Telavi, the former capital of the Kingdom of Kakheti, is a beautiful town with spectacular views of the Alazani Valley and Caucasian mountains. In the 18th century, King Erekle II reigned from Telavi. The palace can still be seen, and the statue of King Erekle stands proudly in the middle of the city's town square. More importantly for the city dwellers, Telavi is the capital of Georgia’s traditional winemaking.
This month, however, the capital of Georgia’s winemaking has for a couple of days become the capital of Georgian beer drinking, in the best of German Oktoberfest traditions. Everything was planned and executed meticulously. Female waitresses in traditional Bavarian outfits delivered excellent beer, live music was played in every corner, Telavian motorcycle riders also joined the festival and advertised it by rallying in the streets…
THE ADVANTAGE OF HOMECOMING, OR MIGRATION IN RETURN
Telavi’s Oktoberfest was the brainchild of one guy, Sandro Tchuadze, a native of Telavi, who went to Tbilisi to pursue a (useless) bachelor’s degree. After getting a piece of paper certifying his educational achievement, Sandro came back home to help with logistics and marketing in his family’s slow-developing beer distribution business. Yet, instead of staying in the business and waiting for something good to happen, Sandro decided to pursue new opportunities. It all started with Sandro getting a message from his bank that his new credit card had a borrowing limit of 3,000 GEL.
Not knowingly, Sandro’s homecoming coincided with a global movement of millennials out of large cities towards picturesque towns and villages in the countryside. Recent studies suggest that more and more millennials in the developed world are saying goodbye to their beloved urban centers and moving outside their cities. This trend is a reversal of the rural-to-urban trend of migration that has characterized the world since the Industrial Revolution (Ritzer, 2000).
It is interesting to ask who those people are, and why they prefer to move away from cities. In Israel (research by Arnon & Shamai, 2011), these are people with high human capital who are educated and employed, and who are driven by “post-materialistic” values -- fulfillment and self-expression, appreciation of the quality of life in a green environment and a meaningful community.
Not unexpectedly, the wind of post-materialism has not blown through Georgia yet. Quite the opposite; according to recent census data (2014), more than 340,000 inhabitants have migrated to Tbilisi over the past 15 years, while only 94,000 have left Tbilisi to move to the regions. Of course, Tbilisi, despite being crowded and polluted, has a lot to offer: employment opportunities, education and healthcare services, entertainment, etc.
NO VENTURE, NO GAIN (КТО НЕ РИСКУЕТ, ТОТ НЕ ПЬЕТ ПИВО)
In a place like Telavi, one has to create his/her own opportunities as there are simply no fascinating jobs on offer. Having some understanding of the beer industry, Sandro decided to bet the bank’s 3,000 GEL on a bar that would serve beer in the center of Georgia’s winemaking capital.
The first place he rented was a tiny shop, about 16 sq. meters, which had the advantage of being affordable: it cost Sandro only 150 GEL in monthly rent. Yet, the location was not great, nor was the building’s exterior appealing to potential customers. To compensate for these disadvantages, he invested all his energy (not money, since he had none) in advertising his new business through social media. He created a personal Facebook account for his ‘Ludis Sakhli’ (not a business page, which is costly) and added as many people from Telavi as possible. For several days, he was identifying people living in Telavi, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends, all of whom he invited to follow his shop. Within two weeks, he managed to reach 4,000 people.
In addition, he wanted to make his business different from the competition. He thought of selling live crabs, which was something new for Telavians, took photos live crabs in his aquarium and posted them on Facebook. Many people got interested and came to check out Sandro’s place, his live crabs, and, of course, his beer.
“Ludis Sakhli” came to be recognized as a place to visit in Telavi. Now it was necessary to sustain and expand his customer base. A key strategy was to extend the assortment of beer and add different types of fish. In the first month alone, he offered six different brands of beer. As far as pricing is concerned, he went for a low-markup-high-volume strategy. This approach turned out to be well-suited for the thin wallets and large wine-and-beer bellies of his fellow Kakhetian customers. Sandro’s sales exceeded expectations, but every single tetri he made had to be reinvested in the business.
After a successful year, Sandro was confident enough to open a new bar. This time, however, it was designed to serve a different segment of customers – tourists and those many young Telavians who would go to the central square to hang out with friends. Sandro found a suitable, much larger and nicer place close to the central city square. He invested in a proper renovation and added wine to his assortment (tourists, who frequently stumbled into his shop, stubbornly demanded Georgian wine, not German beer). Having started his business with 3,000 GEL, Sandro currently employs seven local staff. The menu includes 16 varieties of beers, both Georgian and foreign, 30 types of fish, and a wide variety of wines.
DOING GOOD AND DOING WELL!
On summer evenings, many Telavians stroll the city’s picturesque town square. Yet, despite being Georgia’s 8th largest town in terms of population, Telavi does not have much to offer to its youth: there are no cinemas, no football fan clubs, and no music clubs where young people can go and enjoy their evenings. By establishing his business and bringing Oktoberfest to Telavi, Sandro certainly did well for himself, but he did so by bringing a lot of joy to his community, as well as to the tourists who visit Kakheti during the period of young wine festivities (rtveli).
Fortunately, Sandro is not alone in aspiring to create a difference in his community. Quite recently, in the summer of 2017, two friends, Eduard and Nana, opened a social bar named “Mego-Bari” (a great pun, given that megobari stands for ‘friend’ in Georgian) in Zugdidi, the capital of Samegerlo. In another example, Keti and her friends established a literary café “Tsodnis Café” (‘knowledge café’) in Tsnori, a tiny town in Kakheti, hosting concerts and public seminars. Yes, concerts and public seminars in Tsnori!
So, if you are still daydreaming about life in a serene countryside paradise, time has come to realize that you can simply create one by yourself. Just follow in the footsteps of Sandro, Eduard, Nana and Keti.
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