There is practically no information about you in the public domain. Something can be found about Coyote Fly and parties, but after 2013 it is completely quiet.
My entire public life, which was associated with Coyote Fly, ended after the birth of children (three). My wife and I decided that this could not continue. In addition, before my eyes was the sad experience of my parents, who often “shone” in the press. I have formed a strong belief that publicity is not good for the family, which is always in the first place for me.
Did you do any other business before Coyote Fly?
At the age of 21, I created the furniture manufacturing company Hanzas mēbeles with 80 employees. He himself is an interior designer by education, so the furniture business was quite a logical step for me. I had to somehow bring to life the interiors I created! At that time, they did not pay for interior design, they paid for furniture. My clients were restaurants Gan Bei, LMT, Rimi, etc. Then times changed, intelligence became in demand and began to pay well. At some point, I felt that furniture production was not mine. Realizing that I was much more interested in design than furniture production, I decided to sell Hanzas mēbeles to the Norwegians. At that time I already had Coyote Fly, several cafes, the idea of creating a Bibliotēka restaurant appeared. This was the direction I wanted to pursue: creative, intelligent design, marketing strategy, new concepts, etc.
About the Bibliotēka restaurant. The idea to create a restaurant appeared in parallel with Coyote Fly. What was it? Would you like to compete with Vincents? Or was it more of a designer’s ambition? How was it really?
Working in the entertainment industry was not something I wanted to do my whole life. It was necessary to come up with something else. I really enjoyed designing design for Gan Bei restaurants and wanted to create my own project in this direction. We have known Maris Jansons for fifteen years. We went skiing together, often spending free time together when he was still working at Vincents.
There was one funny incident. For the first two years, Coyote Fly had a kitchen, and you could dine there during the day. I told Marisa and offered to go to my cook – to sculpt cutlets. He looked at me with a grin and replied: “Someday I will definitely take part in your projects. But this is a little out of my style. ” Even then, I was a little offended at him because he did not want to help me. In those days, I knew Maris as my boyfriend and only later saw him working in the kitchen. When he realized that he was a professional of the highest class, it became clear why he then refused to fry cutlets in the Coyote Fly. (Laughs.)
I started looking for premises. About this place, everyone, as one, told me that nothing good would come of it. But with my skilful design eyes, I immediately saw that it was possible to create a wonderful restaurant there. As soon as he decided on the premises, he immediately tracked down Maris and again offered to cooperate. This time, Maris saw the potential and agreed. I myself had the feeling that in the most beautiful park in the city – Vermanes – I could perfectly realize my ideas.
I learned everything in the restaurant business on the job. I have always been, in essence, an esthete, and I like to create beautiful things, so working on the design of the Bibliotēka Nr. 1 was fun and interesting. I thought over every detail so that in the atmosphere I created, guests would feel unforgettable. I agree with the French expression “La beaute est dans les details” (“Beauty is in the details”). If we talk about food, then I was not a gourmet, I preferred a good piece of meat to exquisite dishes and I am very grateful to this business for taking me through the labyrinths of taste, opening the world of wine for me. Wine culture, history and enjoyment is a truly fascinating experience! Now, when I am abroad, I always try to visit interesting restaurants and new places, since in this business someone needs to promote and develop everything, and it is best to do this based on my own experience.
Do you and Maris ride together?
We went to some places on purpose together, but Maris also travels himself. He tells me a lot, because he has gained good experience in the restaurant industry for a long time. My task is to feel what and how the chef feels, and to direct his knowledge in the right direction.
Did the situation repeat itself before the opening of Kolonade? Few believed in the success of this project?
