The creators of Kashtan Coffee are proud that their coffee shop, hidden in one of the city’s most fascinating courtyards, represents Kiev in all its splendour. As soon as you walk in, you feel transported to a time gone by, to a city so far from the one you know but so close at the same time. It’s brand new but as you listen to vinyl, play chess, sip local coffee and look around you at the wooden wall tiles and old-world decor, you will soon understand that this place is far from being just a meeting place for the district’s alternative youth, but a celebration of all they hold dear from their childhood. Let Oleg, tell you just how they transformed this abandoned building into a place for all to enjoy.
So, Oleg, when and why did you decide to open Kashtan Coffee in this courtyard?
My two friends, Kirill and Dimitri and I are co-owners. We started the Kashtan Coffee business last Spring. We work in the shop opposite, Kapkan Clothing and we just love this street, Reitarska Street, and our beloved yard with its ravens. We saw that many people come to see the cage with ravens, the clothing shop and this street in general. They were mainly young people, alternative and into fashion. Also, many tourists come to see the Kiev ravens but then just leave the yard. Our friends own and look after the ravens and he owns all the buildings around it. When he showed us the Kashtan Coffee building with the wooden interior, we fell in love.
Why did you decide to keep the original style decor?
The style reminds us of the places that we used to hang out when we were children. It feels a bit like coming back to our childhood home. When we first came here, we had no intention of creating something new but rather to blow new life into the old place. It was a beautiful building and we wanted it to maintain its character and history. We really saved this place as it was going to be sold- we don’t know the future of the yard but we fear that it may be bought completely and transformed into something monstrous and contemporary which takes up all the space such as an apartment block. It would lead to the destruction of all the old houses.
Why did you choose the name Kashtan Coffee and why did choose the chestnut leaf as the logo?
Kashtan means chestnut in Ukrainian and the chestnut leaf is the symbol of Kiev. We had a long list of names and this was probably our hardest decision to make. We decided that using the symbol of Kiev would be the best, with the decor and atmosphere representing Kiev and its underground world. We didn’t want to open just another coffee shop but we wanted to open something special, local and unique that isn’t copied from the US or Western Europe.
You didn’t want to make something that would look normal in New York or London?
Exactly, we wanted to make something that is Kiev- not pretending to be from somewhere else. This is the reason why we chose the chestnut leaf and the Ukrainian name Kashtan Coffee.
Which room did you complete first?
When we first opened, we only had the smallest room, where the bar counter is. So, from July of last year to March of this year, we didn’t have a place for people to sit- we mainly served to take away. We opened this room this month! We had a big party to celebrate and some friends played their music here.
Coffee in a paper cup with the chestnut leaf logo almost spraypainted onto the side is so cool! What is so special about the coffee?
We have alternative and classic methods but what makes it so special are the coffee beans! We use a Kiev-based company called Holy Beans. The man who roasts the building is a punk priest and even has time to have his own small, private roastery. The beans are very good quality and many say that he is the best in Kiev! We test other roasters but for us, he is the best and we really feel that the idea of supporting local business fits with our values of being a Kiev coffee shop.
I imagine that the wooden tiling on the walls is interesting for most of your guests, was it here when you first came at the building?
Yes, the dark wood panelling on the walls and the wood floors were there before. However, everything else you see was done by us and only us. It was a project for us to complete. We made all of the tables and we converted the small storage room into a separate booth where people can sit, which complimented the style of the bar area and the main room.
So what was the use of the building before you converted it?
We don’t know for sure but for around 20 years before this whole area was abandoned and derelict. Before that, it was a Kommunalka during the Soviet era, a shared living space for the average residents of the city.
Would you say being opposite the ravens helps attract people to your shop?
I would say that it is a mixture of different things. It started to become popular because of the community- we have a large alternative community in this area. These are people who think a little bit differently from most.
I see you have books and chess boards on the tables, why did you do this?
We wanted to make this a place where people don’t just drink coffee but a place where they can feel at home. The best compliment we have is when our visitors say that they struggle to leave because they are comfortable and never short of something to do. We also have this booth area, which we have made from the old storage room, where groups can come and play chess, talk and read in their own space- just as if they were at home!
Music is a big part of the entertainment here, it has become a bit of a tradition for our guests to offer us vinyl for us to play which adds to the ambience- you can buy local music vinyls here too!
What are your plans for your first spring and summertime?
We have windows by the bar counter and we will have them open, we want people walking into the yard to be able to smell coffee and for people to be able to be outside on a terrace which we plan to make soon! We also want to continue to hold independent movie nights in the new seating room, chess tournaments and hopefully some acoustic or instrumental music evenings.
Who are the people that come here?
We have a very diverse audience, from young children to elderly couples. Many of them our friends who are engaged in various creative professions – photographers, videographers, architects, also a lot of self-employed people come here with their laptops. We don’t want to turn Kashtan into a hipster place, because of it’s significance, the unique style of this place reminds us of our childhood. Tourists also like us- they come straight from the ravens! The main group, I would have to say, are our circle of friends and people like us who congregate here to socialise and take a step back from life.
How have your friends and this sense of community helped you to grow?
We all have various hobbies – which connect absolutely different groups of people among themselves. I’m a skater, Dima from graffiti community, Cyril rides a bicycle and a motorcycle, Lera from a creative community. Our circle has just got wider over time because of the communities to which we belong, even without social media! You can feel the community spirit!
What personally motivates you, Oleg?
There are many motivations, first of all these are our visitors with many of them we managed to become friends. Our family Kashtan are all very cool and creative, I love them all! We just wanted to have our own place, something which we have made entirely through our own creative passion and which tells our story.