If you walk along Ocean Drive, you'll quickly notice that many of the voices inviting you to dine at its eateries have Eastern European accents. The Ocean Drive restaurant scene is full of workers from Russia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Estonia, and other ex-bloc countries. Short Order decided to ask: What are they doing here?
It turns out many of these Eastern European hostesses and
waitresses are students
on an exchange program. They go through an agency called Work and Travel
USA and get a J-1 visa that allows them to come for the summer. This
program is popular because it gets Russian students a visa much more
easily than going through their government's bureaucratic channels -- all they need is their student
ID and passport.
But why do these workers, most of them women, come to the States? The answers vary, but they either want to party and make money -- restaurants provide the most lucrative entry-level jobs, according to one -- or achieve some grander goal, such as improving their English or discovering a new culture.
"It's a great experience living alone and supporting yourself," says 24-year-old Marina Novikova of Caffe Milano, who comes from the southwestern Russian city of Voronezh.
But why Miami, specifically the half-mile strip of Ocean Drive? Arianna
Uguccioni, a floor manager at various Ocean Drive restaurants, including
the Palace and Caffe Milano, thinks it has to do with the city's rising pop culture status -- Russian students see Miami in Pitbull videos and Jersey Shore episodes, and hear about Winter Music Conference.
"This is the most famous city [to Russian students], it's very international, and
the weather's nice," Novikova says.
Peppy 19-year-old Angelica
Grechko of Piatigorsk, Russia, gives a similar response: "I came because
here there are a lot of people, and there's a nice vacation atmosphere."
Uguccioni also tells Short Order that most of the girls come to party and make money, whereas the guys come mainly for personal growth.
So how do restaurant managers view employees from Eastern Europe? All responses were positive.
"They're hard workers even with the language barrier; they're all awesome," says Hector Rosales, host at
News Café, which employs Russians, Hungarians, and Ukrainians.
Manager Edouard Huc of Ocean's Ten agrees. "We have employees from Bulgaria and Estonia, and they're very consistent," he says. Huc adds that he also turns away many Eastern European applicants who provide fake papers or don't have them at all.
Come September, they'll all be back in the motherland after having completed a major trip across the globe. Let's hope they've learned something about themselves, made a few extra rubles, and had fun while they were at it.
850 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach
Medi Bar & Grill
1052 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach
News Café South Beach
800 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach
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960 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach