Almost anyone can use the label of ‘family business’ today but you really work that way. How is it to spend all day together and meet for dinner at home later? Who is the boss in your café?
To be honest, it is very hard because everybody in our family has a clashing opinion from time to time. It can be said that leading a family business is often more difficult than having a business with a normal hierarchy of roles. On the other hand, you can rely on the others more as you would not abandon your family as easily. It is the same with leadership but our main boss is our mum. She takes care of the café on an everyday basis and makes sure we open at all. My dad then decided about the interior and repairs. We appointed him the architect. My sister helps out at the weekends and shares her culinary visions with us. She likes experimenting (as do I) bakes bread and gives us directions during our passionate discussions. I take care of café, orders, promotion, visual side of the café, and try to manage the business in general. But it is not easy as I have university during the week. Thus, everybody does a bit of everything, which is not ideal. We discuss all the major decisions together and you can call it so-called family democracy. It basically means that every decision during the reconstruction and furnishing was preceded by intense arguments.
Nový Svět is a place with beautiful atmosphere and amazing peace, although only a few meters from the main touristic attractions. What is living there like? Do you get a bit of the surrounding rush?
I think it is a really special and peaceful place and we have tourists here but only those who are really interested in visiting here. When we were founding this café, the main thing we cared about was the atmosphere of the place and not the potential profits we could get and having prices in euros. We are happy about the opposite really, having loyal customers who walk here daily from Břevnov or Dejvice, sit down, and absorb the peace of the whole street. At the busy weekends we still have Czech customers who don’t mind waiting for a table. We are happy to meet people who come once every week or two. We can see their kids growing up, build relationships with them, so the customers don’t see us only as a café, but as a place between work and home where they can drop by and relax. This is what we’re trying to achieve.
You are the main barista here. How is working with old great Faema and Doubleshot coffee for you? Do you enjoy any other alternative methods of coffee preparation? Where did you gain barista’s skills?
It is I and two other people and we can’t say who is the main barista. We often talk about what coffee grains we want and about catches from abroad. Working behind the bar at our place is quite specific. We try to be the café where you can get a truly delicious cup of coffee but we don’t have enough means to be as good as, for example, EMA espresso bar where they have the opportunity to play with it a bit more. On the other hand, it is not our goal. We have on-going debates here about what the ‘bigger espresso’ means for people. I was learning barista skills myself at first, we had a small espresso maker at home and because my dad loves good coffee, I always tried to do more. I have formal training from the Roberto Trevisan’s School of Coffee. My whole family received it. But you only learn how to make a nice cup of coffee by practising. Jarda Tuček from Doubleshot helped me a lot too. I think that he has done a lot for Czech coffee culture and Doubleshot is one of the best and the most stable coffee roasting rooms in Prague and we always enjoy cooperating with them. My co-worker Martin has experience from Canada and New Zealand, and Alina used to work at Mamacoffee and other Prague cafés. It can be said that they are way more experienced than I am but it is me who makes them care about details such as placing the teaspoon in the right position. Our coffee machine Faema E61 is not only time-tested but also a design element and the heart of our business. My dad and I fell in love with it at the first sight. There are better and more efficient (and expensive) coffee machines but we wanted something that will help to create a special atmosphere and people like it. Alternatively, we would be happy to make you a drip from the popular Hario V60. You can often try three to four different cups at the bar. I personally enjoy experimenting and trying new alternatives very much but there is not enough time to try new technologies, unfortunately.
Coffee culture in the Czech Republic has progressed a lot in the last couple of years. Is there still somebody of your customers who would order a simple Turkish coffee?
It is true that coffee culture has been progressing rapidly and it is amazing. There used to be very few places with delicious espresso and flat white but there are plenty in Prague these days. I’m afraid, though, that it might turn into the ‘art for art’ principle because excellent coffee places will only get a special sort of customer. This is for example what we are trying to change - by helping new uninitiated customers to understand the types of coffee that we have and to choose the one type they will enjoy the most. I get the order for Turkish coffee several times a week but there is nothing wrong with it. The way is to explain to them why we don’t have Turkish coffee on our menu, effects that it has on health, other options that they might have at home, and, of course, to help them find what they are looking for, whether it be an Americano, drip, etc.
