An Arlington, Texas restaurant has referred to its cuisine as “Russian” for the past two decades. But threats were made after Russia invaded Ukraine, and now the restaurant is rebranded as “Eastern Europe”.
TO MARTINEZ, HOST:
Companies with Russia in their name have faced difficulties and even threats since Russia invaded Ukraine. A restaurant and grocery store in Arlington, Texas quickly changed their name. And KERA’s Kailey Broussard reports that she is now gaining new clients.
KAILEY BROUSSARD, BYLINE: The sign outside Val Tsalko’s family business has advertised Russian giveaways for years. It was handy marketing to tell customers what to expect, even though Tsalko is originally from Belarus and some of the restaurant’s most popular menu items are Ukrainian, such as borscht and chicken kyiv.
VAL TSALKO: No one really knew Ukraine until two weeks ago. They still don’t know where Belarus is, where I’m from. So we use that as a general term, and a lot of our stuff isn’t even Russian.
BROUSSARD: Tsalko’s restaurant is called Taste of Europe, but some people have focused on that Russian word on its sign. He says there have been death threats and even a confusing accusation that he is part of the KGB, Russia’s long-defunct security agency.
TSALKO: I’ve been here for about 22 years. Like, yeah, OK, you know – I was a sleeper agent when I was 4 years old. Yeah, that sounds about right.
BROUSSARD: Tsalko and his team are already working on new signs and menus. But after the threats they changed everything in one day and masked the Russian word on the sign. It was a smart business decision, but he was also concerned about security.
TSALKO: Some of my staff are, for example, Ukrainians from Kyrgyzstan, and some of them are right here, straight native Texans, you know? So the threats – I was more concerned about my staff.
BROUSSARD: Now Tsalko says the restaurant is getting fewer calls and more new customers. Jennifer Dembroski and her husband were looking for some good pierogi and visited after hearing about the threats.
JENNIFER DEMBROSKI: There’s not much we can do here in America, but we want to at least show that we support them and support the company here just because they’ve had so much fallout because of everything that’s going on.
BROUSSARD: One of the restaurant’s regulars, Rose Van Alstine, says the threats are hurting a family that has lived in the United States for decades.
ROSE VAN ALSTINE: They live here in the community, and they are part of our community. I’m really sad that they had to, like, black out the Russian word (laughs). And so we just want to make sure that we continue to support them.
BROUSSARD: And Tsalko wants to show that he supports the Ukrainians. Among its brand changes are signs with web links for customers to send donations to Ukraine.
For NPR News, I’m Kailey Broussard in Arlington, Texas.
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