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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Eat and Run




How many of the world's major cities can boast they have a restaurant on wheels? Moscow can. And although Moscow's Annushka restaurant, located in a functional tram car, has existed for six years, most of the capital's residents don't know about the capital's only eating establishment with no formal address.


Annushka was the brainchild of restaurateur Marina Makhitanyan, who decided to build a restaurant inside an old Czech tram that would continue to run along the city's tram rails - all the while feeding a profitable average of 50 customers a night.


But Makhitanyan said her motivation was never the rubles she might make with a restaurant that rides the rails all afternoon and evening.


"Our main goal was to spread joy," said Makhitanyan, Annushka's general director. "When we were planning the restaurant years ago, we realized that it might not be a very profitable project, but more than money makes the world go around."


Annushka rides the same rails that all of Moscow's other neighborhood trams use - in fact, the restaurant has special permission from the city government to do so. On most days, Annushka runs a route near Chistiye Prudy, although the traveling restaurant sometimes arranges different routes for special parties.


Anushka's founders intended to create a small, positively unique restaurant, and they feel they have succeeded in doing just that. In Moscow at least, the dining room on wheels is one of a kind.


Annushka (a Russian woman's name) is not your average tram with seats, gripping poles and aisles. The tram underwent considerable remodeling before it opened its doors to the hungry public in 1993 - it now has eight tables, with total seating for 24 people, plus a small kitchen and equipment and screens for karaoke performances.


How did they fit all that inside a space of just over 15 square meters? It wasn't easy.


"Of course, there's not a lot of space here and it's quite narrow, Makhitanyan said. "But, like the old Russian saying goes, 'V tesnote, no ne v obide,'" or small spaces don't always mean hurt feelings.


And it's true. Most people usually find Annushka quite comfortable - including its staff of one chef, two waiters and Makhitanyan. "We've worked here for many years and have become accustomed to the cramped conditions," Makhitanyan said.


Makhitanyan hails from Armenia - a fact evidenced in Annushka's menu. "We have a wide selection of high-quality Armenian and Russian food," she said, adding that the restaurant's dolma, or stuffed grape leaves - a traditional Armenian dish - are especially delicious.


If blini, or Russian pancakes, and potatoes are more to your liking, the tram's menu features the Annushka Meal, traditional Russian food including beef in onion sauce and other dishes associated with Armenia's northern neighbor.


"But the nationality of the food is not important," Makhitanyan said. "Most important is that, no matter what meal you have, it is done as though it were cooked in your own kitchen - despite that it was actually prepared on a tram!"


Of course, it's not always the food that brings people to Annushka: "I love it. I could spend the whole day here," said Sergei, a young customer who rides the tram often. "What could be better than enjoying your coffee while staring out the window of a moving tram? ... Transportation is usually associated with rushing and working, but Annushka changes all that."


Other regulars said Annushka's tiny dining room inspires a special kind of friendliness in the clientele that is rarely - if ever - seen on other Moscow trams and trolleys, which are generally known for being overcrowded. "The space is so small that, sooner or later, everybody gets together into one group," said Anatoly, a student at Moscow State University. "You drink and have fun together and, by the end of the evening, you feel as if you've known everyone for years. It's a great place to make new friends."


Makhitanyan said a large percentage of her customers are tourists and expats, including regular groups from the French, German and Canadian embassies.


In fact, Makhitanyan was recently interviewed by a French radio station for four hours. "They called from Paris and asked so many questions ... they asked how we cook" - a chef prepares all the meals ahead of time in the tram's depot, then warms them using Annushka's small stove or microwave to fill orders - "and what we drink" - whatever diners want - "and whose idea Annushka was" - Makhitanyan's. "And I was so proud that, even in Paris, they know about us."


It is not so surprising that Annushka has had its share of adventures. Just this month, Makhitanyan said, the restaurant ran into some trouble when the power went out. "We were having such fun that we didn't get to the Universitet metro station until 4 a.m. Then, suddenly, the electricity went off and the tram stopped. We had light, but couldn't move. So, we all got off and started pushing it along, all the while singing Russian folk songs."


Others will remember Annushka for the more mundane pleasures it offers. Because the tram has no toilet, management has arranged for other restaurants along its route to allow patrons to use those businesses' restrooms - while the tram waits for their return.


Makhitanyan still tells the story of one excited customer, who returned from such a rest stop overjoyed.


"It's the first time in my life a tram has waited for me to finish my business," he exclaimed.


What more could one ask for?


Annushka is open from 3 p.m. to midnight every day. Catch the tram on its regular route near the ponds at Chistiye Prudy, or leave a message on their pager, 961-3333, client number 31338, to find out the tram's location at a particular time of day.