Building a Restaurant Out of an Arsenal
Of all the places to build an upscale, trendy food court, an 18th-century arsenal is probably not at the top of anyone’s list. But that’s where Alex Cooper and Mikhail Beylin decided to build one of Kyiv’s most popular gastronomic attractions.
Kyiv Food Market: An Arsenal-Turned-Food Court
Kyiv Food Market is not Cooper’s first foray into communal eating spaces. He started in Odessa with the Odessa City Food Market. His business partner, Beylin, is the owner of the Familia Group, over a dozen restaurants in Ukraine.
The cold, industrial building was once used to create and house weapons. Then it fell into disrepair, where it remained for several years.
But in 2019, Cooper and Beylin transformed the arsenal building into something new and inviting. Now it looks like a cross between a cathedral and a train station: an open, spacious room with a vaulted ceiling; a mix of sterile white, light wood, and trendy slate grays; a two-story dining room that makes use of the space above the restaurants without suffocating the open concept.
Instead of erasing the building’s military history, Cooper and Beylin embraced it, juxtaposing the industrial elements against modern, homey touches. Corrugated metal panels line the sandy brick walls. Vertical lights dangle from the ceiling, reminiscent of the floating candles of Hogwarts. For every piece of black grating and fencing, there is an equal measure of greenery.
26 Restaurants Under One Roof
But it’s not just the novelty of eating in a repurposed arsenal that makes Kyiv Food Market so popular. The main draw of Kyiv Food Market is, naturally, the food.
Burgers from COOPER. Seafood from Wow Crabs. Vegan fare from ORANG+UTAN. Energizing smoothie bowls from Bali Bowl. Kyiv Food Market has something for any craving.
Cooper and Beylin brought together over 20 of the most popular eateries in Kyiv for this project. Kyiv Food Market can house up to 26 vendors, and the listings change from time to time, so there’s always something new to try.
Whether you want a traditional Ukrainian dish, craft beer, fresh-baked bread, Asian fusion, cocktails, or decadent cakes, you can find it at Kyiv Food Market. It’s a place to meet new people, visit with friends, and enjoy the best of Kyiv’s culinary scene in one location.
Balbek Bureau, the architects who helped create Kyiv Food Market, says this: “Once a cold and empty space, it has now become a point of attraction where people get together, giving the place new social meaning. . . . The food hall is full of tastes, smells, meetings, emotions. [It’s a] celebration of life.”
10,000 Meals a Day
That “celebration of life” has taken a new turn ever since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Kyiv Food Market, once a bustling hub of popular restaurants, is still just as busy—but it’s for a different reason.
The Russian invasion inspired millions of Ukrainians to leave the country, but many people stayed, whether by choice or due to circumstances. Many sick, elderly, or disabled people were unable to leave, while healthy men were conscripted to fight the Russians. All of these people need food.
So Cooper and Beylin got to work, using their vast space to make meals for the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the citizens of Kyiv. They make as many as 10,000 meals a day, given away for free or sold at cost. This war is about survival, not trying to make a profit.
Food shipments are unpredictable in the war-torn country, so Cooper and Beylin use whatever they can. Crabs, buckwheat, hummus, cod—the menu varies depending on supply. But most people in Kyiv cannot afford to be picky right now.
Kyiv Food Market has always been about community, whether that’s as a hip meeting place or by serving free food to the elderly. It will continue to be a beacon for Kyiv, a symbol of hope and rebirth, a place to foster social bonds through food.
Cooper tells Eater, “The number of people volunteering in Kyiv now is astonishing. It’s not only us, everyone is trying to make a difference. It goes to show the lengths we’re willing to go to defend our land.”
You can help support the war efforts in Ukraine by donating to World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit that ensures people in crisis don’t go hungry. Your gift to WCK will put a hot, nourishing meal in the hands of a Ukrainian citizen in need.