We are not to blame for causing some public stir. The location of the Kolonāde Mūsu Stāsti restaurant was a tasty morsel for many. I have been thinking about this place for a long time. Later I learned that there was an opportunity to get the right to rent. A competition was announced with one of the conditions that the restaurant must be democratic. The interpretation of this term is very different, since a hot dog eatery and a fine dining restaurant can be called a democratic place. We won the competition, and from that moment the history of the Kolonāde Mūsu Stāsti restaurant began. There were many trials, at times it even seemed that we were at a dead end, but thanks to perseverance and hard work, we somehow managed to solve all the difficulties and move forward. Prices, wine policy, cuisine policy – we have chosen this recipe for ourselves. Actually, it’s a challenge to open this type of restaurant in the very center of Riga. Rent, investment that seemed to be recouped is simply unrealistic. And even now there is no less work … Kolonāde is always compared with Bibliotēka Nr. 1. Just want to clarify that these restaurants cannot be compared, since they have different concepts. Bibliotēka is a high-class gourmet restaurant for exquisite dining with the widest selection of champagne in the Baltics. In turn, Kolonāde is a brasserie-type wine restaurant with a very extensive wine segment at affordable prices, with simple and understandable food. However, both restaurants are united by a selection of high quality home-made products from farmers as well as from foreign suppliers. In both cases, the fine dining philosophy works.
A very competent move with international assessments. Are you doing this to attract tourists?
This is not so important for Latvians. Dukurs won for the fifth time in a row, but they talked about this for two days and forgot. Everyone’s head is full of their own problems. Awards are very good motivation for staff. It is important for them to see that their work is noticed and appreciated. The restaurant business is generally a difficult thing. We had a large cafe at the airport where we sold sandwiches, rolls. All of this was well snapped up, and the profit was stable. The fine dining restaurant is different. You can come up with all sorts of promotions – for example, selling two bottles of champagne for the price of one, but no one will buy them anyway, and there will be no queue. This type of restaurant includes production, marketing, idea, concept, service, quality. This is a complex concept. At some point, something seems more important, then priorities shift again, and so on ad infinitum. All the time, like Columbus, you make new discoveries. Therefore, I literally bow to the chef
the variety of the Vincents restaurant Martins Ritins. His restaurant is already 20 years old! I can imagine what he went through over the years. We are only 6 years old and we are still at the very beginning of our journey. And thank God that in Riga there is an example of such a successful high-level restaurant, which we can all look up to and from which we can learn. We are all proud and admit that Vincents is deservedly the best restaurant in the Baltics. In ten years everything will be different here. The changes may not affect all restaurants, but fine dining is definitely. After all, we travel, observe, learn all the time! Development doesn’t happen when everything is going well. And when things don’t go well, you literally go overboard. I can say with confidence that restaurant owners do not feel comfortable in Latvia today. No one! From the outside it seems that everything is fine with us, but this is not so. By investing in this business, you always take risks, because you never know what will happen in the end. And, for example, problems with suppliers. We try to stick to national, local cuisine. But we do not have enough of our own products, so we have to import something from Germany and other countries. This is a big problem in Latvia – no supplier can provide timely deliveries and guaranteed quality. There are no such problems with wheat and rye, it is more about vegetables, fruits, meat!
What restaurants in the world are special to you?
I remember our trip with Maris to Moscow, where we were in White Rabbit. The restaurants Noma and Osteria Francescana have been studied far and wide. Massimo Bottura has created a fantastic place, they have such a drive! I plan to go to Italy and finally get to his restaurant. What he does is amazing! At White Rabbit, Maris and I appreciated their philosophy of dish sets. In this they even surpassed France. In general, I recommend going to restaurants and grabbing their set menu – it shows the whole picture. And the steak can be ordered when you just want to eat.
White Rabbit restaurant in Moscow
Where do you go to enjoy your wine? To other restaurants?
If business partners or delegations come to me, we usually go to Vincents. Or to those restaurants with which I have a good relationship. For example, to Erik (Dreibants), or to Eduard (Yakushevskis) in “Riviera”, or to Lauris (Alekseev) in 36. līnija. I have a great relationship with everyone. Lauris is a very non-conflict person, for which I respect him very much. If without wine – then to the bar “XIII”. There you can feel the quality – both in terms of products and in terms of service.
It’s nice that I have something to show my foreign partners. Of course, I take them to the Central Market, for them this is one of the most interesting places. I strongly support the plans of the Riga City Council to modernize the market and make it more accessible to tourists. In Madrid, Portugal, Germany, I like to go to local markets, from which you can immediately get an idea of the country’s gastronomy. The Abu Dhabi market is striking in its variety, here freshly caught fish will be baked on the spot, which you eat straight from the bag, since there is nothing better than fresh product. It is clear that the food in the restaurant is served beautifully, but the basis is the same – fresh produce. I highly recommend the markets of Madrid and Lisbon, thanks to them you can really understand the nation.
