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Interview with Vena Beleva of Repriza Cafe
Today we would like you to meet Vena Beleva. She comes from Bulgaria originally and is the business woman behind the successful cafes and catering service Repriza in Kiev
Go2Kiev: Why and when did you come to Kiev? Vena Beleva: I first came to Kiev in 1992 in order to help a Bulgarian friend with his business. You see, I am a trained lawyer and I specialized in international trade. In the following year we then started a company together. And in 1994 we started with the distribution of Bulgarian pharmaceutical products in Ukraine. Only three years later, we were already the market leader.
G2K: That is very interesting. But how did you get the idea to open up a café? VB: In 1996 we were looking for a new office and found a shop on B. Khmelniskogo, near Vladimirska church. We could rent it on the condition that we would also run the shop and sell bread and pastries to the locals. So we did. The shop did quite well soon. Our customers then would often ask us for a cup of coffee or tea. Since the basement of the office was empty, we decided to turn it into a small bakery and put up some tables too.
G2K: And how did you decide on the name? VB: A friend of mine had the idea for Repriza. It stands for repeated quality of goods and service, atmosphere and that the customers will come again.
G2K: How many cafes do you run now? VB: We have5 outlets in Kiev now and one in Ivano Frankivsk. We are planning to open five more outside of Kiev in the near future. And I also plan on expanding to Bulgaria and Rumania.
G2K: How many people work for you? VB: 300 people work for Repriza now. We offer our staff special training programs where we try to show them how business is done in other European countries. In the last two years we have sent our senior management to places in Austria, Belgium, France and Germany to compare and learn. I would like to offer service with warmth, from the heart, where the customers feel welcome.
G2K: What kind of training does your staff get? VB: We teach them how to treat the customer in a polite way and friendly way, how to handle warm food and drinks and so on. Every three months I have a meeting with my employees who work in the shops without the managers. I then ask them for their day-to-day experiences with the customers. That way I find out what our clients want and can react accordingly.
G2K: I have been to three of your cafes and have noticed that they are all non-smoking. Is there a special reason for that? VB: Yes, there is. The kind of customers we would like to attract, are mostly health-conscious and usually quite educated. About 35% of our customers in the cafes are foreigners and in the catering area even about 60%. Many cooperative clients use Repriza’s services for official functions.
G2K: What has been the most positive experience since you started your first café? VB: When I see that my customers are happy. I sometimes watch them how they order and enjoy our products. I am also very proud of our pioneer role here in Kiev. For example, we were the first café here to have tiramisu on the menu. And our waitresses were the first ones to wear long bistro aprons (Servierschuerze nachschauen!).
G2K: So what are your plans for the future? VB: We are going to add some healthy dishes to our menu and we are also increasing our varieties of dark bread.
G2K: I have noticed that there are mainly women working in your shops. Is it hard to find men in this field? VB: Yes, it is. It’s a women’s business in Ukraine. But in the rest of Europe it is male dominated. I have started a program to encourage men to work in this field here too.
G2K: What do you think about Ukrainian women? VB: Oh, I see a lot of potential, especially among the young and middle-aged ones. They are very energetic, have a lot of ambition and are goal-oriented. I am sure there is going to be a big change within the next few years.
G2K: One last question: How much free time do you have and what do you like to do then? VB: In the last year I have started to take one day off per week. I switch off my mobile and prefer to be alone. That is very relaxing for me.
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