THE RAINBOW ON THE CORNER
AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD
New York City’s beloved Ukrainian restaurant Veselka is best known for its borscht and varenyky, but it has become a beacon of hope for Ukraine. As the second-generation owner Tom Birchard reluctantly retires after 54 years, his son Jason faces the pressures of stepping into his father’s shoes as the war in Ukraine impacts his family and staff.
The first time I ate at Veselka, I’d only lived in New York for six months. A friend of mine, a lifelong New Yorker, walked us in at 1 am. We were sober but sleepy. The palpable energy of the packed wood-paneled room woke us up before a dish was served. I remember being a little awed by the fragile ecosystem – here, Wall Street players were sitting shoulder to shoulder with grinning grandmothers. Warm chatter and the smell of fried onions filled the space. That environment, that first bowl of borscht at Veselka, was one of the many little moments that helped me feel at home in a busy, sometimes uncaring city.
Michael Fiore’s documentary, Veselka: The Rainbow on the corner at the center of the world, takes the viewer into both the history and heart of the beloved Ukrainian restaurant. With the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the restaurant finds itself catapulted onto a transformational crossroads. Already tested by the global pandemic, its owner, Tom Birchard, hands the reins to his son, Jason. Jason finds himself at the helm of a world-famous family business, trying to put his own stamp on the restaurant while understanding its rapidly evolving role in both the local and global Ukrainian community.
The documentary is by turns uplifting and shattering. Most powerfully, it is a stark reminder of the human costs of ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war. Unbelievably, this week will mark 2 years since Russia’s invasion and escalation of the conflict. While the war may not be at the forefront of the public conscious in 2024 to the same degree as it once was, it remains a constant for the staff and families at Veselka. This is not an overseas battle for them – these are their loved ones and families fighting and dying while the world moves on to the next crisis.
As a leader, Jason Birchard is equal parts toughness and warmth. His determination for his staff and community is inspiring. Early in the Russian invasion, Veselka hosts Mayor Adams and his delegation to advocate for additional support for Ukraine. Watching this scene gives the viewer the rare experience of seeing an elected official being written off by a constituent in real-time. This superficial political moment stands in stark contrast to Veselka’s kitchen, which is humming with empathy and support.
Veselka: The Rainbow on the corner at the center of the world is many things. A reminder of a brutal ongoing conflict. A challenge to the audience to remember how far the support of individuals can go in the face of global needs. A testament to the grit and determination behind a family business….And a reminder that you’ve really been craving borscht lately.
In Theaters This Friday
February 23rd, 2024
Written, Produced, and Directed by Michael Fiore
Narrated by Golden Globe Award-winner David Duchovny (“The X Files”)
Score by Ryan Shore, featuring Grammy Award-winning saxophonist David Sanborn (“Lethal Weapon”)
Poster designed by Neil Jamieson (TIME “Person of the Year” cover artist – feat. President Zelensky)
Featuring interviews with father-son owners of Veselka Tom and Jason Birchard, additional Veselka staff as well as footage of New York Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul