Posted on Sun, Feb. 08, 2004

Entrepreneur caters to a variety of appetites and interests

Special to the Star-Telegram

In his Arlington gift shop, Mikhail Frumkin offers merchandise from Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Latvia, Greece, the Czech Republic, Yugoslavia and Russia, and Russian-style items made in the United States.

Hand-painted lacquer boxes line a shelf of the shop.

Soviet native Mikhail (pronounced Michael) Frumkin knows Americans have some pretty strange hankerings.

Frumkin, who owns A Taste of Europe restaurant and gift store in Arlington, said he enjoys catering to those tastes. Frumkin serves up an eclectic menu as well as selling merchandise.

The charming immigrant from Minsk, Belarus, also owns Russian Island in the Dallas Galleria mall.

Neatly organized shelves in the compact, modest facility in Arlington hold merchandise from Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Latvia, Greece, the Czech Republic, Yugoslavia and Russia. Frumkin hauls the products from his 3,000-square-foot warehouse on Cooper Street. Some of the items are made by artisans in the United States, others shipped from his motherland.

Customer Chuck Louthan of Cedar Hill praised the store.

"I've been to Russia twice, and the gift shop is almost identical to what you'd find in Russia. The dolls, the Russian clothing, the Russian jewelry. He's got some jewelry that's just amazing," Louthan said. "It's just a neat place; it's got such a warm charm to it, such a neat experience."

The stock includes hand-painted Faberge Eggs, nesting dolls and rare items such as hand-painted lacquered boxes and hand-painted balalaikas, stringed Russian instruments.

Frumkin won't divulge how he acquires his rare finds.

"It's a secret," he said. "I have people in Russia looking for things for me."

Other items include ethnic canned meats and freshly baked goods, Russian teas, silver and nickel alloy, hand-painted pocket watches, herbal Russian shampoos, nesting-doll magnets and key chains, amber jewelry, flax dolls, CDs and large, colorful, woven shawls from Pavlova-Posad.

"The small one is 36-by-36," Frumkin said, unfolding a reddish one. "A lot of people use them as tablecloths."

The food at A Taste of Europe is just as exotic, with a menu of more than 100 items.

"We try to accommodate all people," he said. "A lot of our couples are mixed ethnicity. If a husband does not like Russian food, we also have American food."

The more unusual fare includes house specialty shish kebab, lamb kebab, pilaf from Uzbekistan and dolmas, an Armenian appetizer wrapped in grape leaves.

Louthan said the food impresses him as much as the gifts.

"They make everything fresh right to order and the service is wonderful," he said.

John and Vickie Vogel and their son Carson, 2, were on their way to another restaurant but tried A Taste of Europe instead.

"The food was good," John Vogel said.

The Vogels said they will return and even bring relatives.

"My wife's parents get their share of Mexican food when they come in from San Antonio," he said.

Frumkin and his family came to the United States in 1979. He worked as a civil engineer, as he had in Minsk, before turning his hobby, collecting and supplying Russian items, into a business. In 1992, he opened a small kiosk at The Parks at Arlington mall and his store in the Galleria. In 1993, he opened a store in Hulen Mall. All have since closed except for the Dallas store.

He opened A Taste of Europe on Pioneer Parkway in 2002. It, too, closed for a while but reopened in November after remodeling.

"Soon we will make a profit because of the trends," he said. His biggest challenge is getting the word out.

Frumkin wants to expand so that the gift shop and restaurant are further separated.

On his Web site, Frumkin also sells engineering services, translation services and even used cars. He flashes a sheepish grin.

"We have very good prices," he said.

A Taste of Europe

1901 W. Pioneer Parkway

(817) 275-5530

Russian Island

Catherine S. Hains, (817) 685-3843

2004 Star Telegram and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.