Albert Zaripov quit Gazprom in Kazan in order to start an awesome cafe in his city. Arsk (65kms out of Kazan) has a population of 20,000 people. Date and Coffee is its only place that does alternative coffee brewing. Here, you can find out more about coffee culture and buy coffee beans to use at home.
Why Arsk?

I was born here. It just so happens that all my relatives, sisters, parents are all from Turkmenistan. They moved to Tatarstan in 1992, and in 1993, I was born. Dad came for work, and he liked Arsk. We started building a house here and just stayed.

I am actually a programmer. After finishing school I left Arsk to study in Kazan, and applied to the fourth faculty at Kazan National Research Technical University.

I didn't make the cut-off date for student accommodation so for a whole year I would travel from Arsk to Kazan for study. I would come home at 7pm, and just fall down and sleep, wake up at 9pm, eat, do my homework at night, go to bed at 3am, wake up and go back. That first year was like a test.

A student wants to eat, so you need to earn money for a living. Everywhere I applied needed someone with experience. I accidentally came across an ad in Avito: Barista Needed. I didn't even know what that was back then. I started Googling it, and Wikipedia gave me this...
I started sending out my CV to cafes. Most of them simply didn't read it, some rejected it. But one cafe accepted me and I later found out they had a logist working there with the exact same name — Albert Zaripov. They said "Damn, we'll have two Albert Zaripovs working here".
And so basically in 2013 I started working at Coffee Cava in the Kazan IT-Park. Back then I was in my third year of study. It was fate! Everything came easy to me, I liked the work I was doing. That's where I learned how to make coffee and that an entire coffee culture exists.

That was the first time when I thought: how cool would it be to open up a cafe in Arsk.

After I graduated, my friends and I went hiking, and while I was away, my friend calls me and goes: "Albert, come back. I have a job for you. You'll like it." and that was it — that's all he said.

I came back and got hired as a logist at Coffee Like. Back then they had 5 cafes in Kazan, now they have 12 as far as I know. After working there for a year, I understood how to run a cafe, where to source beans and other products.

Then I got a job at Gazprom working as a programmer. It was a good, stable job, many dream of a job like that. But I just couldn't get the idea of a cafe out of my head. I kept mulling it over in my head, I'd make plans, create business models. I crunched the numbers and understood that if I was to use my own money, I'd have to save up for a long time — about 5 years or so. I decided to get some investors onboard, I kept going back to Arsk, searching for a location.
Everything is kind of like that around here. You can get from the railway station to the city centre in just 30 minutes. Of course, we were taking on a huge risk.

When I quit Gazprom, no one understood my decision. Only my father supported me. Everyone else would say, like, you're giving up stability, superannuation.

I started a public Instagram account — I would write honestly about everything, how we overcome challenges, what's going wrong, what's happening. And people started to follow me, watch and wait for Date and Coffee to open. We call it: the cafe that creates stories. It's our slogan.
Many open up cafes in cities where the population is over a million, some open them in medium sized cities (200-300 thousand people), but no one opens a fully functioning cafe in a city with 20,000 people. It's risky.

The prices are much lower, almost three times less than in Kazan. We opened and in Date and Coffee, a small cappuccino would cost 60 rubles, and 80 rubles for a large one. However, in Arsk, word of mouth is big! On opening day (the cafe is on the second floor without any signage) we had so many people come - there was even a queue! The four of us were very tired.
The concept is — to not cut corners by saving money when it comes to quality of the coffee, milk and desserts. For example, the guys that make these [signals toward desserts — Ed.], this is the third year we have been working with them. They only use natural products, halal. These desserts don't have any colour preservatives, or gelatin.

We had an offer to open up with a shisha bar — we declined, it's not in line with our concept. People come to us with a certain degree of trust. At Date and Coffee you can come alone, find a book, read, have some coffee. You can come with your loved one, friends, family.
In Arsk, even if you don't know someone, everyone will know who you are. Through acquaintances, friends. This poses a big responsibility. If you screw up with something, everyone will hear about it. There's a great saying that I often use during training: "You can't have a second chance at making a first impression". If someone doesn't like it the first time, they won't come again. If one person doesn't like it, ten others will follow his lead.

It's really easy to find baristas in Kazan, whereas here we had to start from scratch. Three years ago when the cafe was still being built and renovated, we needed to get a team together.

Thirteen people applied, mostly students and school kids. I took on every single one of them to come to the training. Only by doing, can you see if someone's fit to be a barista or not. Some can memorize the theory really well but bomb when it comes to doing it, and the other way around. The guys develop, hone their skills.

Does Arsk have its own traditions, communities? How do you work in with that?

