From Bolton to Russia - story of a Vladivostok tearoom

5 Dec 2018 09:45

He’s from Horwich and he has an English tearoom. But as Alison Winward explains Andrew Adamson's English tearoom isn’t in England, it’s in Russia, in the port city of Vladivostok, thousands of miles from Moscow, and so far east the only thing beyond it is the Sea of Japan.

Andrew's journey to Russia's wild east, and a city that gets so cold in winter that the sea actually freezes, started in a casino in Bolton, and took him via Moscow during one of the most dramatic events in the break-up of the Soviet Union.


After Holy Family RC Primary School and Bolton School, Andrew, who is also known by the nickname “Barry”, trained as a croupier at a casino in Bolton.

In 1991 he was working as a junior manager at a casino in Kent when a former colleague suggested he join him in Moscow. He was working in the first legal casino in Russia and his employer was looking for other experienced croupiers to help develop the business.

Andrew went, intending to stay for just six months. But he decided to renew his contract, and kept renewing it.

He said: "They were paying ridiculous salaries, because they hadn't had time to train their own croupiers, but as time went on, plans to train their own croupiers went out of the window.”

Not only did the customers like the caché of dealing with international croupiers and managers, explained Andrew, but the casino owners believed that foreigners like him were less likely to be intimidated by the ?mafia types’ that were emerging in the new Russia. One reason? “We couldn’t understand what they were saying half the time!”

He said: "I kept thinking I'd work until the next holiday, but then I'd carry on ... Moscow, if you had loads of money and were a young guy, it was a fantastic place to be in the 1990s."

It was an eventful place too: this was when Communist hardliners opposed to Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika (“openness” and “restructuring”) tried to stage a coup while Gorbachev was out of Moscow.

New Russian President Boris Yeltsin faced down the plotters and the coup ultimately failed.

But that was only after the rebels had attacked the Russian parliament building, nicknamed “the White House”, and - creating one of the most famous images of the time – Yeltsin had addressed crowds from a tank by the nearby Moskva River.

Andrew said: “It was quite frightening; we had a curfew when Yeltsin was standing on the bridge and they were blowing up the White House.

"The hotel where we worked was only half a mile away, and we could hear the bombs, and we had to be home by 10pm, and at night we could hear the army, the tanks going down the street.

"But it was exciting more than anything else; I never felt any real danger, although my mother was pretty worried for me. But then she still is now."

After a spell in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, Andrew was transferred to Vladivostok. Although he didn't want to go - the city had "a terrible reputation" - it became more attractive when he met Anna (pronounced “Anya”), a local woman working as a receptionist/translator in the casino. They've now been married for 15 years and have a 14-year-old son.

The cafe was actually Anna's idea, inspired by the tearooms she loved during visits to England, and it coincided with the Russian Government's decision to re-organise the casino sector, meaning Andrew would be out of a job.

Even if the tearoom, called Five o'Clock, was Anna's idea, it was Andrew who was the centre of attention when opened in 2007. For many decades, during the Soviet era, Vladivostok was a closed city - closed even to other Russian people, let alone foreigners.

Although the city had been open for a while when Andrew arrived there, older people especially were not used to meeting outsiders. Nor were they used to a cafe selling English tea, fruit pies, muffins and – particularly popular - Cornish pasties.

Andrew said: "Every journalist in town, every TV channel, wanted to interview me. Customers would come in and ask 'Are you a real Englishman?'"

The tearoom's decor is as authentically English as its owner, who devotes some of his time back in Bolton to scouring flea markets and car boot sales for items like spoons and prints of London to add to the atmosphere.

Most of the food and ingredients can be sourced in Russia, including Twinings teabags, which are bought from Moscow and shipped to Vladivostok. The Whittard's loose tea, however, comes from the UK.

"When we opened, we thought of Whittard's of Chelsea, and the Russian connection with Chelsea Football Club," Andrew explained. "You probably can buy it in Russia, but it's just convenient for me to buy it online. It comes to my mum's and she re-packs it and sends it to me."

This year, 'tensions' between Russia and the UK and her allies have caused some problems with supplies, but rarely for long.

Andrew said: "Some things you can't get because of sanctions, but as the sanctions came in, companies in Belarus started producing 'Dutch cheese' or 'French cheese', for example."

As for the effect those 'tensions' have had on people, Andrew said: "We've had tensions before, over different issues, but it just sort of blows over - until the next one comes along.

“People don't talk about it; some people see me every day and they don't mention it. We don't have people breaking our windows because we have an English cafe or anything like that."

Picture: Andrew Barry Adamson

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