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Russian Samovar – A Fashionable Q&A with Restaurateur Vlada von Shats

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F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that there were “no second acts” in American lives—so it’s probably a good thing that Vlada von Shats is Russian.

Proprietor of the family-owned Russian Samovar, a restaurant as famous for its authentic dishes and infused vodkas as it is for its star-studded clientele, von Shats has worn many hats in her life.

After working in the film industry in Los Angeles, she headed back to the Big Apple in the early 1990s, taking over the family business and opening her own successful nightclubs in New York and Miami, before turning her focus onto Russian Samovar full time in 2016. She currently lives in New York City with her husband, three children, and their pets.

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1. How and when did you first realize you wanted to work in the restaurant industry?

I didn’t; I kind of inherited it. It’s a family restaurant. I used to work for studios; I worked for Paramount Studios in Los Angeles before I came back to New York City in 1993; I didn’t want to work for corporate, so I decided to join the family business. I also opened my own nightclubs in 2004—one in New York and one in Miami. Then I came back in 2016.

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2. What is your biggest career highlight to date?

Russian Samovar making Best of New York twice!

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3. Any celebrity clients or memorable stories related to your business that you want to share?

It was co-owned by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Nobel Poetry prize winner Joseph Brodsky; we’ve had Liza Minelli just come up and sing, Cyndi Lauper. There have been numerous celebrities… I can’t name them all!

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4. How would you describe your personal style?

Vodka-wielding, celebrity-hosting, fur-wearing.

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5. What is a typical day in your life like?

It’s 24/7. I have three children, three dogs, three cats, a husband of 33 years and a business of 33 years… it’s a whirlpool every single day!

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6. What are three never-miss events on your calendar?

My children’s birthdays.

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7. What are your three favorite locations in the city? 

The Village, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Lincoln Center.

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8. What are your three favorite restaurants in the city?

Randazzo’s, Uncle Nick’s Greek Cuisine, and West Side Noodle Co.

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9. What about your three favorite bars?

I don’t go to bars!

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10. What has been your best New York moment? What about the worst?

The best: I’m a wedding officiant, and I married a couple on the New York Ferry. The worst: 9/11.

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11. Name your go-to:

a. Outfit—Trying to fit into a size 10 (or 12 for that matter)

b. Fragrance—Pierre Balmain Ivoire

c. Movie—The Godfather

d. Book—I have so many! I’d say anything by Alexander Pushkin

e. TV show—Two and a Half Men

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12. Name your favorite vacation spot, and the hotel you stay at while there. What makes these spots special?

I try not to stay in hotels; I like villas. I like Montego Bay in Jamaica. I have a friend with a villa there.

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13. What are your three most played songs?

“Imagine” by John Lennon, “Whatever Lola Wants,” by Billie Holiday, and “Summertime” by Janis Joplin.

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14. What are three items you couldn’t live without?

Cigarettes, vodka, and Chicken Kiev.

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15. If you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

The Dalai Lama, for his wisdom and to find out the meaning of life.

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16. What is something people might not know about you?

I used to be a gymnast.

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17. When did you feel like you had “made it” professionally?

When I opened in my clubs, and they were very successful–among the best in the world!

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18. Do you have any advice for those aspiring to work in the restaurant industry?

Don’t do it! It’s the hardest job in the world, trying to make sure that everyone and everything is taken care of.

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19. What changes do you think your industry will undergo in the next 5-10 years?

I think we’re going to accepting bitcoins as a new form of currency.

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20. Is there anything else you’d like to share, discuss or promote?

If you want a true Russian experience, you must come visit us as Russian Samovar… but expect it to be loud!

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Images Courtesy of Vlada von Shats