Quick-service restaurant Kroshka Kartoshka (Крошка Картошка) offers an original spin on fast food with a popular and well-known product: baked potatoes. Literally translating to “Little Potato,” Kroshka Kartoshka grew from its humble origins as a mobile Moscow food truck launched in 1998 to a fast food giant serving spuds in over 300 locations in the Moscow and St. Petersburg metropolitan areas as well as Central Russia and Siberia.
In 1998, Russia was still suffering from financial and political turbulence. Agriculture had collapsed with the USSR and would not recover for many years. With customs and police forces having also still recovering, importing foods was difficult. KFC and Pizza Hut, for instance, actually failed on their first attempts to enter the Russian market in part because they couldn’t keep some of their main ingredients in stock. Potatoes, however, have long been grown by Russians in small garden plots at dachas just outside of the city and, because of this, Russia’s supply of potatoes has generally remained strong and supply lines can be kept short. Thus, the fact that Kroshka Kartoshka concentrated on foods that Russians not only traditionally ate – but also traditionally grew themselves – proved to be a distinct advantage.
Today, potatoes are sold in both kiosks and stationary cafes, with stationary cafes becoming the more common venue. Customers choose their own base (dill and vegetable oil, butter, cheese, or mushrooms) and add additional toppings (sour cream, brinza cheese, a range of largely-meat based salads, and more) for a per-item fee. As Kroshka Kartoshka follows a build-your-own format, the baked potatoes are made hearty or healthy according to the desires of each individual. More than just spuds, cafe patrons can order from an extended menu that includes soups, salads, sandwiches, toasts, and potato pancakes.
Tubers undergo rigorous evaluation before they ever hit the baking foil. Each potato weighs, at minimum, 300g and is inspected for green and black spots, uniform color, and freshness. Spuds that fail to meet quality control standards are immediately rooted out while the rest are pre-baked in special ovens for two hours. Kroshka Kartoshka’s website says that they believe that the vitamins and minerals found in potatoes can help fight chronic diseases such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, gastritis, and ulcers, so they recommend you eat plenty of them–and often!
Although Kroshka Kartoshka is the original, you’ll also see other chains on the ground with very similar menus and branding. Kroshka Kartoshka was one of the first Russian chains to try franchising, but they didn’t include in their initial franchising agreements that franchisees should agree not to operate similar chains after signing the deal. Unfortunately, at least one of the franchisees took advantage of this and, after learning the business by running a Kroshka Kartoshka for a while, they broke off, changed the sign a little, and began running the business as their own. So, if you are looking for a Russian fast food baked potato, we recommend going with the original!
A (fairly long) video introduction to Kroshka Kartoshka’s menu:
A short, whimsical documentary on Kroshka Kartoshka, featuring the founders, commissioned for the 15th anniversary of the company. It covers just about everything, from the construction of the kiosks to interactions with government officials and competition with McDonald’s and other Russian chains.
A popular video blogger compares Kroshka Kartoshka with one of its many “clones.”