Kosovo Bakery Succeeds in Tough Economic Climate

Albanians in Kosovo say the province's unsettled status discourages investment. Still, there are some signs of economic success — including Cafe Odyssea, a new French bakery opened by Israelis in Pristina.

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Years after a war there, we still don't know if Kosovo will become an independent nation. We do know the dispute over Kosovo's status has wrecked Kosovo's economy. The Albanian community there wants independence. Serbs, a minority in that state, want Kosovo to stay part of Serbia. But even with the question mark over its future, at least one unlikely group of investors has found Kosovo a good place to do business.

Eleanor Beardsley has more.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: On a muddy side street in a trendy area of Pristina, bizarrely named Paton(ph) Place, the windows of the crowded Cafe Odyssea are fogged up on a cold winter day. The French bakery just opened its doors a few months ago, but is already popular with Pristina's young cafe crowd.

Casby Shahar(ph), one of the Odyssea's three Israeli owners, says Kosovo's relatively undeveloped market in the heart of Europe offers great opportunity.

Mr. CASBY SHAHAR (Owner, Cafe Odyssea): I think it's a good place for business, especially because the big jump is still ahead. There is the difference between Western Europe and this area. And I think that in 15 to 20 years, distance will be decreased or finished

BEARDSLEY: Shahar said he doesn't find Pristina a particularly tense place, at least no more so than Tel Aviv. And, Shahar says, Kosovo has some business advantages over its Balkan neighbors, like using the euro as its currency. Still, he admits there are plenty of risks here. Not only is Kosovo already in one of the poorest regions in Europe, but ethnic conflict and war in the last two decades have further destroyed its economy.

Ms. OFLI KIMRON(ph) (Baker, Cafe Odyssea): This is - basically, It's found this morning - chocolate croissant, butter croissant and (unintelligible) Israeli.

BEARDSLEY: 29-year-old Ofli Kimron runs the kitchen at the Cafe Odyssea. Kimron describes Pristina, the first place she has ever lived outside her kabutz, as a big city. She says the cafe's biggest problem is electricity. Since 1999, Kosovo's decrepit power company, known as KEC has never been able to cope with the swelling demand for electricity here, and power cuts are part of daily life.

Ms. KIMRON: We had days that why we didn't have lights in the morning. But we call KEC every night - and checking which hours will have or which hours not. And then we counting how much time we need for bread to grow in the - so when I need to put it in the oven. So I'd say it's tricky, but we're managing.

BEARDSLEY: Even though most Albanians are Muslim, the Israelis say they feel no tension over religion. And the Israelis and Albanians in the cafe say they share a mutual trust and affinity. The Albanians here will never forget that Israel was one of the first countries to help after they were driven from their homes in 1999, while the Israelis still remember that Albanians saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.

Ms. KIMRON: (Albanian spoken).

BEARDSLEY: Back in the kitchen, Kimron is showing off her Albanian. Kosovo baker Yuli Buryupi(ph) is embarrassed when it's his turn to try out his Hebrew.

Mr. YULI BURYUPI (Baker): (Hebrew spoken). It's hard. (Hebrew spoken) is like hello.

BEARDSLEY: Buryupi and other Albanians say they are proud that the Israelis have chosen to invest here. They hope other investors will follow as Kosovo becomes an independent nation sometime next year.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Pristina, Kosovo.

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