Mr. Demin shakes hands with the strength of a snapping turtle biting a carrot. Then he pulls you close and says, with a mixture of sincerity and urgency, how glad he is to meet you. This one-two punch of a first impression is the secret of success for a man who has salvaged a bastion of the Soviet food industry: the Mikoyan Meat Processing Plant.
The factory, built in 1933, was the brainchild of Anastas Mikoyan, the People’s Commissar for Food. The design was based on the slaughterhouse at the Union Stockyards in Chicago, which Mikoyan visited during a three-month tour of the United States. And that wasn’t all he brought back from America. Mikoyan saw industrial food items like hot dogs, ice cream, and hamburgers as the future of Soviet cuisine, which he eventually included as mainstays of the official Soviet cookbook, The Book of Healthy and Delicious Food.
But as happened with many formerly Soviet enterprises in the free-market era, the Mikoyan plant fell victim to opportunistic businessmen who were more interested in scrapping it for parts than producing food. Which is where Mr. Demin enters the story…
Ryan Bell is a Fulbright-National Geographic Fellow traveling through Russia and Kazakhstan. He’s reporting about food topics for The Plate, and his travel adventures for Voices. You can also follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Storify.