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Draper • When Leo Balitskiy and his wife, Irina Ermolaeva, landed in Salt Lake City in 2006 for a ski trip, they felt like they were home.
It was a surprising feeling for a couple originally from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, who had spent the previous six years living among the car horns and subway squeals of New York City.
But they wanted a quiet place to raise their two young sons, and Utah's snow, size and schools appealed to them.
Two years later, Ermolaeva moved to Sandy with her sons, while Balitskiy stayed in New York City to finish up a master of business administration degree and continue working for the city's Human Resources Administration. He moved to Utah in May after graduating. But he struggled to find a job, so he decided to put his education to work.
He opened the Moscow Gourmet Foods and Gifts, 428 E. 12300 South, on Dec. 15 to share some of his culture with Utahns and provide a taste of home for Eastern Europeans.
"We welcome everybody," Balitskiy said. "We want Americans to open new horizons in their tastes, and for Russians, we want to make this the best place in the city to get goods from home."
The grocery store offers a variety of Russian goods, from jugs of clear birch tree juice used as a natural cleanser when ill to buckwheat imported from Moscow to a variety of pickled vegetables. Nearly all the products are written in Cyrillic, but the price tags are in English, and Balitskiy is always happy to translate and explain. He also loves to offer samples.
Tiny, brightly colored garbage cans sit throughout the cozy shop to let people throw out their plastic cups after trying electric green tarragon soda or the wrapper of a candy consisting of marshmallow and fruit covered in chocolate. The small market offers dozens of candies from Russia and Poland, and other goods from Bulgaria, Croatia, Armenia and more. They also create personalized gift baskets ranging from $1 to $100.
"We have things for everyone from the old USSR and Eastern Europe," Balitskiy said.
A whole smoked mackerel, imported from New York, sells for $5.99, and a large bottle of sunflower oil or a bottle of horseradish blended with beets is $2.99. The market's deli, which offers sausages, cheeses, carrot salads and even caviar, makes sandwiches for $1 to $3.
"I wanted to create a nice, clean place people felt comfortable bringing their American friends to with all the products they had complained they couldn't get before," Balitskiy said.
Running a small market is a major shift for the 35-year-old, who previously ran a database that organized the thousands of correspondences that came in and out of New York City's Department of Social Services.
"This is completely different for me," he said. "We're in trial-and-error mode, but so far, so good."
Aside from the business, he's enjoyed the six months he's lived in Utah and looks forward to exploring it more as the weather warms up.
"It has the same climate as Tashkent but didn't have the traffic jams of New York City," Balitskiy said. "It's just a few hours to the West Coast and we're surrounded by the most famous parks, like Zion, Bryce Canyon and Yellowstone. It's a great place to live. We don't regret it."
Getting to share part of their culture has been an added bonus to finding a good place to raise children, said Ermolaeva, 34. Their boys, 6 and 7, attend Lone Peak Elementary School and Ermolaeva, in addition to working part-time at the grocery, is a full-time nurse at Intermountain Medical Center. She said it was hard only getting to see her husband about once a month for two years but worth it.
"For me, the kids are a priority, my family is a priority. I liked my job so much [in New York City's Methodist Hospital], but I wanted my kids to have a good education, and Utah was the best place," she said. "And we get to ski together here."
Growing up in Tashkent, she said she never dreamed of living in the United States, and Utah certainly had never crossed her mind. But now this is home, and she couldn't be happier.
"I never thought about coming to a different country; I never thought about big in the sky dreams before," she said. "But now it is possible."
Moscow Gourmet Food and Gifts
Where • 428 E. 12300 South, Draper
Hours • Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.
Online • http://www.moscowgrocery.com