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Jenya Semenkova

Growing up in Odessa, Jenya Semenkova enjoyed homemade Ukrainian dishes prepared with fresh ingredients using family recipes. She moved to the United States when she was 20 years old, settling in New York, but continued to embrace her Ukranian heritage.

“Ukrainian people and culture is based on hospitality. Growing up, there was always tons of food that we cooked ourselves. Food was something we could always offer,” Semenkova explained. “Ukraine has lots of farmland areas growing wheat, fruits and vegetables that are fresh, organic and grown without hormones and chemicals.”

When her husband was offered a new job opportunity in the Detroit area last year, Semenkova left her healthcare job behind so the couple, their seven-year-old son and her parents could make the move from New York to Michigan. Semenkova’s mother had worked in as a doctor in Odessa before emigrating to the U.S. The move ended up offering both mother and daughter the chance for a new professional challenge that would also help promote their native culture.

With the uncertainty caused by Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine, the Birmingham resident said she feared Ukrainian culture was at risk and wanted to do something to help preserve it. “When we moved, my mom and I toyed with the idea of introducing Ukranian food to the U.S. We felt we had to offer our food in grocery stores since there was nothing Ukranian being offered.”

This past February, the mother-daughter duo decided to pursue their passion for Ukrainian food by launching their “United Tastes of Ukraine” company named Ptashka, meaning “little bird” in Ukrainian. Using family recipes, Ptashka offers traditional Ukrainian crepes called nalysnyky (pronounced Nah-less-knee-key). Their tasty artisanal crepes are vegetarian and currently offered in six sweet and savory flavor fillings, with the most popular being cherries and vanilla sauce, mushrooms and cheese, and ricotta cheese and spinach – all made with fresh Michigan-sourced ingredients.

While it’s only been a short time, Ptashka’s easy to reheat frozen crepes have received very positive responses from stores and customers. The crepes are available in over 30 locations in Michigan and at the Birmingham Farmers Market on alternate weekends. They have plans to introduce more flavors and expand into nearby states in the future. In the meantime, they offer shipping of their crepes outside the area using biodegradable insulated foam packaging made by KTM Industries in Holt, Michigan. Semenkova said, “We believe in a sustainable approach – eating healthy and taking care of the planet.”

To further support their native country, the company makes a quarterly donation to United Help Ukraine, a nonprofit organization providing humanitarian, medical and other assistance to the people of Ukraine. With family members still in Ukraine, they know the need is great. Semenkova said this charity was chosen because with a trusted high school friend from Odessa involved in the organization, “We know the money is being spent the right way.”

Despite many changes and challenges since last year, Semenkova is enjoying her new business and life in Michigan. "Working with my mom is the best thing ever. We spend Fridays and Saturdays cooking together. I could not have asked for a better partner in this type of business."

She added, “I love living in Birmingham – it has something so magical about it, especially coming from New York City. It’s so lively and clean with good energy. There are always things happening and so many parks so close to home. There’s no better place to raise kids and our son loves it...It’s true what they say about Midwest people – there are so many nice and helpful people here.”

Story: Tracy Donohue

Photo: Laurie Tennent


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