Russian restaurant in Chicago debates name change amid online hate

  • In the United States, restaurants selling Russian food or products have faced online hate.
  • Russian Tea Time in Chicago received threatening phone calls.
  • The owner told Insider that she is considering changing the property’s name for the safety of her staff.

Two to three people call every day asking if Russian Tea Time is going to change its name.

Callers say, ‘You support Putin, you are a terrorist, you need to change it,’ says one of the owners, who asked that his name not be used out of fear for the safety of his family back home.

Russian Tea Time was founded in Chicago in 1993 by Ukrainian-born Klara Muchnik. His son, Vadim Muchnik, remains a minority shareholder in the company, which was sold in 2018, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Tea Time is one of many nominally Russian-owned establishments owned by people from diverse backgrounds who received hate messages, phone calls or lost customers during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

For the Tea Time co-owner, that might be enough to get them to change the name of their business.

This comes with its own set of challenges, however. “We think about it and talk about it, but it’s not as easy as it looks because we’ve been here since 1993,” she said.

Besides the logistical hassle, they have to ask the city to put up an “on-site sign” (unless it’s a small, temporary sign), which the owner says takes six months.

(The City of Chicago did not immediately respond to a request from Insider for comment on how long it would take to get a sign approved.)

Even so, “changing it isn’t a big deal, but then we take the side of giving in to ignorance,” she told Insider. “It’s a tough choice. [the other] hand, we have to think about the safety and security of our staff because it takes an ignorant person to do something crazy,” she added.

Russian Tea Time serves tea and a variety of dishes from countries that were part of the former Soviet Union, from latkes to Ukrainian borscht, the owner told Insider.

“Russia is far more diverse, deep and beautiful than Putin,” she said. “He’s an evil person trying to erase thousands of years of culture and tradition.”

She estimates that the name change process would cost between $6,000 and $7,000, between charges to the city to expedite the process and install the sign. “We spent that much to put up the new sign with city fees included,” she said, referring to a new sign erected in December, adding that it took eight to nine months to get it approved. .

Other business owners told Insider that they and their staff have been dealing with phone and email threats while many are Ukrainian themselves, do not support the invasion or use the Internet. “Russian” label, mainly for marketing.

One restaurant owner said she buys window flags to show her support for Ukraine, and another, from Sveta in New York, said he is working to change all of the restaurant’s social media to food “European” rather than “Russian” food. .

“Until recently, it would have seemed quite natural, and politically insignificant, for many Ukrainian restaurant owners in America to use a Russian name for a restaurant and refer to their establishment as ‘Russian,’ especially since the most Americans before the Russian invasion couldn’t even find Ukraine on a map,” Jordan Gans-Morse, associate professor of political science at Northwestern University, told the Chicago Tribune.

Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, but the country still holds its largest cities. American companies pulled out of Russia and countries around the world imposed sanctions.

On Friday, President Biden announced he would ban imports of Russian diamonds, vodka and seafood. The United States also announced on Tuesday a ban on Russian energy imports, such as oil, liquefied natural gas and coal, although it constitutes only a small part of its supply.

About Jonathan Bell

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