My entry into the restaurant business was completely by chance. I had no points of intersection with gastronomy before that — in the 1990s, I was a co-founder of one of Russia’s first construction investment companies. At some point, I began to invest in restaurants under construction.

And then came the crisis of 1998. Our construction business was over just like that. I had to take a look around, see what else could be done. By that time, I had an Italian restaurant, Portofino. And gradually I was drawn into this whole thing.

At first, we tried to create some sort of alternative to expensive restaurants. That’s how we opened the Academia café and pizzeria. With time, Academia became a chain with 12 establishments. Some of them we closed after 2014, but we still have five venues in Moscow.

Portofino was a very successful restaurant; it was open for over five years. But it was a basement space, and we knew by that time that a restaurant needs a terrace. And when our chef Massimiliano Montiroli left to open his restaurant in Rome, we closed Portofino and opened another Italian restaurant, Semifreddo. There’s actually a story to this name. At that time, I was a partner in a very old restaurant called Semiramis, whose space we rented from the Shchukin Theater Institute. It had an Assyrian cook who adapted his nation’s cuisine for the European palate. We were asked to vacate the premises, and we had some plans to open a new Semiramis. As a result, we opened Semifreddo — it’s an Italian dessert, and we serve Italian food, but there is a small Assyrian menu that is called “Menu from Semiramis,” and the first two syllables of the name are the same. I really wanted to preserve this Assyrian story, and that’s how I was able to do it.

By a stroke of luck, at Sicily we met chef Nino Graziano, who at that time ran Il Mulinazzo restaurant with two Michelin stars. We decided to collaborate, Nino sent his chef and his menu to Semifreddo. But it was a rigid, gastronomic, very Michelin-like menu that wasn’t very popular with Moscow public 20 years ago. As a result, Nino started frequenting Moscow himself and finally moved here. Together with Nino, we opened osteria La bottega siciliana. And thank God, we’ve been working for 20 years, and everything is great.

Together with the gallery owner and stage designer Evgeny Mitta and artist Vladimir Dubossarsky we had a wonderful project Art Academy. Nobody did anything of this sort back then: there was a bar, café, a small space for screenings of indie cinema, a bookstore. We had a cutting-edge idea with vintage furniture, with a constantly changing exhibit of contemporary artists — this earned me the title of Restaurateur of the Year from GQ magazine. Together with Evgeny Mitta, we also opened the legendary Klava bar at Malaya Bronnaya Street. At some point, I was passionate about the art of the 1960s, I have about 20 works by the artists of that era. And then, under the influence of Mitta, I fell under the spell of contemporary Russian artists. As a result, I have a collection of about 200 works. Some of them hang in Semifreddo, some of them were hung at Klava, some — at the nearby space, at the Asian gastro bistro Gutai, which I helped my daughter Anna to open. Klava, by the way, is not a female name, it’s a fellowship of artists. And Gutai is also the name of artistic collective from Japan.
I have dedicated almost 30 years to restaurants, and I have sincerely fallen in love with this business. My family and my restaurants are my life. That’s it. I don’t have time for anything else. I rarely rest. All of my trips are to see something, to get inspiration for some new idea.

Right now, I’m opening a Mediterranean food restaurant with a very interesting chef who is Russian this time. Before, I had always worked with the Italians, I had good rapport with them. And then I met a really good guy, Dmitry Buldygin. And I am trying to help him. I think we’ll come up with something interesting.

Guide restaurants with Igor Vitoshinsky participation