Chef Dima Martseniuk, known as the “Ambassador of Borscht,” has left DC’s first full-service Ukrainian restaurant Ruta six months after it opened on Capitol Hill.
“We finished in good relations. Kind of good relations. We didn’t fight, but we got some misunderstandings,” Martseniuk says of the restaurant’s Ukrainian investors, who he declined to name. (The restaurant’s LLC is registered to Ukrainian businessman Danylo Volynets.) Martseniuk says he was supposed to be a partner in the restaurant, but ultimately was not.
Martseniuk, previously executive chef of New York’s famed Ukrainian restaurant Veselka, says he moved to DC in February of 2022 to open Ruta, which was initially slated to be located in the former home of Sea Catch Restaurant in Georgetown. But a fire shortly after signing the lease derailed those plans. “With all these complications, our relations were up and down. The agreement was changed many times,” he says.
Still, Martseniuk says he’s ultimately appreciative for his time at Ruta. In an Instagram post, he expressed “special gratitude” to the team: “Please know that I’ll always cherish the time we spent working side by side, our shared successes, and the solid professional bonds we formed. You can always count on me no matter what happens in your life.” The restaurant posted its own thank you to Martseniuk on Instagram, acknowledging his “immense contribution in our culinary mission.”
In the short term, Martseniuk is consulting for other restaurants in DC, but he’s not sure whether or not he’ll stay here long-term. Already he’s working toward his next venture: a fast-casual restaurant and wholesale operation focused on varenyky, pierogi-like Ukrainian dumplings, and borscht. The varenyky were among the best sellers at Ruta, where Martseniuk offered both traditional (potato and sauerkraut) and untraditional (buffalo chicken) fillings. “I will continue my journey to promote Ukrainian foods,” he says.
Ruta’s sous chef Mykola Yudin has now taken the reins of Ruta’s kitchen, says Director of Operations Ruslan Falkov, the former chief of staff at the Ukrainian embassy in DC. Yudin previously ran a chain of meat-focused restaurants in Ukraine and has been with Ruta since its opening. The menu will remain largely the same, but the restaurant has already added a couple new seasonal dishes, like a pumpkin soup.
Falkov says Ruta will continue its mission to provide job opportunities and community for Ukrainians displaced by the war. (About 90 percent of the staff is Ukrainian.) The restaurant is also planning a series of brunch fundraisers, including one on November 11, that will provide families living near the frontlines in Ukraine with specially designed meal kits that can be used without electricity for cooking. Falkov says the team is also looking to open more Ukrainian restaurants in the DC area and beyond.
“This project is not about business for all of us,” Falkov says. “It’s more about Ukraine and providing more information about its culture and traditions. It’s more about culinary diplomacy for us.”