People lead simple lives here. The entertainment here comes down to: a sports complex, ice rink, swimming pool and shishas. That's it. We don't have bowling or a cinema.

There's a chess school, but not many go there.

We got a chess board for the cafe and put it in an obvious place. At first some guests took it and started to play, then others too. We thought — why don't we revive the good old tournament tradition?

We got everything ready, announced it and 57 contestants showed up. Fifteen people made it to the final — among them were girls too. We gave out prizes to everyone, more like gifts.
We also decided to run evening poetry readings. How many people in the city write and read poetry?

We got everything ready, announced it -10 people got in touch. We've already run three such evenings.

In Arsk, we have a music school but they mostly teach the accordion and guitar. We announced live music evenings - guys with guitars came, they'd sing, and start getting together by the cafe in the evenings.
We rented a projector and started to screen movies in the weekends. Films, cartoons are especially popular with the kids. And it just so happened that the school found out about this and entire classes started coming. They would ask us to screen particular cartoons, book it in and we would show it.

We gained a high level of trust. Parents would let their kids come and know that everything will be fine. They could bring their food with them.

They say that lattes were invented for kids (80% milk and a little bit of coffee). People often come to Date and Coffee with their kids and often they take the lead from their parents and ask for a cappuccino. I don't advise giving coffee to kids, it's bad for them. We added the drink 'Babyccino' (there's no coffee in it, it's just a milk fluffy, but it's more interesting for kids to drink that instead of just milk).
We are constantly developing our menu, and have our trademark drinks.

At first we rejected the idea of syrups in general, we would specifically say "No, we won't add them in". We kept this up for half a year. Then we got sick of questions like "When are you getting syrups in?" and eventually gave into demand, but we decided to make them ourselves, using our own recipes and not buying ready-made ones. The baristas create their own syrups, they study the recipes, try them - we test it based on taste and then add it to the menu.

Have you ever come across for example older people coming into the cafe and not understanding, for example, the menu?

Yes, that has happened. The most controversial drink is the espresso. In a vending machine, it's diluted with water but here it's concentrated - 30mls. The first reaction people have is - they see stars. Now we prepare people for it - we ask, have you tried it? They say "Yes, I've had it from a vending machine". We explain that it'll be totally different. And then we try to redirect them to an Americano - a less strong coffee.

We have our own script, an algorithm that helps us guide a customer to their choice.

How do you develop local partnerships? Who in Arsk do you work with?

There are those who want to and who try to do stuff, but less of those who comply with the standards, who are certified. We work with dessert makers based in Kazan. There's no one who makes desserts like these in Arsk. Many bake stuff at home, but there needs to be a certain approach, permission, a piece of paper. There's a dessert making company here in Arsk who have their own production space - 'Sladkiy Dom'. We source two desserts from them - the Napoleon and Honey Cake, they're really nice.

In terms of locals, we also have Arsk lemonade. Other lemonades have made the move to plastic, but in Arsk they still produce it in glass bottles. I haven't been to their plant, I don't know how they make it, but it's delicious – the taste has changed just slightly from how I remember it as a child.

I'd like to partner with locals more.
Business people sometimes get together in the cafe for meetings. It's mostly my friends (laughs). Arsk is a small town, very quiet. To understand how everything works, you need to be living here.

We said goodbye to the first investor, now we have a new one and another cafe in Zelenodolsk. The concept is totally different: it seats 11, although the area is the size of a small square, about 7 metres. I was in St Petersburg for New Years, and in this hidden place there's a tiny 'Tchk' — it's such a cool place, it broke all my stereotypes.

Things are going well there. The investor, to be honest, wants bigger results, we'll have to probably 5X it, since Zelenodolsk is 7 times bigger.

How do you recharge? What gives you energy?

First of all — sport. I love to run. Sometimes I get lazy, but my wife will say "Enough! Go, run!"

Last year I ran my first marathon in Kazan. The goal was set — so I had to see it through. I started running in the mornings, without a trainer — by myself, I'd train for three and a half hours a day. You have to train for about 4 months to run a marathon, but I had one and a half. I did it with my friend and we both got a good result.

I want to run the marathon again — 42kms in May.
Са́дака, в исламе — добровольная милостыня, которую мусульманин выплачивает нуждающимся по собственному усмотрению и желанию с намерением заслужить довольство Аллаха. В более широком смысле, садака — это любое благодеяние, совершенное искренне, ради Аллаха.
Secondly, it's books. I like love to read. I set myself a goal to read 50 books in 2017. Truth be told, I fell short – read 45. Right now my goal is to read 70, but I've only read 12, so I need to keep going.

