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.
You graduated with a degree in illustration from VŠUP. How come you ended up working with porcelain?
Yes, I did. I studied at the ceramic high school in Bechyně, which was great, but a bit too brown for me. Then I continued my studies at the porcelain atelier at UMPRUM, however, I found out shortly after that I wasn’t careful and patient enough for porcelain (I have many jokes, stories and neologisms on this topic…). So I crossed over to illustration. That was better for me. The medium is quicker and more flexible. I got to working with techniques, processes and, generally, in a way that I enjoyed. Then, a long time after my studies, I interconnected these two subjects. Because I was never good in coming up with and making a new shape I started using existing, and what’s more, beautiful and unique pieces from charity shops. I add another layer to them - my illustrations.
You pick a piece of porcelain in a charity shop and what happens next? Could you describe the whole process for us?
I buy porcelain that I find somehow interesting in charity shops, flea markets and ‘weird’ shops. It could be its decoration, shape or execution. According to what I am working on at the time, my interest shifts from trays, sugar shakers, and bowls to the most incredible plates… I make changes to an existing decoration with illustration, painting and collage. I use glazed paint, gold and ‘hazenky’, which are basically stickers – only that mine are little heads, arms and photograph segments. I call them the most expensive cutouts in the world.
You get your motifs from old photographs, mainly portraits. What is it that fascinates you about them?
Hmm, they are somehow mysterious and have a strange poetic nature about them. Most of the photographs are of people in studios - in staged positions, expressions and looks that are not real. Today nobody does it the same way, It’s no longer possible. Family photographs from charity shops are an interesting insight into lives of strangers about whom you can make anything up and use them for any story. Actually, the pictures can be sad sometimes, even melancholic. I often hold them in my hand and don’t use them at all, but put them away. It’s fear or maybe respect.
How much time do you spend on this project? Would you like working on ‘maestro’ full-time?
I couldn’t do this full-time and, for now, I don’t even want to. But I’m spending with maestro more and more time, it’s true. It’s a good thing because it all evolves, crystallizes, and starts to make sense. And I like having on and off projects, jobs and places.
Where can we find these pieces designed by you? Where do you have your biggest sales?
From the very begging they have been available at DOX by Qubus. A special series is available at Praguekabinet and in the collection of commemorative plates at Cihelna Concept Store. Since October there has been one whole window dedicated to maestro in the Czech National Bank passage! The biggest sales are generated by my private clients.
How did you come up with the name maestrokatastrof?
It’s the title of my dissertation at UMPRUM. It included thirteen large format drawings, really huge, questioning who needs illustration, when, and if we even need illustration at all. The format was meant to stress the question. I dust off, framed and displayed them - and patted myself on the back… Ha. Anyway, the series was called Maestro Katastrof. So that.