Estonians have succeeded in realizing the idea of their Souses forum, which has been held for two years in a row. Chefs give lectures there, sommeliers talk about wines, chefs of Michelin restaurants come to them. Everyone is sitting and listening with their mouths open to what the top experts in the industry are saying. Estonians invest a lot of money in the project, and even the government supports them, realizing how important this is for the influx of tourists and the country’s identity. In Latvia, this usually happens at the level of one company that presents its product. They all do great things, but they all do one thing. Reaton, Gemoss – each of these companies acts in its own way, striving to retain its share of the market, but they do not become the best. We need objective, healthy competition. As for the Hotels and Restaurants Association (LVRA), I would like us to organize cultural events for restaurants and invite well-known specialists with a worldwide reputation. This is a good way to make yourself known. They come here, share their knowledge, but we also give them knowledge. Returning home, they will definitely tell you about Latvia, how many good restaurants we have, and advise you to visit our country. For example, a representative from De Venoge, who came to the Riga Wine & Champagne festival last year, visited both Ritins and us. He said that more and more people talk about Riga as a Mecca for gourmets and mark the high quality of our restaurants. It’s like word of mouth worldwide. The scale with which Aigars Nords organizes the Riga Wine & Champagne festival is very effective, we all need to strive for this. This is how he develops the wine business in Latvia. We need to do something similar for restaurants. Live Riga with its restaurant week project also helps to stir up Latvians who are too lazy to go to restaurants. But such events do not develop the restaurant itself – only the product is demonstrated. It is important that all these events maintain their high level, so that there is a filtering – who can participate and who cannot.
You have no staff turnover – this is a very good indicator!
Employees are the main challenge in our field, they are the main asset. Of course, the wishes of the person must be respected, and if he or she has exhausted himself, you need to give the opportunity to develop elsewhere. When choosing personnel to manage a restaurant, it is important that the potential employee is himself a client of that restaurant. Then he will look as if from the outside, see what he likes and what he doesn’t like. Now in the world there are many schools for premium marketing / sales / service, where only the premium segment is considered. Chef, sommelier, manager, marketing specialists – they need to understand what premium is at the cellular level.
Latvians are a “beer” nation, therefore, to learn to love wine culture, one has to start with a cook, waiter and other staff. It all starts with who I am and what I do to develop.
It would be great if everyone treated their work with the same zeal and dedication, but it’s no secret that service is the number one problem for many restaurants.
Yes, unfortunately, this is a big problem, something that is always very easy to blame. And it’s not just a restaurant problem. In Latvia, the service is lame in many areas. I would like to praise the head of Lattelecom Juris Gulbis for his desire to raise the level of service, or, for example, the management of Swedbank, which is actively fighting for professionalism in service. We have a lot to learn from them. If you ask yourself a question: how do we, restaurants, sell ourselves in the eyes of tourists and locals? – then, of course, people will remember not only the experienced taste sensations, but also the service. A bank, a grocery store, a pharmacy, a hairdresser – these are all services that must develop and improve in one direction. Each of us, after all, at times is faced with service and attitude at a low level, so it would be naive to address this problem only to restaurants. If we are talking about a product – a bar, wine, a dish, then this is something that the restaurant itself can influence, but the service is a national moment. Of course, in my restaurants I do everything to educate waiters and to make guests feel satisfied and happy with us. My philosophy: the client is always right!
I also often struggle with the word “waiter” itself. The waiter must do everything in his power so that the guest is grateful to him for the product that you gave him and so that he speaks about it. In Latvia, the waiter is perceived more as a servant. I don’t understand who and when came up with the idea that there is something humiliating in the profession of a waiter. I don’t understand where this misperception of the service industry came from.
