Local entrepreneurs bring Mexican to Kyrgyzstan
Here in Bishkek, it’s said, you could sell the air and make money.
This year however, two young entrepreneurs are making a go of it offering much more than air. Each has opened his own food-stand selling burritos.
Ilias Zhoroev, 26, developed his skills while working the night shift at a McDonald’s restaurant in Chicago, Illinois. After spending all night at the restaurant, Zhoroev and his friends would head to Subway or Chipotle after work for their dinner.
“It’s more healthy [than McDonald’s],” says Zhoroev. He’s leaning back in one of the plastic lawn chairs in front of his shop, aptly named Burrito. McDonald’s was a great experience for him in the service business and has greatly influenced how he runs his food stand and manages his employees.
Upon return to Kyrgyzstan, Zhoroev wanted to open a place like Subway because of its fresh and healthy options. “But some guys [here] did it ahead of us. So we thought, ‘We have Subway. Why not Chipotle?’”
Any visitor familiar with the Subway or Chipotle set-up will immediately recognize the similarity in Zhoroev’s food stand, located on the corner of Sovietskaya (Baitik Baatyr) and Jantosheva. There’s a simple menu offering choice of chicken, beef, steak or veggie. All the regular Tex-Mex toppings are added behind a glass window in front of the customer.
It’s a long haul from Mexico to Kyrgyzstan. Most Kyrgyzstanis aren’t accustomed to spicy food and it’s taking a bit of convincing to capture the local market.
“Most Kyrgyz people, they want meat,” says Zhoroev, chuckling. “They ask, ‘why this rice, and beans?’”
“First of all, it’s the meat,” says Tologon Arykov, 26. Washing his hands, he comes out of the kitchen and takes a seat across the table. Located on the East side of Rahat Shopping Mall, his shop, Amigo, offers indoor seating for about a dozen customers.
“We have fresh vegetables and cheese [and] we use our unique spices.” Arykov holds up two bags of dried peppers he got from an American chef during a culinary diplomacy event at the American Embassy. “Sometimes people ask, ‘Do you have anything other than the burrito?’ So we’re looking at other options like quesadillas or chili soup.”
Playing the entrepreneurial ‘air’ guitar
“I started from nothing—searching the internet,” says Arykov. This is his first business venture and it’s moving along like a bit of an experiment. “You have to have risk,” he adds, saying he expects it to take more than a year until the business is sustainable. “Research a lot. Location is huge. You have to have money and you have to have time for the people to love [the restaurant].”
Zhoroev’s shop, Burrito, has been open about six months longer than Amigo and has already acquired a clientele. “We have regular customers here and it’s important we recognize that,” he says pointing in the directions of the nearby American school and American Embassy.
“Love what you do,” says Zhoroev. His model is to have “a good product for a good price” and not worry about profit. “It’s not about the money. If you have the desire, you can find the money.” In a place where one can sell the air for profit, it’s easy to understand their excitement about the Tex-Mex burrito’s chances here in Bishkek.
“Burrito” located on Sovietskaya (Baitik Baatyr) and Jantosheva