You are also famous for delicious cakes and pies. Do you have a usual menu or does you mum enjoy experimenting? What would you recommend for us to have with our coffee?
It is hard to say. My mum tries to balance the menu so everyone can find what they like. Plus she always adds something extra and exciting. She also uses seasonal ingredients, now, for example, we have a rhubarb pie. Specialities on our menu are raw non-baked desserts and new gluten-free brownies without flour.
Apart from the family coffee business you study filmmaking. How do you want to link these two professions in the future?
(laughs) We will see. They are both very different. However, you need a cup of good coffee when filming and cafés need good directing. What I am really interested in is connecting the public space with art and creating local community spaces and subcultures. This doesn’t need to be just about film and photography but also literature, music, and creative community events. Coffee places were always the spots where political and socio-cultural movements and opinions were formed. This declined during the communist era and after the revolution it moved to varied student associations and other places where a regular person doesn’t have access. I would like to revive this, to move it back to coffee places, to provoke ordinary customers’ minds. Thus the customer would feel a connection to a certain place. This is my personal strategy for Café Nový Svět in the future – the possibility to build a new multicultural place in Prague’s Hradčany.
The shop and studio Qubus has been located at Rámová 3 since 2002. Recently, you started to collaborate with the brand Křehký. What is it that you expect from this new concept?
We had been available at this address for more than ten years before trying a concept of a shop and a gallery together with our colleagues from Denim Heads, a brand that specializes in very authentic type of clothing, especially Japanese denim. The fusion of traditional crafts seemed in tune, but Křehký is closer to what we do and the union of the two brands at one address seems logical. In addition, the two brands share some products and authors and moreover, our understanding of design, or art design if you will, is very similar. This explains why this place has such a high concentration of objects that you would not be able to find anywhere else.
The Qubus brand presents mostly your and Maxim Velčovský’s work. How do you go about cooperating with other Czech designers who contribute to this brand?
We are not an agency, that is, we don’t represent authors. We’re mainly a studio, which has its own production. The pillars of the collection are my and Maxim’s objects mainly from glass and porcelain, the traditional Czech media. However, we’re not opposed to different design, such as that of Antonín Tomášek or Milan Pekař, who are included in our collection. The objects we choose for our collection are those that go hand in hand with the idea that Qubus promotes. They should have a story behind them and overlap into other disciplines.
Qubus and Křehký both specialize in porcelain and glass design. The craft of glass has had a long tradition in the Czech Republic. Are you trying to develop the traditional manual techniques or choose to go an entirely different way?
Glass has been experiencing a period of rebirth nowadays, and it is starting to be made again and becoming more prominent as used to be the tradition in our country. I’m not really a glassmaker so I approach glass making with quite a bit of respect, but at the same time I try to change the process somehow and move it forward.
Do you consider your authorial products as applied design?
On the contrary. I won’t be chained by function when it comes to free design, they are mostly objects with no practical use.
Studio Qubus also offers services in interior design. Which architects do you collaborate with? And what is the style of your own place?
It’s not exactly our domain, but we’re not opposed to new challenges. We choose projects that are more specific and which allow us to apply our approach. And my own place? I like things from my ancestors, or those I purchase from my friends or in a bazaar. So if I had to name it, I guess the style would be termix.
You’ve also been the art director of DOX by Qubus shop in the Centre for Contemporary Art in Holešovice. Apart from this one, which other shops or galleries in Prague would you recommend to visit?
Apart from DOX, my favourite gallery is Rudolfinum, that is from the larger ones. There is a number of smaller new galleries that are of a high quality, such as Drdova Gallery and Nevan Kontempo. I wouldn’t want to leave out some other good ones, though. Some of the shops would be Praguekabinet, Kvalitář, Kurátor and many more. I don’t go shopping much so my list may not be up-to-date.
(Jakub Berdych, co-owner of Qubus + Křehký)