“A lot of people like to eat what they know from their childhood. It brings back memories,” says Petr Chubenko. His parents, Nikolay and Tatyana, own Mariupol European Bakery and Deli on Sprague in Spokane Valley and a second market on the South Hill that opened on May 10. Sons Igor, Alex and Petr help run the business. While the markets specialize in Russian products, the Chubenkos carry specialty food items from all over Europe.
Walk through Mariupol or any of Spokane’s Russian markets and you’ll find smoked fish, imported sausages, jars of pickled eggplant, cheeses and dumplings. The shelves are stocked with freshly baked rye bread, cakes and European chocolates.
But Spokane’s Russian markets offer more than just pierogies and pickles. For the roughly 40,000 Slavic immigrants in Spokane, they serve as a resource for everything from help locating a Russian-speaking mechanic or tax preparer to finding a Russian Bible and a place to live.
Nadiya Tsarevska came to Spokane from Ukraine seven years ago. She shops at Kiev Market on Nevada for sausages, rye bread and smoked fish. “It reminds me of my country, my past and my childhood. When I feel sad, I go to the store and calm myself,” she says. She becomes emotional just talking about the thin, smoky kabanosi sausages she buys when she feels homesick.
Tsarevska describes the relief she felt when her brother first took her to Kiev Market upon her arrival in Spokane. She was so happy to find familiar items and to be able to shop and converse in her native language. Now, seven years later, with a good command of English, Tsarevska still enjoys the social aspect of her visits to the markets. She chats with friends from church and enjoys catching up on the latest news with the free Russian newspapers.
For Tsarevska, being able to shop at Spokane’s Russian markets has eased the transition from her old country to a new life. “My tastes are changing. I didn’t buy American food before, and I do now. It takes time.”
For others, Spokane’s Russian markets play an important part in keeping their culture alive. Many came to Spokane with young children who are now growing up eating pizza and burgers. Being able to buy sausages, rye bread and other traditional foods and introduce them to their children is one small way for immigrants to preserve their culture.
American shoppers are attracted to the Russian markets also. Some are looking for a slice of their own cultural heritage in the wide variety of European delicacies the markets carry. Others come out of curiosity. Kiev Market different kinds of rye bread. “We can connect with both Russians and Americans because we speak English,” says his brother Petr, who estimates that about half of his customers are American. The Americans seem particularly fond of the pastries, especially the chocolate cake, which is made from the Chubenkos’ own recipe, he says.
“We have something for just about everyone in Spokane,” says Alex, leaning over the deli case stocked with Dutch herring, Russian bologna and hard German salami. He’s happy to give samples, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, he’ll try to find it, like the special owner Anatoliy Filenko thinks Americans are attracted to his store by low prices on produce. “Where can you find apples for 39 cents?” he asks.
Mariupol is making an effort to encourage American shoppers by adding more English labels to products, and talking with customers. Alex gives cooking instructions to Americans curious about pierogies, and helps them navigate the dozens of sausages and the subtleties of order Bosnian coffee that came in last week.
“Eating burgers all day — I’d get sick of it,” says Alex. Thanks to Spokane’s Russian markets, he won’t have to.
Mariupol European Deli and Bakery has two locations: 2915 S. Regal St. and 3329 E. Sprague. Kiev Market has three locations: 3716 N. Nevada St., 4823 E. Sprague and 16004 E. Sprague, Spokane Valley.