specials. Since our chief studied in the US, there is a bit of American flavor. For example, we cook seasonal pumpkin pie that American expats special order for their Thanksgiving Day celebrations. 

What are you favorite places in the city?

First of all, it is Kolomna district, although the building where Julia Child is located isn’t in Kolomna. Still, the whole area between our bistro and the Mariinsky Theater and Synagogue is magical. If I have a spare minute, I love to take a short walk here.

Lions bridge in St. Petersburg
Nestled between the Mariinsky Theatre and the Neva River, Kolomna is a quaint, quiet part of town where the city center's many canals converge. / Darya Aleksandrova

According to one urban legend, our building on Grazhdanskaya Street, 27 is a “house where dreams come true,” though I’m quite tired of this story. Some people believe that, in the nineteenth century, there was a bakery here that sold waffles that brought luck to all who ate them. But if we set aside these rumors, our building definitely has its own atmosphere, as interesting people gather here, whether in the hotel or the flower shop next door. And some cool people live here too. We love our building and hope that the feeling is mutual [laughs]. By the way, the floor tiles in one of the bistro's halls are 100 years old. 

Another highlight for me is Bolshoy Prospect on Vasilievsky Island. I discovered Vas’ka [the local nickname for the island] only last year, when I started cycling to Sevkabel Port. The prospect is beautiful and wide. There is Vasileostrovsky Market, with the Vietnamese restaurant Bo, where I order noodles and my husband gets spicy soup. The prospect goes toward the Gulf of Finland, which means it’s festive, but quiet at the same time. And I like the airy Andreyevsky Cathedral across the market. 

Also, the best sunsets can be seen from the Troitsky [Trinity] Bridge. It has the most beautiful views of the Spit of Vasilievsky Island and historic St. Petersburg. Tram #3 crosses the bridge and connects Repin Square with Finlyandsky Railway Station. I recommend that every tourist take this route, especially on the weekend. We live behind Finlyandsky Railway Station at the moment, but dream of one day settling in Kolomna. 

Addresses:

  • Julia Child Bistro - Grazhdanskaya street, 27.
  • Bolshoy Prospect on Vasilievsky Island
  • Vasileostrovsky Market - Bolshoy prospect V.O., 16.
  • Andreyevsky Cathedral - 6 line of Vasilievsky island, 11.
  • Troitsky Bridge

 

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