Happy 25th anniversary to Moscow on the Hill in St. Paul. We chat with Marina Liberman, who runs the Cathedral Hill institution with her husband Naum, about the early years, the key to their success and how the restaurant has turned into a family affair spanning the next generation.
How did you come to open Moscow on the Hill? We bought the space in 1994 when it was a French restaurant called Quail on the Hill and for about 2½ years we ran it as a French restaurant. We felt more comfortable being who we are. We’re originally from Moscow and we knew Russian classics and Russian dishes better. So we decided it was time to change to Moscow on the Hill. That change happened in 1997.
Peasant Pelmeni at Moscow On the Hill in St. Paul, Dec. 10, 2018. (Nancy Ngo / Pioneer Press)
How has the restaurant changed or grown over the years? It’s very different from how it was in 1994. The restaurant is three times bigger, the patio is bigger. We built a new kitchen and a bar. At the time we had five people working for us and now it’s up to 45. Our older son Eugene is general manager right now. At the time we started he was about nine years old.
At the same time things have changed, what remains the same? We’re still a family restaurant. We know our customers. They know us. We know their kids, their grandkids. I know people who met each other here on a blind date, got married, had kids. There are so many stories of big moments that happened here. One of us is always up front greeting customers. If it’s not me, it’s Eugene.
What’s the key to longevity in the restaurant world? Treat people how you would like someone to treat you. You have to show customers your appreciation. Of all the restaurants, they picked you. They brought their heart and money to your place. You have to work hard and appreciate your customers. That’s the key to our success.
When dining at your restaurant, what’s the one essential dish every customer should order at least once? I like everything that’s on the menu, but my favorite is pelmeni. It’s Russian dumplings. We have two versions, one with ground beef and pork and another one with potatoes. It’s the most famous and most popular — everyone in Russia loves them.
Moscow on the Hill in St. Paul. (Courtesy of Moscow on the Hill)
If you could only eat or drink five things for the rest of your life, what would they be? A pelmeni with a sour cherry filling. Russian tea with a strudel. I’d also probably want shiitake mushrooms with young potatoes and fresh dill. And beef cabbage pierogi.
What’s next? We’re there every day at the restaurant and we’re not ready to retire. I’m 59 and my husband is 69, so I guess we have to think about it at some point. We just want to continue doing what we’re doing with our son Eugene here to help us run it as a family business.
MOSCOW ON THE HILL
Where: 371 Selby Ave., St. Paul;
For more information: 651-291-1236; moscowonthehill.com