Robert Koenig

Most expatriates don’t know that Robert Koenig is one of Ukraine’s top-ranked squash players. He also has bragging rights for introducing Kyiv to chicken wings, margaritas and happy hours.

“I even represented Ukraine in a Polish squash tournament in the 1990s,” said Koenig, who still competes and is ranked in the top 10 in Ukraine.

The trailblazing Washington D.C. native was Pepsi International’s man in Ukraine in the early 1990s.

While still working as a financial director for the company, Koenig opened the popular American Arizona BBQ restaurant in 1996 with friend and partner Falk Nebiger.

It was an immediate hit with Kyiv’s fast-growing expatriate community for its offerings of burgers, Tex-Mex and steaks.

He left Pepsi in 1997 and devoted all his time to business projects or, as he said: “developing after-hour places for foreigners.”


Kyiv Post file photo

He and Nebiger opened San Tori, a Japanese-Asian eatery in 1997. Other restaurants, such as Edelweiss, Kozak Mamai and an Arizona’s in Donetsk, have since been sold or closed.

The Syracuse graduate and former Andersen Consulting accountant got into the movie theater business in 2001, developing three Butterfly cinemas before cashing out in 2005.

And he got into commercial real estate when he helped construct Arena City, an adult entertainment center in 2004 with a local partner. He divested his interest in 2008.

He and Nebiger found a Greek investor in 2000 to put $2 million into starting the Mr. Snack sandwich shop chain. Today there are 14 Mr. Snacks.

He and Nebiger are also partners in two Ot Puza self-serve, buffet-style eateries.

Koenig has branched out on his own to build seven Igroland children entertainment centers with the first one opening in 2005 at Kyiv’s Karavan shopping mall.

He also started in 2005 to capitalize on the spending power of Ukraine’s growing elite when he entered the high-end luxury goods market.

Today he operates 15 luxury boutiques all under the Richemont Group: Tiffany, Montblanc, Alfred Dunhill, Roger Dubuis, Van Cleef & Arpels.


“It’s about honesty and open communication. Trust is very important in business.”

– Robert Koenig.

How does he do it? “By giving all my effort and believing in the long-term potential of Ukraine’s markets and economy,” he said.

But he does admit that a lot of his success has to do with “being at the right place at the right time,” a common success theme of those who came to Ukraine in the early 1990s.

And it’s been a delicate balancing act to remain successful. Koenig prides himself in combining Western business values with local idiosyncrasies and paying attention to his strengths and benefiting from them.

“It’s about honesty and open communication. Trust is very important in business,” Koenig said.

He still finds time to give back to the community. He sits on the board of the Klitschko Brothers Foundation, which promotes healthy lifestyles and after-school programs for children.

“We build playgrounds and boxing halls. We’ve spent $1.5 million on these projects,” he said.

So as Koenig continues re-investing what he earns, he admits that he hasn’t given much thought to an exit strategy: “How do I divest my interests?”


As he contemplates, we will continue to enjoy his margaritas.

Falk Nebiger

“I’m happy I’m still alive” is how Falk Nebiger described his most important achievement in Ukraine since arriving in 1992.

Another “original expat” on our list, the German national said he’s seen his share of foreigners who’ve run into problems – getting muscled out by local partners, for example – or in some cases simply becoming alcoholics.

But Nebiger didn’t encounter many of the problems that early expatriates faced because he was too busy starting businesses and choosing the right partners.

“If I could start over again, I would focus on fewer things and do them better.”

– Falk Nebiger.

“If I could start over again, I would focus on fewer things and do them better,” he said, referring to the wide-open market of the early 1990s.

Together with his more outgoing business partner, American Robert Koenig, and a local partner, Ihor Balenko, they started Arizona Group, which lays claim to the city’s first expat hangout, opening in 1996. Arizona BBQ is still the group’s flagship restaurant.

Other restaurants include San Tori with Koenig and Muka on Khreshchatyk and Crazy Mama Rock’n’Roll Cafe on Taras Shevchenko Boulevard, both of which belong to Nebiger. He is also the silent partner with Koenig in a few jewelry stores. He also operates four fast-food style restaurants, two with Koenig, called Ot Puza.


His biggest breakthrough came on Dec. 1, 2000, when he and Koenig attracted a Greek investor to start the Mr. Snack sandwich parlor chain as part of an ambitious plan to become Ukraine’s second-largest fast food operation after McDonald’s.

The overseas partner is Greece-based Commercial Capital, a company that has already pumped more than $10 million into various ventures in Ukraine.

Vadym Gruzyn, who heads Commercial Capital’s representative office here, told the Kyiv Post in earlier interviews that it has projects in chemical production and distribution, real estate and consumer goods in Ukraine. The company, now a co-owner of Mr. Snack, apparently invested $2 million into the chain, according to Nebiger. There are 14 Mr. Snacks today.

When working with local partners, Nebiger said the trick is to work honestly and speak about problems as soon as they arise.

Nebiger said there still are untapped niches in the service industry. “With discipline and hard work along with creative ideas, there’s still opportunity in bars and restaurants, also in agriculture,” he said.

He has started a small asparagus farm with Chumak brand top managers Johan Boden and Carl Sturen, who next year plan to farm five hectares in southern Ukraine.

The longtime expatriate personally collects and donates money to a local children’s home in Fastiv of Kyiv Oblast. He estimates that he currently employs up to 350 people.

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