Recent developments provided me with the opportunity to fly to Moscow for a quick year-end business trip. My initial thought was to push it back as the holidays were upon us and I was trying desperately to wrap up a chaotic jury trial. I finally decided to throw holiday airport traffic concerns to the wind and jump on a plane. Worst-case scenario, I’d get to see The Kremlin, The Red Square, and Saint Basil’s Cathedral. 2018 is gearing up to be a monster of a year, so who knew when I would have the chance again. I was certainly open-minded about Moscow, but I had measured expectations as to the business opportunities that would present themselves.
I packed my bags, kissed my wife goodbye, promising her I would be home on Christmas Eve, and headed to the airport. The trip started out rather poorly. My initial flight was delayed 8 hours. The only remaining flight available robbed me of my choice emergency exit seat, and instead thrust me in the middle seat of the middle row for an 11-hour endurance test that I failed miserably. 2 hours of the flight were spent standing in the middle of the plane stretching my legs and back.
We finally arrived in Moscow 24 hours later, which happened to be the second consecutive night of no sleep for me. My fatigue was quickly erased by the frigid blast of air that greeted me when I walked out of the airport terminal, but I had been well-warned about the weather and dressed for the occasion. Our driver had knowledge of our delay and was sitting at the curb to greet us. He spoke no English but his smile was indeed warming and next thing I knew we were whisked away from the airport and towards our hotel. I was struck almost immediately by the realization that Moscow was going to be nothing like I had anticipated. You can’t help but notice the overall cleanliness of the city, the condition of the streets and highways, and the beautifully appointed construction projects that are too numerous to count. As we drew closer to our hotel, I took note that the city was an interesting mix of European design but on a large.
Our hotel was spotless, had a well-appointed gym and spa and was located directly within walking distance of the Bolshoi Theatre and Saint Basil’s Cathedral. I would be remiss if I did not mention that the discounted nightly price of ₽9,800 Rubles, approximately $170.00, was nothing short of highway robbery for this caliber of accommodations in such a centralized location. The value and excellence far exceeded the price paid. We arrived hungry and walked over to a local restaurant that advertised 24-hour service. Being that it was well past midnight, we thought anything that might pass as food was acceptable. I looked at the complex menu and decided that this was going to be a gamble as the selections surely would have required a full kitchen staff to execute. The three of us ordered completely different items, none of which were simplistic, and all would require more than a mere modicum of culinary expertise to successfully present at our table. After just 20 minutes and two rounds of Macallan 12’s, three excellent meals arrived at our table, all of which would have been very well received at noon in any Los Angeles eatery.
The next day in Moscow, surprises continued as we had our initial lunch meeting with our host group, Black Star. Their hospitality went far beyond that which could ever have been expected as their team was friendly, accommodating, spoke excellent English and entertained our pathetic attempts to communicate through YouTube Russian lessons. The next surprise I was in store for was the degree of entrepreneurial expertise that was displayed. Black Star was impressive, according to any metric, with their attention to detail being most immediately apparent. Their office was large, efficient, and the employees all seemed to be very happy with their work environment. Where was the Moscow that I had anticipated, so negatively portrayed by the media on an almost daily basis, that I had been advised at least by implication to avoid at all costs?
We visited the first of Black Star’s restaurants that night. The company was diverse and one of their assets was, similarly to myself, a burger restaurant. I saw the line of people waiting outside well before I was within 50 yards of the restaurant. The next thing that hit me was the heavenly smell that I later learned was the baking of fresh buns. The restaurant was lively but not overly loud, with a musical playlist comprised of Black Star artists that the company managed as part of their core business. From ordering to delivery of the burgers, was less than 5 minutes, a feat that would be impressive at In and Out and was nothing short of staggering considering the restaurant being packed to capacity. We took a seat at a reserved table in the back, put on our black gloves, another novel item from the Black Star team, and dove head first into the burger.
Damn. It was a good burger, and this is coming from a person who makes what is considered by many to be the best burger in Los Angeles. It reminded me of a larger version of a Shake Shack burger, aesthetically more pleasing, and in my humble opinion a more delicious product. The meat was tender, well-seasoned, and on fresh-baked brioche buns scrumptious enough to be enjoyed by themselves. 30 minutes later and quite full, we pushed ourselves back from the table and began to discuss business. A full two hours later we bid our new friends goodbye and retreated to our hotel rooms for a comfortable night of fatigue-induced slumber.
The following three days were filled with conversation, visits to local landmarks and popular restaurants, and the consumption of more than a few hand-crafted libations. The culinary scene as a whole was on par with any city that I have visited and that includes all of the foodie cities that immediately spring to your mind. If any shortcoming, perhaps one could say that there was not quite the diversity that you might find in other major metropolises, but even so the restaurants were as good as any other city I have visited in the world.
The meetings that I attended were diverse and focused on subjects ranging from restaurants and entertainment to clothing and apparel manufacturing. They were all developed, mature, thoughtful and would have been well-heard from London to New York City. I met young men and women, barely out of their 20’s who spoke as if they had been conducting complex businesses transactions for many years, and also some entrepreneurial veterans who I reluctantly left after 3 hours feeling enriched not only as a businessperson but as a human being.
I am quite hopeful that this will be the first of many trips to Moscow and I would encourage all of you to jump at the opportunity to visit this wonderful city. The only downside to my entire week was that as I sat writing this, a blizzard had picked this quite inopportune time to rear its ugly head and the digital board was then informing me that I would miss my connecting flight to Los Angeles. Aside from the delay being wholly inconvenient, it was becoming increasingly more likely that I would break my promise to my wife to return on Christmas Eve, which would invoke a wrath infinitely more terrifying than a Moscow winter storm.