TAMPA — When father-and-son duo Alexander and Kirill Chemodanov first opened their Temple Terrace restaurant Babushka’s in 2018, the goal was simple: Introduce diners to traditional Russian cuisine, something they found sorely lacking in the Tampa Bay area at the time.
Kirill, then just 20, had recently graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in finance. Alexander, a retired attorney, was looking for a new business endeavor. Still, opening a restaurant — let alone one that catered to a potentially smaller, niche audience — felt like a little bit of a risk.
Luckily, their gamble paid off: In just a short time, the small restaurant on N 56th Street proved wildly popular with adventurous diners-in-the-know and those hankering for a big bowl of borscht or a plate of pan-fried Russian dumplings. Three years later, the pair are planning to open a new offshoot of Babushka’s in South Tampa, inside the old Boca space at 901 W Platt St.
This time around, they’ve got a more upscale dining plan and a much larger audience in mind.
For one, there will be vodka. At the Temple Terrace flagship, the restaurant serves a selection of Russian, Polish and Ukrainian beers and a small list of Georgian wines but lacks a full liquor license. At the new spot, a full bar will feature vodkas and other specialty cocktails, including Russian berry mimosas at brunch.
Clocking in at roughly 3,600 square feet, the South Tampa location is three times the size of the original spot and will allow for much more seating. The Temple Terrace location currently seats 36 people, and the new restaurant can squeeze in a little more than 100.
The owners are originally from Novorossiysk, Russia, a port city on the Black Sea. Beyond looking to their own history and culinary background, part of the new restaurant’s inspiration stems from a research trip Kirill Chemodanov took to New York City, where he visited some of the city’s most venerable Russian dining institutions: the Russian Tea Room, Mari Vanna and famous midtown late-night haunt Russian Samovar.
Chemodanov, who hired a Russian architect to help design the new space, said he imagines the new Babushka’s will draw influences from each of the places he visited. The new buildout will feature separate dining areas with a lively bar scene taking up the front room, a quieter dining space in the back and a separate area for private parties and smaller events.
Renovations are still underway, but the space already looks distinct from its predecessor. While the interior at the flagship location feels more like a cozy lodge, architectural renderings of the South Tampa spot show a bright and airy layout with white-washed walls, light wood accents, dangling potted plants and ornate light fixtures hanging throughout multiple dining areas.
While the overall approach of the new Babushka’s will be more upscale, Chemodanov stresses that the essence of the original restaurant — traditional Russian fare in a homey, welcoming setting — will continue to anchor the concept.
“We’ll keep the core dishes that most people love and we’ll add a couple new and interesting dishes to the menu that haven’t been seen in Tampa yet,” he said.
Helming the kitchen as executive chef at both locations is Mekhpara Gajievi, 53, who was born in the country of Georgia but worked for many years as a chef in Russia. (Chemodanov described her cooking as a “fusion of cuisines from all over the ex-Soviet Union.”)
Longtime favorite dishes at Babushka’s — chicken Kiev, Russian cabbage rolls, lamb plov (an Uzbek dish featuring lamb and rice) and kotlety (beef and onion croquettes) — will be featured at the new restaurant, but an expanded menu will also include several new items.
The old Boca kitchen is also a considerable upgrade from the Temple Terrace location, and features a wood-fired grill and additional oven space for more large-scale baking operations, which Chemodanov said will allow for an expanded selection of pastries and breads.
Keeping with tradition, all things doughy feature big at Babushka’s: Highlighting the menu are blinchiki (thin pancakes similar to crepes); samsa (thin, flaky meat- and vegetable-filled pastries); dumplings (Russian pelmeni and Polish pierogi); and khachapuri, a Georgian cheese-filled bread topped with an egg.
Though the team is still working on the final touches, Chemodanov said he hopes to open in late September. And while hours of operation are still up in the air, he envisions a place where lunch, dinner, brunch and later nights on the weekends will accommodate a variety of different dining preferences.
Those looking for a quiet, traditional setup can pop in for lunch or dinner, while anyone looking for a livelier setup might swing by on a weekend night where live music will be featured and a separate menu might feature caviar and vodka specials.
In any case, Chemodanov said, he hopes there will be plenty to celebrate with a toast.