It’s hard to miss the bright colors and decorations of the Piroshki Coffee and Tea Shoppe, which stands just north of Soldotna on the Kenai Spur Highway.
With the outward appearance of a gingerbread house and the inward comfort of grandma’s house, Piroshki’s has been open since April 20 of this year, and flaunts a Russian-styled menu and theme.
The shop is owned by Kenai resident Nika Davidhizar, a retired opera singer who grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia, but calls her home country Kazakhstan. Davidhizar moved to Alaska 18 years ago and has since worked in business with her husband, and also travels regularly to Washington state to teach voice development and singing classes.
Named after the “Piroshki” — a traditional Russian pastry that is typically stuffed with a variety of fillings — the two-story shop offers coffee and tea options, along with cheesecakes, soups, sandwiches and, of course, piroshkis, as well as gluten-free options. Davidhizar said all products are made with no MSG, bleached flours or processed foods.
Davidhizar, who has been able to build her business with the help of her singing career earnings, said that all money made from the shop goes into the soon-to-open Destiny Restoration Center in Sterling, a home-based foster care center for children.
Davidhizar mans the shop along with her sister Nurilya, who Davidhizar said is the head chef of the operation.
Question: What makes Piroshki’s unique to other tea and coffee shops on the peninsula?
Answer: We have the traditional foods that my family ate all my life and when I was a child. We do tea parties, high tea parties, princess parties and the parties that used to be popular. We have the whole floor upstairs (available) for that. It’s private and you can order it for a party. We also have high-speed internet for college students, who want to come and study and enjoy some espresso.
Q: What was the idea behind opening the shop?
A: I lived in St. Petersburg, and my (home country of) Kazakhstan is part of the former part of the USSR. … When I came to the U.S. 18 years ago, to Washington, I adopted to this new country — the new food and culture. I became so well adapted for the new culture and country, and I almost forgot the taste of the food I grew up on. It wasn’t until my sister came to visit me, Nurilya, who all her life she was a chef, and she stayed with me (in Washington).
When she came it brought me back to my childhood. When she came in I started making this plan for her to come live me, and open this business.
My big family had food, and I struggled missing the food. I don’t want to enjoy it all myself. I wanted to introduce it to the community. I want people to taste this amazing food.”
Q: Do you believe Piroshki’s offers something that wasn’t previously available in Alaska?
A: Yes. Because my husband and I have traditions. Every Saturday we go on a date. We browse all the restaurants and just pick a place and go. We just sit there and communicate, and eat and enjoy our time. I think it’s important for places like this to be in town so people can put down their phones and talk. I’ve had customers come in saying, ‘Grandpa bring your grandchildren and have an old fashioned English tea party.’
We have great service, and for people that have come through, the younger generations stop by often. We had two ladies come there that are Russian Orthodox, and they really enjoyed it. This young lady constantly comes and she loves it. She says our piroshkis have spices and more seasoning and flavor.
We see so many new people. They say, ‘A friend of ours ate at your shop and loved it.’ So it’s word of mouth. I designed this building myself in and out. This color is so popular. I picked this turquoise blue and had some bright yellows and reds. This is (comparable to) the Russian houses painted like that. So I did it on purpose so people would notice it from the highway.”
Q: How has the reception been from the community?
A: I’m always trying to be in the shop to meet my customers, to get to know them. They hear of an opera singer who owns this shop, and we always ask our customers about it. … In any business, some people may hate you … some love you. It’s a restaurant, and our goal is to be the best to love our customers.
Q: So do you believe your shop has a long future?
A: This coffee shop creates skills for the younger generation. In this coffee shop, it’s a family. It’s a team for each other. We’re about each other. I need to know it’s OK if I take a day off, so they don’t feel overwhelmed.
To me, before everything, the customer service is number one. People who may not try our food, may not be exposed to it. They may not like the taste because it’s different. So to make them happy, we’ve got to get to know them.