“When we opened our deli people started to come in and we started knowing everybody [in the Russian community],” says their son Albert Yakubob, 23. “Before that we didn’t know anybody.” He estimates that there are close to 3,000 Russians in Richmond. But in the two years the deli has been open the clientele has changed. Now they have many American customers. “They coming, they trying and they come always back to us because they like it,” he says.
Because of the success of the deli, and because Benyamin used to be a head chef in Russia at an exclusive private club, the Yakubobs opened a restaurant called Little Europa in May. It’s truly a family affair: Albert, who also owns a European wine and beer wholesale business, supplies alcohol. His older brother, Valery, 25, works as the bar manager. His little brother, Timur, 13, serves as busboy. And his father works in the kitchen. (Their mother, Svetlana, works around the corner in the deli.)
The family not only runs the place; they also built it from scratch. Their storefront used to be a preschool, so the Yakubobs had to start over building walls, bathrooms, the bar and kitchen. They called in a Russian painter to decorate the walls with a flowery, ocean blue mural that wraps the four walls of the cozy rectangular space. Every weekend night at 6 a fellow Russian plays guitar along to prerecorded music. At 10 the disco ball begins spinning and a show of traditional dance begins, including a Gypsy dance, a classic Russian dance and a Turkish dance.
Benyamin’s menu is filled with Eastern European staples like shish kabob, and cold appetizers like a meat platter, seafood platter and olive salad, which Albert says is very popular in Russia. They also feature chef specials like Jarkov (beef tips simmered slowly in a ceramic pot with mushrooms, onions and dried plums in a seasoned broth with poppyseed bread baked on top) and the special Little Europa Stroganoff (strips of oven-roasted pork with onions, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms served in a rum flambe).
You can wash it all down with a beer from Poland, Russia or the Czech Republic, or a Maldovian wine. They are especially proud to serve Khvanchkara, a sweet red table wine, which gained notoriety because it was Stalin’s favorite. The opening of Little Europa has no doubt helped Richmond seem a little more like that city between the Caspian Sea and Kavkaz Mountians, at least for Benyamin Yakubob and his family. — Carrie Nieman
Little Europa Restaurant & Gourmet Deli Gayton Crossing Shopping Center 754-4466
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