From Hackney to Vodka Baron (well almost)

Dan Edelstyn

He’s been described as  ‘Borat in reverse’ but Dan Edelstyn is a one of a kind.  Adventurer, visionary, documentary and film maker, entrepreneur, self proclaimed time traveler and fantasist.  Fantasist?  Young Edelstyn believed he could meet up with the father he lost at a young age, through time travel.

But it’s Edelstyn’s current projects, that piqued my interest.  Not just the making of his film, “How to Re-establish a Vodka Empire” and his premium line  Zorokovic 1917  vodka, but his family’s story, especially his grandmother, that is so fascinating.

His foray into purveyor of fine liquor,  began when he stumbled across his grandmother Maroussia’s diary, in an attic in 2006.  The words of the romantic teenage girl in pre revolution Russia, led him on a quest to find out more about his ancestral Ukraine homeland and Jewish heritage.

The Homerton based film maker told Hackney Hive:  “My paternal grand mother Maroussia Zorokovitch was born in 1898  into a wealthy Jewish Ukrainian family, whose business empire,  included a sugar factory, vodka distillery and a brick making factory.

The village prospered and benefited not only from Zorokovitch businesses, but also from the families benevolence which included a war hospital, where his great grand mother would often help out. If a soldier or veteran need more care, they would send them to Kiev.  It was his great-grand father who brought the Telegraph and railway to the village.

After the Bolsheviks sized everything during the Russian revolution, Maroussia fled with her husband to Antwerp and then Belfast 1933, where  she sympathised with the Republican cause,  converted to Catholicism and was denounced by the Rabbi. Her husband, Dan Edelstyn’s grandfather, business prospered while he mingled with the protestant elite and even became a mason.

When Maroussia died, she was buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery in the Falls Road area.

Dan Edelstyn and his wife Hilary Powell artist, film maker and head collaborator began their odyssey to his family’s ancestral homeland and found the almost bankrupt vodka distillery was still there but found an impoverished village struggling to survive.

Edelstyn said: “we met people who still talked about the Zorokovitch family and even met a 103 year old woman called Natalia who knew my grand mother. They remembered the Zorokovitch’s as good people who looked after the people of Douboviazovka and were good to their workers.

He added: “they approached us about coming back to help rekindle Douboviazovka, by maybe re opening the sugar factory, promising us they would work very hard.  They felt they had been forgotten and blamed a lot of their problems on Perestroika and the rampant unchecked capitalism which ensued.”

That’s when the idea of  what can only be described, as a very interesting and innovative social enterprise venture,  with a helluva of a back story was born!

You can follow his sometimes hilarious, daunting  but fascinating adventure, into reviving his family’s once prosperous distillery and breathing new life into the economy of a small forgotten northeastern Ukraine village by watching episodic footage of his of  “How To Re-establish A Vodka Empire” on Babelgum.com.

Zorokovitch 1917 Vodka, will be available exclusively at Selfridges from September 1st.

The full length documentary produced  by Optimistic Productions, (Dan Edelstyn and Hilary Powell film production company) is set for its worldwide theatrical release and will air in the UK  on More4 in early 2011.

About Remi Makinde

Remi Makinde Hackney Hive founder, publisher and contributor. Hackneyite and all round Girl Friday, who couldn't wait to leave Hackney and London behind her. After hitching her wagon in California, Texas, New Orleans, Louisiana for 18 years, with a brief spell in Mexico, the prodigal daughter returned happy to put an unconventional and risky past behind her. She is owned by her two dogs Deffer(a Jack Russell & Darcy a Jack Russell/Pomeranian mix) and runs a London based pet sitting business. The big smoke is home for the moment, but she desperately yearns wide open spaces, where she hopes to call home in the near future.

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