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Piroshky Piroshky

The American dream is real

It's hard to resist a meal wrapped in dough, and even harder when you know the story behind the family that makes it; they know the American dream is real because it happened for them.

Vladimir and Zina Kotelnikov were living in Estonia in the Soviet Union with their children Oliver and Anna. Vladimir was a baker and Zina a highly-educated, well-respected attorney. Unfortunately, Vladimir was on the government list for "extra conversation." As daughter-in-law Olga Sagan says, "Things were not looking good for them. In 1989, they took what they could wear and carry and headed to Seattle via Italy and New York. They had no money. Vladimir went to work in construction, and Zina cleaned rooms at the Bellevue Hyatt. Oliver attended Sammamish High School and chess club, and Anna was at Bellevue Community College." Another chess club member was the son of the owner of Rasa Malaysia; through the boys, the parents met. The mother told them there was a spot open at the Pike Place Market. "She said, 'Vladimir, you're a baker and Zina, you are good with numbers, you can do this.' They got the space in 1992. She helped throughout the process," recalls Olga. "They asked everyone they knew and all the Russian immigrants for money. You would call it crowd funding today! Community support made it happen."

Front: Vladimir and Zina. Back: Oliver and Anna, late 90s

That summer, Oliver washed dishes at Safeway, saving to buy a car. His mother said, "Don't buy the car. Give me the money. I will give it back to you." He handed it over without a word, then cried all night. "The Pike Place Market community supported them. The first day they opened, one person after another stopped by. They opened the shop on October 24, 1992, and by the end of the year they had repaid everyone, including Oliver. He says it was the best investment he ever made!"

Oliver married Olga (who was 16 when she emigrated from Russia) and they worked at the Market location, then opened in Pioneer Square in 2003. "Zina asked us to return to Pike Place Market and help it continue to be successful. We agreed but let her know they needed to retire at some point. We closed Pioneer Square and took over the Market in 2006 under Zina's watchful eye. Vladimir had retired in 2000, and Zina in 2006. They sold the business to us in 2008. When we bought it, we wanted to go from a company with five employees (three of whom were family members) to something more efficient and a place that would draw good employees. We didn't just look for Russian bakers, we looked for all bakers. We used Craig's List to find people, not a friend of a friend."

Olga at Century Square location by Seattle DINING!

As they took over the business, they also had two daughters just 18 months apart. "That slowed us down," laughs Olga. "One day, my daughter and I stopped by Northgate Mall. In the food court, I noticed a restaurant space for lease. I called the landlord and she did everything she could to make it easy for us to try it out. We didn't know if anyone would know who we were. The first day, we had a line! People would say, 'You're here, thank you! Will you have such and such an item?' They not only knew us, they knew our products. It was wonderful."

In May of 2015 they opened a shop in the Southcenter Mall and in June in the Columbia Tower downtown. "We went from one location to four and had 14 employees. We needed to regroup and organize. I've learned you have to unfreeze, move, then freeze again."

Olga and Oliver divorced in 2011 but continued to successfully run the business together. In 2017, Olga bought Oliver out. "He had lived the business for 25 years and thought maybe there was something else out there for him. I was well-vetted by him and Zina and had been involved for 17 years."

In 2018, she opened a shop at Century Square downtown. "Again, we had great support. People thanked us for opening. And we have another wonderful landlord. He convinced us to open here and we are so glad we did." They put their food truck into operation the second weekend of December, working two events. "Seattle is absolutely the place to be. We have 75 employees, five locations, and a food truck! I think that immigrants tend to believe in themselves. They take a shock to the system and come out alright. They're not afraid to fail."

Piroshky bags have always had their logo on one side and the Market clock on the other. Once they added more locations, the clock became a trademark issue. Working with the Market, they came up with a plan to create more community. Their bags now feature Seattle artists with their name and website. "It gives the artists exposure. All the stores use them."

Their original concept still stands: ingredients are as local as possible (some things aren't available year round), they partner with local farms and other businesses like Uli's Sausage and Tillamook, and even Alaska Airlines which delivers to their customers in places like Anchorage and Hawaii. In 2018, they supplied PCC with their holiday Kringle, a northern European dessert. "We also cater and will deliver 24-7,000 pieces like we did to the Convention Center. Our core recipes were created by family, mostly Vladimir, Zina and Oliver. Now we have R&D coming up with twists like chicken and curry rice, or bacon, hash brown, cheese and egg. The dough and filling are prepped in our commercial kitchen, then delivered to each location where they are assembled on site and baked."

Smoked salmon pate piroshky

Olga's next dream is to create a flagship kitchen where people could see the product being made from beginning to end, then sit down to enjoy it. Their original Market store had a large window in front; this would tie their origin to their future.

Below: baked whole apple

Pike Place Market
1908 Pike Place
Seattle, WA 98101

701 5th Ave
Seattle, WA 98104

1391 Southcenter Mall
Tukwila, WA 98188

Century Square
1501 4th Ave, Ste 100
Seattle, WA 98101

Photos courtesy of Piroshky Piroshky unless otherwise noted

Connie Adams/January 2019

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Revolve True Food & Wine Bar


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