Moscow's fledgling fast food industry could have its wings clipped if the city's government goes through with plans to shut down mobile kiosks not adhering to new health standards.
Citing kiosks as the chief culprits, especially those selling shwarma and pickled carrot salads, the Moscow city government announced last week that it will introduce a revised health code by March 2003.
Moscow's chief sanitary doctor, Nikolai Filatov, said 50 percent of street kiosks do not follow proper health-code regulations and will have to close up shop.
Sergei Batovsky, executive director of Technologiya i Pitaniye, owner and operator of popular fast-food chain Kroshka Kartoshka, told The Russia Journal the plan is unrealistic and unfair towards major chains that abide by the rules.
"At the moment, we have 72 stands around Moscow; closing them all would obviously be unrealistic, even crazy," he said.
Last year, according to Filatov, the city closed 840 fast-food stalls across the city and fined the food-service industry, including food-production factories, a total of 17 million rubles.
Batovsky and other producers joined together in February this year to create the Moscow Association of Fast Food Enterprises (MAFFE). Members include major Moscow players like Markon City, the owners of hot-dog chain Stop-Top, and Teremok-Russkiye Bliny, owners of a large network of pancake stalls. The association's members have teamed up to appeal to the state authorities and ask them to rethink their decision.
"Unfortunately, it's a difficult bureaucratic machine, and there isn't a single civil servant who sees a difference between us and dirty shwarma stalls where people are slicing off pieces of chicken with their bare hands," said Batovsky.
"We understand why the government is trying to deal with this mess, but its crazy for them to try and close us all. I think that a lot of those stands will go on working anyway," he added.
This is not the first time the government has threatened to crack down on the city's fast food stalls, according to Andrei Petrakov, director of Restcon, the restaurant-advising arm of consulting company Assesor.
He said the government needed to be careful about which kiosks it labeled as dangerous, since there are plenty of cafes and small stores that are every bit as dangerous to eat from as a dirty shwarma stand.
However, he noted that, sooner or later, a law standardizing health standards at kiosks needed to be passed.
"I think eventually what you'll see is a cleaning out of the market with the smaller companies closing down and about five or six major players remaining," he added.
According to Petrakov, there are around 10,000 fast-food stalls, including stationary kiosks, in Moscow. He estimated overall trade volume in the fast-food business to be $300 million, but was unable to say what percentage of the market belonged to street eateries.
Near the Dynamo metro station on Wednesday morning, Artyom Napolskykh was busy selling shwarma and pirozhky, fried meat and cabbage pies, to customers at a small mobile kiosk and oblivious to the authorities plans.
"I always wear gloves when I make shwarma, so people don't need to worry about being infected by me," he said.
He said he uses a fresh rotisserie of shwarma meat everyday, while the sour cabbage and other garnishes he uses are also fresh and free of disease.
"If they want to protect people's health, then they need to close down every store selling tobacco and alcohol too," said Napolskykh, who came to Moscow from Ukraine to work.
He added that the government was probably just looking for another way to clean the streets of illegal workers. "Almost everyone who works at these stands isn't from Moscow," Napolskykh said. "Muscovites are too lazy to work here."