I’ve been thinking to start this series of interviews since a long time, having met so many inspiring people who had chances to live anywhere else, but decided to settle in Georgia, and facing this question myself at least on weekly basis. Sometimes both locals and non-local don’t simply understand: WHY GEORGIA? Here is the first answer from Eric Binder, an American who settled in Tbilisi around 8 years ago, grew his children and his small tasty business here.
We met at “Ronny’s Pizza” in Vake, the prestigious part of Tbilisi. I arranged the meeting through our common friend Archi, but came kind of incognito. Having ordered a vegetarian pizza, I started making pictures of the place – simple design, with thousands of customers’ messages at the walls – and was disclosed by Eric himself. After ordering even more food and several minutes of happy chewing I could finally start a normal conversation.
– Why Georgia? Why not! – Eric smiles. – As we left the US and our house, I didn’t have an idea that Georgia existed. We were thinking to go to Brazil or Chile, but at one point we found ourselves in the UK, as Brazil was not friendly to the Americans, and we abandoned that idea. Then we decided to travel for a year without spending a lot of money. That was in 2006. It was a long journey… Once in Italy a guy screamed to us: “Gypsies, go home!”, because we didn’t obviously look like rich travelers. After Egypt and Turkey we came to Georgia. Initially, our idea was to go to Central Asia through Iran, but it was complicated. Coming to Georgia was a good surprise. It was very friendly, and there was also freedom and a lot of space.
– So it was not difficult to feel comfortable here, was it?
– It was difficult to buy food, because we couldn’t read in Georgian. During our trip we learned some letters, words for “bread”, “vegetables”, and it became easier… Actually, from Central Asia we wanted to go back to Europe through Russia to sell a car, but somehow Russia didn’t grant us transit visa.
We were emotionally exhausted after this trip. It was August 2007, time for our son Wyeth to start his school. There were a lot of things we liked about Georgia, it reminded us a bit on Latin America. We liked its relatively small capital with arts and entertainment – and at the same time you still can buy your fresh bread on the corner here.
– But you didn’t start working here immediately?
– We didn’t think about business until the end of second year in Georgia. I’ve had a show here, as I used to be a professional artist. Though, I didn’t sell any work, and was ready for changes, being completely burned out.
– How you came to idea of starting a pizza house?
– Being Christians, we want to be responsible, to do something good for Tbilisi and Georgia, because we are living here. American food is everywhere… In general, our business came out of one simple necessity: do something good and train other people to do it. Making pizza is not so difficult, right?
– Was it an easy beginning? Any challenging moments?
– We took some risks to do this business. It was easy to register, and there was not much competition that time. There was a challenging moment… First we rented a place on Pekini street, put a lot of effort into remodeling it, but there have been some construction problems, so people from city hall came and destroyed everything. So we had to start from zero.
We were also afraid of Americans, who could have criticized our American pizza made with Georgian ingredients… But in the end we moved to Vazha Pshavela street, and started there. We had enough customers, enough to keep going.
– Actually your American pizza with Georgian ingredients is delicious!
– Well, the ingredients are really fresh and awesome. I am sorry for big companies, who have to export some frozen products. A thing we import is a typical American drink, so called root beer. The rest is simple and natural.
– Have you had any issues of working with Georgians?
– We didn’t have any experience of work with Georgians, so we didn’t expect anything. Management and interpersonal relationship matters. If you do your things frankly, profit will come, but you shouldn’t pursue it. As we were moving, a lot of people came to help us. It’s how it works in Tbilisi: no big banners, but good words about you.
At this moment Wyeth, Eric’s elder son, joined our lunch and conversation:
– School was challenging in the beginning. There was a Georgian side and English side, and I ended up in the 7th grade in a Georgian class. Boys were not accepting me first, in that age it’s quite okay, but my good friend Archi who spoke English very well, helped me a lot. If I would be in an English or American school, there would be kind of an artificial bubble around me. So it was good that I grew up among the Georgian kids. I knew enough to get by. Math was easy: you don’t need a lot of language for this. I was a good student in many subjects… Georgian literature was an exception.
– Is there any Georgian word that you like?
Wyeth: – I like the way “muzhuzhi” sounds. (* muzhuzhi is a Georgian dish).
Eric: – For me it was quite amusing that the word “aghdgoma” was both for Easter and just normal getting up.
– And which places in Georgia do you like most?
Wyeth: – I like simple things: Lisi lake, mountains around it.
Eric: – I like David Gareji monastery. And view over the city from our house.
About the places, there was also a funny story in the very beginning. We just we coming from Vardzia, it was our fifth day in Georgia maybe. Near Kaspi we took some guys, they told us they were going to Tbilisi. As we were passing by Jvari monastery, they said: “Stop, we are going there”. I was tired and said: “No, we are going to Tbilisi”. But they convinced us, so we went up to Jvari, and there up they arranged a real supra, Georgian feast. Their names were Beso and Vaso, and in Spanish beso means “kiss”, and vaso is “glass”, for us it sounded funny. We got so drunk with those people!
Of course, they showed us the monastery too; at that time it was very simple, not super renovated. I remember that someone from village brought a rooster to sacrifice there, a bit weird pagan moment… The rooster escaped, everyone was trying to catch it, such a hilarious mess! Then a priest came out to see what was going on… In the end they caught the rooster, of course.
– What was the happiest moment of your Georgian life so far?
– As a husband and father, I was happy, as my family was happy, – it took time for Eric to answer this question. – As Wyeth made friends, as we bought the land, started building a house – it was a crazy time. But the moment we understood: ok, we are settling here, as I saw my children growing up here – that was definitely happiness.