RPCV Spotlight: Adam Howell

Wednesday September 25, 2019

RPCV Spotlight: Adam Howell.

Just by listening to Adam’s voice, you can tell that he is a very easy-going and creative person. Hailing from a small town in Tennessee, he has since led an adventurous life that would put even the most well-traveled RPCVs to shame. Whether it was working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, participating in an archaeological dig in Israel, or riding a motorcycle through Vietnam, he modestly says that all of it was “unplanned and unorganized.”  But for the past 16 years since COSing, Adam has called Ukraine home base. In 2015, Adam and his wife, Nina, opened Lost & Found, a small eclectic cocktail bar in Kyiv which was one of the first of its kind at the time. Now there is what Adam calls a “cocktail boom” sweeping the city. Even though he now has two successful bar/restaurants, he still doesn’t consider himself a businessman. “I like making food and drinks–the business is just a way to do that.”

What inspired you to join the Peace Corps?

I was always aware of the program and thought about it as a possibility. After I graduated from college [BA in philosophy] I moved to Lafayette, Louisiana to stay with a friend who had a free room. While I was down there, I got a job as an “anchor rigger” on an exploratory oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. I did that for a year, then I decided to blow all my savings and take a long road trip around the U.S. to visit friends. While I was couch surfing, I applied to PC.

How would you characterize your PC service? What was your main focus?

It was peaceful. I lived in a small village, so expectations were pretty low. I taught 5th-11th form and sometimes 2nd form. It’s weird because I still see some of my old students who are adults now. They live in Kyiv and visit me at the bar occasionally.

Who were the most influential people for you during service?

My host family. My host parents were both teachers and worked with me at the school. They had a daughter who went to college not long after I arrived.

What made you decide to stay in Ukraine? What did you do before you got into business?

When I COSed, I hadn’t really thought about or planned anything to do afterward, so I just stayed. I ran a language school for about 6 months, then I met a girl and moved to Kyiv. I just kept finding reasons to stay. I got a job as a training manager for an IT company called Epam Systems. They have expanded a lot since I left that job in early 2015.

What made you decide to open Lost & Found?

I think it was because I had a rough year at work in 2012. I was in a political battle with a colleague at work, and I was really unhappy. I just needed to get out of Kyiv, so I took an extended trip to Asia. A friend of mine and I rode motorcycles through Vietnam and we talked about opening a Vietnamese restaurant together. But again, neither of us are very organized, so the idea never happened, but the seed had been planted. When I got back to Ukraine in 2013, the events of Maidan started happening and I was in love with Kyiv again. But the value of the currency was plummeting and most of my savings were in hryvnya, so I looked for some kind of investment. There were so many people in Kyiv at the time, so I started a little pop-up cocktail bar. Ukrainians had never really seen these before, but they loved it. This is around the time that I met my wife, Nina, who was a Portuguese language teacher. We got married, I officially quit my job at Epam Systems, and we put all our savings into opening Lost and Found.

Do you have Ukrainian citizenship now? 

No, I have a temporary residency permit that I have to renew every year. It’s not that difficult, and it’s even easier now that I’m married to a Ukrainian. Ukraine is pretty weird about granting citizenship. You have to renounce your citizenship of any other country. Also, the U.S. doesn’t take kindly to expats. If you renounce your U.S. citizenship, you can only get a 30-day reentry visa. Maybe someday Ukraine will loosen the rules.

What was it like starting a business in Ukraine? 

Everyone thinks that it’s so hard to run a business in Ukraine. It was actually quite easy and the fees were minimal. We just had to fill out a few forms. The hardest part was finding the right location and the right employees. About a year after Lost & Found opened, we opened Podil East India Company, a South Asian cuisine restaurant and cocktail bar. I do most of the cooking there and train our staff. We have about 30 staff members now. My wife does a lot of the administrative work, but also spends a lot of time in both of our establishments.

What are your future plans? 

Right now we are on the verge of scaling up and switching gears a bit. We want to move into importing Asian products to Kyiv. That’s in the works, but for now we are just running the business!

I usually close out my interviews with a question like, “How did your PC experience help you get to where you are now?” but in Adam’s case, I think this is self-explanatory. Next time you are in Kyiv, be sure to support an RPCV business and grab a drink at Podil East India Company or Lost & Found. Don’t forget to tip your hat to the co-owner and chef (who’s most likely in the kitchen) and tell him I sent you!

 

Written by Elena Krajeski

Khotyn, Chernivetska Oblast, 2015-2017

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