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Business Spotlight: Taste of Europe

Ukrainian sisters move past startup phase to add cooking classes at downtown pastry and coffee shop

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A hipster sighting is rare at the European Cafe. The speed is more for longtime couples, retirees and veteran professionals with time to enjoy the handcrafted pastries and warm beverages served on the ground floor of the Holland Building.

That’s by design for the Ukrainian sisters Khrystyna Savva and Uliana Komodi who started the quaint pastry and coffee shop four years ago at 207 Park Central East.

“We wanted this to be more for an older generation,” Komodi says. “There are a lot of coffee shops catering to college students – more hip, millennials.”

European Cafe is something “for the grown-ups,” they say.

“It worked,” Komodi adds, sitting in new space reserved for the cafe’s upcoming cooking classes. “We have so many cute, old couples. We’ve befriended a lot of them. They just become part of your family.”

Customers are known on a first-name basis: There’s Don and Kathleen, as well as Lynn, who gets the croissants. And then Jonathan and his wife, they come in after dropping kids off at Springfield Ballet. “He’s always here,” says Savva.

“We know what they like, what they order all the time,” Komodi adds.

It took a while to get there.

As new business owners starting in 2014, the sisters recall the 80-hour workweeks each put in to get the cafe off the ground. Serving baked goods, they had to differentiate the shop from the American mindset. They remember the common questions: “Where are the doughnuts, the cupcakes?”

Not here.

In the display case are small batches of eclairs, mousse, tarts and macarons – nine varieties of the colorful, airy cookies.

The sisters say people began talking about the cafe in year two.

“Our breaking point was the third year,” Savva says.

Last year, the European Cafe recorded $230,000 in revenue, and to start their fifth year in business the sisters have added a baking classroom off the 1,540-square-foot cafe.

Beyond double French doors installed by landlord Allen Casey, the sisters are expanding into neighboring space to create six workstations to instruct participants through recipes for bread and small desserts, such as their best-selling macarons.

“They have been talking about wanting to do that for a few years, so we’ve held it for them when this opportunity came up and here it is now,” Casey says of the small space previously rented by ArtistSignal Inc.

It amounts to a roughly $10,000 investment by the sisters for minimal renovations and equipment for the classes. Komodi estimates they’ll charge $75-$100 for the classes and hold about three each week.

“We tried to do it before,” she says. “Now that business is steadier and operates independent of me, it was just the right time.”

At this stage, the sisters split their time at the shop. Operating hours are long – 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m., except on weekends – so Savva works the mornings and Komodi manages evenings. They also carve out responsibilities largely based on personality types: Komodi is the creative one who wears the business highs and lows on her sleeve; Savva’s even-keeled nature is stabilizing.

“We’re polar opposites, and this is the place where it works,” Komodi says.

When it comes to cooking, Savva is the baker specializing in comfort foods and coffees, while Komodi is the pastry chef handling cakes and chocolates. Those lines are drawn pretty clearly.

“If both of us are in the kitchen, it’s a disaster,” Savva adds.

After Komodi’s macarons, Savva proudly notes her lattes and croissants are the next most popular items. The competition is real.

Customer Lynn Roach comes for the croissants but says she’s also found good company in the cafe. Roach became acquainted with another regular, Mary McQueary, and they discovered they grew up near each other.

“She went to Greenwood and I went to Parkview,” Roach says.

European Cafe most days serves as McQueary’s office – she has a regular table.

“She calls it her European office,” Komodi says. “She’s been coming here as soon as we’ve been open. Allen brought her in for a meeting.”

Roach’s husband, Bill, says he’s glad to tag along.

“So many of the creations look too pretty to eat. They are works of art,” he says.

“That doesn’t bother me,” his wife adds.

The sisters arrived in Springfield in shifts beginning in 2008 via a work-travel program.

Savva came first as a summer exchange student, and Komodi joined the next year. The connection to Springfield is their Aunt Galina Raileanu.

They say their lifestyle growing up was the norm in the Ukraine: a cow, chickens and a garden to tend. That farm-to-table culture and work ethic spills into their supplier choices. Area farmers markets are regular stops, and a few blooming vendor relationships are with Edgewood Creamery, A&A Orchard and Gardener’s Orchard & Bakery.

“It’s our lifestyle, so it’s nice to share it with customers as well,” Savva says.

Features Editor Hanna Smith contributed.


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