UMSL alumna Tatyana Telnikova

Tatyana Telnikova, MBA 2008, owns HandleBar, a St. Louis tavern that features beers brewed by local craft brewers and Russian fare with a twist. (Photo by August Jennewein)

If you ask Tatyana Telnikova, she’ll tell you most of the important decisions she’s made in her life have taken place over a beer in a bar.

“And they’ve all turned out great,” she says with a smile.

That decision-making process is also part of doing business for the 28-year-old University of Missouri–St. Louis alumna and owner of the bicycle-themed tavern HandleBar in The Grove business and entertainment district in St. Louis.

Telnikova, a native of Moscow, moved to St. Louis at the age of 16, earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Washington University in St. Louis and was ready to start her career.

“I walked out thinking I have my degree, now someone’s going to hire me for a great job,” she says. “But all I kept hearing was, ‘Do you have any work experience?’”

She began working at a small marketing agency, but the 9-to-5 thing wasn’t really her style.

“At that time, the only things that made me happy were riding my bike to work and drinking at night with my friends,” Telnikova says.

It was during one of those nights of cocktails with pals that she heard about the International Master’s of Business Administration program at UMSL.

“The next day I was [on campus] learning about the program and what I needed to do,” she says.

As an avid traveler, Telnikova says she was excited to learn that the international MBA program would allow her to spend her first year at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration and then return to UMSL to complete the degree.

Before finishing her MBA in 2008, she was offered a marketing job. But the economy tanked, and the company withdrew the offer.

She says she remembers thinking, “What am I going to do now?”

The idea of opening a bar sprang from familiar circumstances for Telnikova – over drinks with friends. She had once run the Cabin Inn, a bar that’s part of City Museum in downtown St. Louis. Those three years got her feet wet in the bar business and connected her with Keeley McGrew, who’s now a bar manager at HandleBar.

Telnikova’s concept for her establishment came together when she combined two of her passions – biking and beer.

“It was the perfect fit for me,” she says. “The things I love the most about St. Louis coming together.”

Once she discovered the site of the former Church Key bar, 4127 Manchester Ave., Telnikova’s new dream of becoming a bar owner took shape. HandleBar would soon become a reality.

The tavern’s eclectic décor features church-pew booths. Colorful murals from a local artist adorn the walls, and a variety of bikes hang from the ceiling and walls.

Featuring beers brewed by St. Louis-area craft brewers and Russian fare with a twist, HandleBar is a unique spot in the center of a lively neighborhood.

“My rule is as long as you’re not hurting yourself, other people or our property, anything goes,” Telnikova says.

Since opening on Sept. 1, 2010, HandleBar has been a family-of-friends operation.

Telnikova has a staff of 10 and offers health insurance to her full-time employees, which is almost unheard of in her business.

“That was something that was really important to me,” she says. “I wanted to make our employees family and to have them invested in their job, with the opportunity to showcase their talents.”

Telnikova credits her UMSL professors with creating a solid foundation for her to build her business on. Among them are Edward Lawrence, professor of finance, and Mary Lacity, professor of information systems.

“Dr. Lawrence focused on real estate, personal finance, investments and how to manage money,” Telnikova says. “As a business owner, this information has been vital. Dr. Lacity taught me about HTML coding and Web design, as well as the use of social media, which has helped a lot in promoting my business. UMSL really prepared me to take on the role I have today.”

This story was originally published in the spring 2012 issue of UMSL Magazine.

Jen Hatton

Jen Hatton