Mord-donald’s – central Russia’s lovin’ it

Located on a busy highway in central Russia, a small town in the republic of Mordovia carves out a living by serving hot meals to drivers. But with the recession biting hard, has this town got the stomach to survive?

For long-haul truckers and others who are hungry and travel weary, the town of Umet is a gastronomic oasis.

Truckers say they stop at Umet, 400 kilometers drive from Moscow, all the time, as some one hundred culinary booths tempt passersby with scents of hardy cuisine.

The menus are simple, nothing-fancy frills – just good honest food at good prices. The average meal will set you back about 150 roubles, approximately $5.

“Niko’s” specializes in Georgian, Russian, and Armenian food. The atmosphere is cozy and the hospitality top notch. Sussana Sakanyan prepares meals in the kitchen while her husband Hamlet is more comfortable at the grill.

“Our cooking is very good. If a client comes for the first time, he stays with us forever, and he comes back for both lunch and dinner. I won't say bad things about other cafes and their way of cooking. We cook in a Caucasian way because it's delicious,” Hamlet Sakanyan says.

“Mord-donald’s” golden arches are up the road and the restaurant offers traditional Russian cuisine, while the ever popular “Sano’s” seduces passersby with Armenian charm, dishes and spirits.

But for gourmands with a palette for Asian meals, “Samsung” is the place to be. It's where Louisa Pak serves up dishes from Uzbekistan and Korea. Customers like the place and the hostess a lot.

Louisa and her husband have run the restaurant for 13 years. Staying in business hasn’t been easy, however. At one point, 500 booths lined the restaurant row. Now, many are vacant and dilapidated.

“At present I make almost no profit. I only earn to pay the bills for the house in town, for petrol, food, and taxes. And there is nothing left after those payments. But, I’m glad to have this at least,” Louisa Pak says.

While cash and traffic flow is down somewhat from past years, this small town still rakes in enough to keep itself in the black. So while some of Russia’s small towns are struggling in this economy, Umet is managing to serve up sustenance with a side dish of profit.