Of course, this problem needs to be solved by many industries together, to develop criteria, assessments, to create a school in which specialists would be trained and where we could send our employees for training, knowing that a solid foundation will be laid there. I also do not exclude the need for certification of workers. It doesn’t matter if you are a hairdresser or a pharmacist, you work in a hotel or a pharmacy. The same problem exists in government agencies. How they talk to us there! How they look from top to bottom! It is customary for many to complain about poor service in a restaurant, but in Latvia we are faced with a similar problem at almost every step. So, really, many thanks to large enterprises, in particular: Juris Gulbis, Maris Marchinsky and Ugis Zemturin – for their contribution to the development of the level of service. I have not heard of anything like this in government agencies, where, in my opinion, this should also be a priority. It is very unfair to blame restaurants for lame service. We try our best to provide good service. But I would not want to say that our service to females is the worst, comparing with the institution as a whole. I would even like to note that the service in the restaurant sector is one of the best, because without good service a restaurant cannot live long. Do you want to go to Vairāk Saules, Gan Bei or Lido and see smiling people in front of you? It does not always work out, but there are such establishments in Latvia where even such a word as “service” has not been heard. Therefore, the restaurant industry is on the right track.
About wine …
My story about wine will be pretty comical. When we planned to open Bibliotēka Nr. 1, we understood that we would need a chef, as well as a person who would create a special atmosphere in the hall. We turned to Janis Gailis. He asked me how many wines we plan to put on the wine list. I replied that eight are red and eight are white. He then asked me again if we were really opening a restaurant and if I knew that the Vincents wine list had 600 wines. This joke is still going great with us! It was Maris and Janis who discovered the world of gourmet for me. I still, after seven years, consider myself an absolute beginner. We are very lucky that Janis Gailis is with us. He taught everything to Maris and us all. Many people think that the success of a restaurant depends mainly on the chef, ignoring the importance of synergy between the dining room, chef and management. In Vincents, of course, these are Ritins and Raimonds! This is an experience that the sommelier is sharing with you. After all, we go to a restaurant not only to eat, but also to have a good time. Food is only 50%, and the remaining 50% is the atmosphere in the hall, service and staff attitude. People go to Lauris at 36. līnija, as he is open for communication, and the guests like it. There are chefs who are more introverted, then this must be successfully compensated by, say, a charismatic sommelier.
The wine list of the Bibliotēka restaurant contains more than 130 types of champagne
I have already chosen my direction – I am a fan of champagne. This is an amazing drink! It is no coincidence that we have 130 types of champagne in our wine list at Bibliotēka. I am sure that no one in the Baltics has such a large offer. It is a drink with a unique history, a drink whose authenticity is carefully preserved. The Riga Wine & Champagne Festival, which we organize ourselves, events with De Venoge are events for me. I think it’s better to drink one bottle of champagne than ten bottles of beer, because this way you enjoy a good, high-quality product. While De Venoge Princese and Extra Brut are my favorites, I also really love Bollinger and Taitinger. Instead of my early preferences – Blanc de Blancs – Janis Gailis gradually got me hooked on Extra Brut, that’s why I like Jacquesson. I am also interested in the philosophy of Pilens – biodynamic champagne, which was a discovery for me.
I rarely drink strong drinks, choosing in such cases cognac sour: cognac, egg white, sugar – it turns out a very beautiful digestif. Champagne creates a light, festive mood. And strong drinks for me are associated with something gloomy, heavy. Life is already complicated and difficult, so I prefer the positive aura of champagne. We don’t drink champagne when everything is bad and dull.
A lot has already been done in Latvia, so my plans for the moment are related to other countries. We have completed a couple of projects in France. For example, for the wine house De Venoge they made a launge (in Epernay), they even wrote about us in the Forbes magazine! We also work in Belarus and in the future we plan to offer design services in other markets.
I really like two things. I have long understood that you need to do what you love in order to run to work with joy every day. I go to a restaurant with pleasure. And even if the problems do not diminish, I still get high. The restaurant cannot be managed like any other business project. If you want a business project, look for another format that you can invest in. The restaurant business can be engaged only if you yourself really like this business. A little sadomasochism – and go! Do what you like!
What is the key to the restaurant’s success?
You have to love what you do!