According to ATP rules, players in tournaments need special food, and are not allowed to eat anything else. Popular Russian dishes, like borscht, steak etc. were not suitable for the players. What could we do? It took a considerable amount of money, but through our good friend Marc Bloch, the general manager of the Zürich and Ascot hotels, we managed to convince the best Swiss catering team to come to Moscow. This team, led by Mr. Roman Birchler and his assistant Dölf Michel, were among the best and most highly skilled restaurant managers in Switzerland. The ﬁrst difficulty they faced was that Russian cooks, who were hired as assistants, didn’t want to learn anything from the Swiss. They thought they knew better, and it sometimes came close to ﬁstﬁghts! However, with good diplomacy, Roman Birchler and his team “softened” their Russian colleagues, and when Roman brought one ton of fresh Swiss products to Moscow, and even new equipment, the kitchen assumed a completely different form. The western-standard kitchen and dining room with ﬂoral tablecloths impressed the Russian colleagues, and they all became good friends.
Sasson: During the ten days of the Kremlin Cup tournament, employing Swiss cooks and using imported products, this team won the hearts and stomachs of all our Russian and international guests. The restaurant had three areas: the “player lounge” (for players, only), one hall for the sponsors, and one for Russian VIPs and other people. Even Boris Yeltsin came many times to sit and have a drink with us in our VIP lounge. (We’ve never seen him eat! Maybe he was not allowed to eat outside for security reasons). This in itself became a sensation. By the third or fourth day, hundreds — I’m not exaggerating — literally hundreds of Russians who didn’t have an entry badge tried, in every way possible, to put their hands on an entry ticket for the dining hall. There was not a day when I wasn’t approached by dozens of people with various offers, from religious antiques to helicopters!
After the second tournament, Mr. Birchler and his team came up with a suggestion: “Let’s open a restaurant in Moscow! With your connections and prestige and our experience and skill, this is a sure success.”
I consulted our local manager in Moscow, and we agreed to carry out this plan in partnership with Mr. Alexander Vainstein and Roman Birchler. We had to establish a Dutch company for tax purposes. On the board of directors were Sasson, Nissan and Ezra Khakshuori on one side, holding the majority of shares, and Alexander Vainstein and Roman Birchler on the other side with minority shares.
We turned to my friend Yuri Matkof, who was the general manager of the Metropol Hotel, one of the oldest and most highly-renowned hotels in Moscow, and asked for his collaboration. Yuri answered that the main restaurant hall in the hotel was not for rent by any means, but he could rent us the basement restaurant. We signed a contract, and our Swiss team opened the restaurant, which was named “Theatro”. As they had expected, this restaurant very soon became the hang-out place for all the famous and prominent people in Russia, from politicians to so-called business people. Our Swiss team sent my wife Gollar monthly ﬁnancial reports, and deposited large sums of money in our account.
Gollar: We opened our restaurant in 1992. It had two rooms — one was more luxurious — both the decoration and the menu — and the other was a bit simpler and served an Italian menu. The ﬁrst six months were slow, because it was new, but then it became one of the best and most successful restaurants in Moscow; a meeting hub for all the Russian celebrities.
We were very satisﬁed with the deposited sums, but I couldn’t help noticing that the written ﬁnancial reports included a considerable sum of money for “monthly insurance,” although we knew quite well that there is no such thing as insurance in Russia. When we protested, they answered, “That’s true, but instead of insurance, there’s the maﬁa!”
We inquired further, and they told us that one day a young man came to them and offered an “insurance policy” for the restaurant. It turned out he came on behalf of the maﬁa. Our Russian managers readily accepted this offer, and every month they placed the agreed sum in an envelope that the young man would come and collect.
One day three bullies came to the restaurant, and after consuming the most expensive dishes and alcoholic beverages, stood up without a word, and were about to leave the restaurant without paying. When the waiters ran after them and asked them to pay the bill, they smacked them on the face and left the restaurant!
The restaurant manager reported this incident to the maﬁa representative. They soon inquired and got the gang’s details. One of the waiters recalled hearing them say the name of another restaurant. The maﬁa representative went with the waiter to the other restaurant, and behold, those bullies were right there in that restaurant. The maﬁa representative gracefully walked up to their table. Without a word, he took the keys to their expensive cars and walked away!
It turns out that the different maﬁa groups have a written agreement, according to which each neighborhood is controlled by one group. These bullies belonged to a group that was not permitted to cause trouble to the Theatro Restaurant, which was another group’s clients!