When I visited Stepanakert last May, I was given the opportunity to go to the Stendal Music Club at the bottom of Mashtots Street, just for a drink, chat, and a little karaoke – not a past-time that I’m particularly good at. I was told that this was the place that was most popular with the young people in the City. Whilst I wouldn’t consider myself to be in that general population I did enjoy the atmosphere, and the evening as a whole. I was briefly introduced to the manager of the club as we left in the early hours of the morning. It struck me at the time that this was an interesting “gem” in this city; a rare piece of modernity.
I wanted to understand more about the Stendal Music Club and so in September I met up with Vrezh Stepanyan, the manager of the club. As we walked round the main seating area of the venue he pointed out that it was not just a karaoke bar, but more of a Jazz club which, as well as a place for local entertainment, also supported artists from Armenia and , occasionally, from further afield. It was not just confined to public concerts but they also arranged corporate events as well as inter-cultural functions which facilitated the mixing of foreigners with the local community.
The reputation and popularity of the place has built up over the last few years. Although it is not the cheapest place to go in Stepanakert the premium is justified by the overall atmosphere. Vrezh highlighted that his success is built on discipline both with staff and customers, quality of service, and the quality of the food and drinks served. The one thing that struck me as slightly odd was that it was not positioned more centrally to Stepanakert rather than at the bottom of a block of flats.
Stendal was set up a few years ago with the charitable investment from Narine Davtyan, a business woman from Moscow, who has provided a number of benevolent contributions in support of Artsakh. The rationale for the investment seems not to be a short-term donation but as a form of “seedcorn” capital which could be used to generate profits that can be used to fund other businesses, or charitable activities that would benefit the wider community. Within the same complex as Stendal are 2 other businesses, a small hotel with 4 rooms and a Children’s “College”, both of which are supported by Stendal. Whilst the objective of the College is to look after 10-20 children of kindergarten age, during the working day, it was not just for the purposes of play but also many of the pre-school fundamentals, including the learning of some basic English. Just outside from the Club and the children’s college, the owners have recently converted a small area of wasteground at the bottom of the block of flats into a children’s play area. This is a facility which can be used by all children in the locality and gives them the opportunity to play on modern equipment near to their homes.
Supporting charitable concerns in the area is part of the objective of the original investment, and each year they consider different opportunities whether it be constructing something for the community or to support individuals, for example, the funding of student fees where the state is unable to meet the cost.
Managing the Children’s college, and providing support to the running of Stendal is Arthur Arushanyan. He is also the Director / Manager of “Pyatachok” a café situated at the top end of Mashtots Street near to the Shaumian statue. I’d visited this place a few times but hadn’t appreciated the connection with Stendal. It opened 4 years ago and has grown over that period consolidating a regular customer base who like the atmosphere and quality of service. In that same time many café’s have come and gone, whilst this one remains strong. The ambiance appeals to a wide variety of customers from government officials who enjoy the opportunity for a quick snack, or business people for a meeting, or workers looking for alternative surroundings. The mixture of unique foods, quality service and polite staff is the secret to this enduring business.
There are many models of business in the world and a lot of them are not particularly responsible in the community, and the larger they become , potentially, the more faceless they are. The businesses operated by Vrezh and Arthur are simple in many respects but are based on a high level of intuition and solid experience ( both men started out as serving staff) and maintain a level of social and community responsibility which in many places is sadly lacking. The charitable objectives of Stendal is refreshing to observe and could be a lesson to many European and American companies.
When I visited Stendal in May I thought it was just a Karaoke club, and as for a lot of things in Artsakh one cannot judge on first impressions. Looking below the surface and inside the door of this enigmatic country continues to expose a rich and important society
Categories: Life and People Artsakh