I love to spend time efficiently, even when I'm driving I'll bring up some videos on YouTube with some entrepreneurs – I'll listen to Ayaz Shabutdinov, Fyodor Ovchinnikov. I'll drive and be constantly listening, memorizing something, then I'll write it down because I'll want to apply it. I used to come home all worn out. I started to look for a way to recharge. I found my solution in early wake ups. Usually I will get up at 5:30am, work out, have breakfast and read.
I love bookstores, I frequent 'Chitay-Gorod' in Koltso Mall. I love cafes, Kazan has many good ones. My favourite is probably 'Neft' on Dekabristov (big panoramic windows). Skuratov has really good filter coffee, I totally enjoy it. And then there's Botanika on Zhukovsky, I go there a lot for work, talk to their staff and owner. I don't go to clubs. I used to go to Kamal Theatre, but don't have the time now.

When I run or take a walk, I also find a way to meditate, analyze something, think about stuff at the same time. I love running near the Family Centre in Kazan. I always start the route from the big cup building, run past the Embankment, Millennium.

In summer in Arsk, my route is the stadium. I often walk my dog there. I have a chocolate Labrador. I kept asking for a dog since I was 7, I grew up and got one. Kicha is awesome, but is a bit stupid (laughs). He lived with me when I got the job at Gazprom. He was bored being home alone, and it was just ridiculous really — the skirting boards in the corridor had to be replaced twice because he would just chew them up. Now he's grown up and his Labrador "hunter setting" switches on more often, it's hard to keep a hold on him, it's hard to hold on to him because he's like real strong. Girls can't handle him, my mum doesn't walk him at all. Only me and dad.

Now it's like a tradition: I wake up, do my routine (sport, reading, breakfast), grab the dog and go down to the mosque, the station or the city centre with him. If I have a coin, I'll give sadaqah. The dog walks around, while I become spiritually enlightened. I read the book 'The Greatest Money-Making Secret in History' and it talks about how one of the principles of entrepreneurs is to give money to charity. And so I took that on for myself, that I will help at least in some way.

For half a year in the first cafe, we gave away part of the revenue from all our cappuccinos to charity. Part of the money, we invested back into the development of the rehabilitation centre in Arsk.

What are your thoughts: what might motivate people to return back to the city where they came from?

You probably need to take a look at your inner goals. What exactly can you and do you want to do for your city? I wanted to create something for the people in Arsk. I have many friends, acquaintances, people I've talked to, who I've visited. And I wanted to create something for them. The need was in such a place.

To contribute something, to be useful — that is developmental growth.

I do not plan on leaving Tatarstan. The key goal right now is to create more places like this. I want to open up a café in Kukmor, not by myself, but help someone else with a franchise. We had some negotiations but it hasn't come together so far.

Have you been overseas?

Yes, in Bulgaria.

Did you like it?

I liked it — I was 14 years old back then. I probably liked the atmosphere, the actual city. How it's built, like those bricks, the tiles…everything was made so beautifully.
To open up a cafe in a small town means creating a place that's needed for people. But if it doesn't match the demand, then nothing will work.

There is a need in communication, in entertainment in Arsk. On Fridays we work until 1am – people come to play board games. We have many books — like just grab one and read. Majority of the guys who worked here, at some point will always ask me for a recommendation on what to read. And that's not only the baristas. It's totally like a chain reaction — when you're truly interested in something, it rubs off on others.

My wife is also from Arsk. She used to be a regular at Date and Coffee.

As a girl, I didn't take much notice of her at first. At some point we needed a designer, and she's a designer. That's how we met.

Our first date was at the first cafe. I, let's say, bought, heaps of cheesecakes to share (laughs).
What does "to be Tatar" mean to you?

My uncle thrice removed shared this story how his son had an entire delegation come to his work and everyone spoke Tatar while discussing issues. And he really regretted that he didn't know Tatar so he couldn't influence the decision. For some reason that stuck with me. I speak Tatar with my grandmas. For me this carries significance — to not forget the language. And it always helps.

Police officers stop me in kazan, check my documents:
"Sin Archadanmy?" [translation from Tatar "You from Arsk?" - Ed.]
"Archadan" [translation from Tatar "From Arsk" - Ed.]
And they simply let me go. Although they could write out a fine for dirty number plates. This helped and has helped more than once. you need to know tatar!
Arsk is a friendly city, it's like a village – there's friendship of families. It's genuine Tatar-ness: if you're invited to have some tea, you go. You forget to lock your car – it'll still be there when you get back. You forget to turn off your lights – the neighbours will call you up.

More and more people are now starting to convert to Islam and visit the mosque. It's become a tradition. More Halal places are starting to open up in line with this. And it's really nice. I too started visiting the mosque.

In any case, one must engage in spiritual development.