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Bakery Ribault in Five Points becomes 'Odessa Slava' Ukrainian Cafe

Odessa Slava.jpg
Melissa Ross
/
WJCT News
"Odessa Slava,” translated, means “Glory to Odessa,” the famed Ukrainian port city on the Black Sea.

Ukrainian-born Alex Podlas has been a familiar face in Riverside’s Five Points neighborhood for nearly a decade.

He first opened Bakery Ribault in 2015, specializing in artisanal breads and pastries. Over the years, Podlas updated the menu to serve customers wanting a prepared breakfast or lunch.

Now, Podlas has unveiled another update. Shortly after Vladimir Putin invaded his homeland, Podlas changed the name of his business. “Bakery Ribault” is now “Odessa Slava Ukrainian Cafe.”

“Back in January, I had made plans to change the signage,” Podlas said on First Coast Connect. “The new name would have had a Russian theme. And when we say Russian, we really use it as a blanket term for anyone who came from the old Soviet Union, which was a union of 15 separate republics, with many ethnic groups living in the Soviet Union.

“But just a few days prior to our appointment to change the signage, the war started — and I'm from Ukraine; I'm not from Russia. I realized that the residents of Russia, and some Russian expats living outside of Russia, were very supportive of the war against Ukraine. And I really didn't want anything to do with that.”

Alex Podlas.jpg
Melissa Ross
/
WJCT News
Alex Podlas.

So Podlas rebranded. “Odessa Slava,” translated, means “Glory to Odessa,” the famed Ukrainian port city on the Black Sea.

“I am from Dnipro, a city not far from Odessa,” he said. “Odessa is a unique city on the Black Sea, known for humor, culture and arts. ‘Odessa Slava’ sounds beautiful to me. I think it sounds like a woman’s name to an English speaker.”

As he cooks up breakfast and lunch and serves customers, Podlas says he keeps a constant eye on the news from Ukraine.

“It's an emotional roller coaster every day. I check my phone every couple of minutes for updates," he said. "Every day, I want to know which countries are sending more military and humanitarian aid. You know, which side is winning? Is Russia having a good day or for them, which is bad for us? So is Ukraine having a good day?

“I have listened to intercepted phone conversations of Russian soldiers where they call home and talk to their mothers or their wives. Sometimes they brag about how much they have looted from the Ukrainians. I overheard one intercepted phone call where they were saying that they have killed civilians just for fun, or because they were ordered to do so. And then the mother is usually talking about Ukrainian civilians. Now based on what I've heard, the mothers usually talk about Ukrainian civilians in very dehumanizing terms. They call them Nazis, and they just talk about them like they're a lower form of life.”

Cafe.jpg
Melissa Ross
/
WJCT News
Odessa Slava in Five Points, previously known as Bakery Ribault.

Podlas, who was once harassed by a man outside a Publix store in 2020 and told to “get the (expletive) out of our country,” becomes emotional when he speaks of the way Putin’s propaganda has blinded Russians both overseas and here in Florida to the reality of the brutal invasion. He says he has lost friends among Jacksonville’s Russian-speaking expat community because he supports Ukraine’s independence.

“Russians outside of Russia do have access to many independent sources of information. But they still choose to believe the Russian media, which is controlled by the state. And effectively, it's a propaganda arm of the Russian government.”

But Podlas says changing the name of his business is a small way he can publicly support Ukrainian democracy. He says his customers have embraced the change, too.

“Everyone has welcomed it. The reality is, I am from Ukraine. And even though I have been called Russian, or perceived to be Russian, I was always from Ukraine.”