A Different Kind of Help

Bakery in Georgia serves up delicacies, jobs and more

text by Natalia Antelava
photographs by Dima Chikvaidze

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It is on the outskirts of town, up a steep hill and alongside a potholed road. But for Zurab Vachnadze, 24, the trip is well worth it.

Seated at a corner table in a cozy eatery on Nutsubidze Street in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, Mr. Vachnadze takes a large bite of what he says is the tastiest pizza in the city. Across the table, his girlfriend Tamara Tskitishvili also praises her selection from the menu – an appetizing plate of lasagna.

A night out for an Italian meal might sound ordinary to many in the West. But in Georgia, where the cuisine of the Caucasus region dominates the restaurant scene, eating authentic Italian food is a special occasion.

“There are not many places in Tbilisi that serve food that is not Georgian, and also affordable,” Mr. Vachnadze says as he chomps on his pizza.

Panetteria, which is Italian for bakery, includes a pizzeria and pastry shop and is located in one of Tbilisi’s residential districts, a far distance from the center of the city’s nightlife with its crowded Georgian restaurants and Western-style bars.

Its remote location does not keep people from filing into the pizzeria almost every night looking for a taste of real Italian pizza, a bowl of pasta or a slice of Panetteria’s tiramisu.

The bakery and pastry shop next door also stay busy, with rows of colorful Italian pastries and baskets of breads atop the glass counter. In the back, shelves are crowded with a selection rare for Georgia: bags of pasta from Italy, bottles of olive oil and jars of capers and anchovies.

General Manager Liana Kandelaki says the secret of Panetteria’s success is simple: “We make everyone feel at home. We make the best food and it is very different from what many are used to. That’s what we are here for.”

This is an understatement for a business aiming for far more than the simple diversification of Georgia’s gastronomic landscape. While Panetteria is a real treat for Tbilisi gourmands, the bakery was created for the benefit of the least fortunate in the Georgian capital. Ever since its establishment in March 2000, Georgia’s first Italian bakery and pizzeria have been serving the needs of the poor, old, orphaned and unemployed.

To find out why and how, it is enough to follow one’s nose. The appetizing aroma of fresh breads and croissants rises into the air and flows into the office of Caritas Georgia. The director of Caritas Georgia, Father Witold Szulczynski, recalls how it all started.

“A few years ago some of our sponsors suggested we do something different, that we try to raise money ourselves from our activities here. ‘Open a business,’ they told us,” says Father Szulczynski, “but I thought ‘easier said than done.’”

For the past decade, Georgia, with its feeble investment climate, notorious security problems and endless corruption, has not been a favorable place for starting a business. The idea that a business would not only support itself but also generate enough income to support a charity seemed far-fetched. But the project has exceeded all expectations, and CNEWA is proud to provide financial assistance to the expanding bakery.

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Tags: Georgia Cuisine Tbilisi