What is the history behind Ornament Express Café, and what originally made you want to open here in Mtskheta?
The history behind this café is love. Love towards Georgian food, culture, origins and my childhood memories of amazing Georgian women making beautiful ‘Georgian Supras’ (feasts) both at home and when visiting friends and relatives.
One cannot imagine having a café in this very special location, I still cannot believe that I open the door and have Svetiskhoveli Cathedral in front of me.
Ornament Express Café intends to create a homelike atmosphere for guests. If our food and atmosphere remind them of their home and childhood tastes, then my mission is complete. The whole concept is Georgian, the interior, presentation, taste etc.
We thought it was high time to have a nice café in Mtskheta offering decent coffee, a nice meal and good wine. In short, this is the Georgian branded café Ornament Express – ‘a lot of traditions with slight innovation’.
What inspired the name ‘Ornament Express Café’?
Why Express? Georgian culinary traditions are no easy job, you have to try to express and try out different options first, before you do the final version.
Why Ornament? Georgian songs, Georgian dances, Georgian architecture, all are ornaments. The great legacy of Georgian culinary traditions is in its real simplicity, you combine two or three ingredients and you get marvellous taste. It is healthy and yet very tasty. We should maintain this rare simplicity and original taste.
What do you feel sets you apart from other cafés?
Traditional Georgian hospitality, which in itself is very special. I have many friends from different countries that so enjoy visiting us at home and feeling our genuine hospitality, which they admire. For various reasons we do not see such hospitality in many establishments. We have created that particular hospitality in our café. It is our unique selling point. We emphasized to our employees that care and warmth is what makes you feel at home. We tried to make them love the guests for whom they cook and serve dishes. I hope guests will feel this while visiting us.
What is special about your menu?
Every dish has a Georgian taste, but since culinary tastes are changing and the younger generation likes food in the shape of burgers and finger food, we created a Georgian burger that has fresh meat prepared according to Georgian taste. It is very popular. We plan to have innovations not so characteristic of Georgian cafés, i.e. weekend breakfast and brunch offers. It will be done in a special way so that people who love to eat breakfast can come outside Tbilisi and enjoy the countryside and relax on our balcony with a great view.
What about the ethnic design that you have in your café?
The house in itself is almost 200 years old. We have undertaken strengthening of the main walls; the rest has remained as it is. In general a Georgian interior is not very fine; it always has a pattern of some disorder which is what makes it special. Therefore we did not make many changes, not all the walls are crystal sharp straight, but it is welcoming and cosy.
You are planning to add 2 more upper floors to your café, when are you planning to unveil them?
They will be presented next spring as an upscale Georgian casual dining place, where you will be able to spend the evening with wine and eat a fine three-course dinner and desserts accompanied by great music, definitely not too loud. The top floor will be devoted to small engagement dinners.
If you were a customer in your own café, what would you order from the menu?
The appetizer ‘Ornament Express’, which is a small portion of ‘khachapuri’ (3 pieces) with a cucumber tomato salad. Every Georgian likes to eat khachapuri with salad, therefore we have combined it as one dish and the khachapuri is not hot, but warmed up and crispy.
Describe your venue in 3 words.
Traditional, presentable, tasty.
What about your amazing views of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral?
It is the best place to be at any time of the day, especially in the morning when the birds are singing and you sip coffee with an amazing view of the Cathedral. I believe it will become a favourite spot for event and wedding photography.
Aside from running your business, what other businesses in the MICE sector do you manage?
I am the Executive Vice-President of McInerney Hospitality International Georgia that is the official representative of McInerney Hospitality International LLC, officially the approved operator for Marriott & Wyndham Group Hotels on the territory of Georgia. The President of the company, Mr. Joseph McInerney, is a distinguished professional for hospitality in the United States and holds the Emeritus President status of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
In addition, I have Recruitment, Training & Consulting Agency KMS Georgia that has been operational for the last 9 years and is very active in recruitment and training within Georgia and abroad. Our powerful recruitment project that facilitates employment in tourism abroad in 5 star hotels is becoming more and more popular. International brands like Marriott, Hyatt, Intercontinental, EMAAR and many more, admire the Georgian talent that we offer for employment. This is an excellent opportunity for Georgian citizens to find stable jobs abroad and at the same time be part of a circular migration scheme that allows them to come back to Georgia with improved skills for work and life. More than 500 Georgian citizens have been recruited abroad legally in 5 star hotels through our company.
What can you tell us about tourism development tendencies of the last few years?
We have managed to make Georgia shine on the travel map throughout the world. Now we need to sit down and discuss how we can preserve cultural material heritage and retain quality versus quantity. Infrastructure needs to be developed in many locations. Transportation is the main challenge within Georgia. In-country tourism is dependent on private transport means. Georgian Railway has to offer multiple options for travelers and all transport means have to be user friendly for internal and foreign visitors. We have Mtskheta, the best tourism spot in the country, yet we do not even have a train that comes regularly to Mtskheta during the day. Traffic and pollution also remain challenging for us.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in the restaurant business?
My career developed from the state sector to private business. I am currently in the hospitality sphere, which involves culinary operations as its significant contributor. I have been involved in many projects for hotels & restaurants and always dreamed of freedom of choice, creating a special concept that would combine the best of Georgian food and the main elements of modern techniques and presentation.
Tell us about your career path. How did you first start?
I started my career long ago back in 1994 in the education sphere, since then I worked for state, as well as private business. In 2009, I founded my own company that successfully operates within Georgia and abroad.
What other community projects are you working on now?
At present, my company provides consulting for three top projects, namely Courtyard and Marriott Hotels in Batumi and the Wyndham Grand project in Tbilisi on Freedom square.
In addition, this year we have done pre-opening management for four hotels in Georgia: Porta Caucasia hotel in Kazbegi; Best Western Tbilisi City Center hotel; King Gorgasali Hotel in old Tbilisi; and Bioli Wellness Resort accommodation facilities in Tsavkisi (near Tbilisi).
We are working to complete two more hotels this year in Shekvetili, one boutique hotel Magnika and another hotel and spa resort of 120 rooms on the Black Sea.
Q.What are some of the challenges of being a restaurant owner and manager?
Every business has a challenge of this or that nature; however I do not see any real challenge that cannot be overcome.
If you were a foreigner, a citizen of any European country, what would you like best about Georgia?
A. The great vineyards, spectacular mountains, Georgian balconies and delicious food of course