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Gulba's gilded life, all wrapped in fur

By Han Lei and Lawrence Zuo | China Daily | Updated: 2021-07-10 09:38
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Journalists with "A Date with China" international media tour carry out interviews at the restaurant Riano in a village near the Southern Mountain resort in the suburbia of Urumqi, Xinjiang. [Photo/]

One of its kind

At first glance Riano's frontage-dark wooden planks, green awning and patterned window grilles-feels somehow exotic. The door opens to a brightly colored hall illuminated by chandeliers of various shapes and sizes. The ceiling is emerald green.

Stylish tiles divide the dining hall into different areas, and everywhere you turn there are potted plants, framed prints, shining glass and mirrors. There are also plush couches in every corner. To the left of the entrance are the counter, a well-stocked bar shelf, and a small stage with a music stand, two open mikes and two guitars leaning against a wall. "When bands play on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the dance floor is always packed",Zulpi says.

There is also a second floor and more private rooms. One is painted a torrid red with a low table and many cushion seats. Another is covered in bluish gray with a huge table and a circle of armchairs. Two violins hang on the wall, with no bow in sight.

Unlike her brother, Gulba prefers to show off her chefs instead. Mahmut from Kashgar makes fabulous steak and spaghetti, she says. No one in town can beat her Mamat from Urumqi when it comes to pilaf. One grievance is that her coffee maker is often off sick, and she laments: "We have customers, but there's no coffee."

If Riano's location is impeccable, its style inimitable and its chefs invincible, there was one thing Gulba could not possibly have foreseen.

Early last year she had just bought that villa near the resort and began to have it renovated, even as she replenished the stocks of the fur factory in Haining and her fashion shop in the Grand Bazaar. Feeling thoroughly adventurous, she expanded into the dining industry with a flourish.

However, COVID-19 then appeared and business dried up as dining out disappeared, and the luxury of a mink coat suddenly became ridiculously irrelevant.

For more than a decade her store in the Grand Bazaar had been a veritable cash cow for her. Yet in late July last year bazaar had closed after a regional outbreak of COVID-19. Stocks went unsold and the future looked bleak.

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