How is the concept of an espresso bar different from that of a classic café?
I don't know the exact definition of an espresso bar, the original Italian concept is definitely a bit different, judging from what London or Japanese espresso bars look like. In general, we speak about over-the-counter sale and hardly any waiting on tables. People grab coffee to go or drink it at the bar so the seating possibilities are kept to a minimum. The idea is coffee in one hand, snack in the other and see you tomorrow. It's hard to say where to draw the line, though, and where a café ends and an espresso bar begins.

You've been running a very successful café called Café Lounge for some years now. Why did you decide to approach EMA espresso bar so differently?
The funniest thing is that it was all totally unplanned - our family's occupation is mostly accommodation and renting - Café Lounge started as a sort of a lobby bar for guests of our Hunger Wall residence, rather than a café. We'd had no ambition whatsoever to go into the gastronomic business. Gradually, however, other people had found their way in, I became interested in coffee and EMA is the outcome of that. As to the 'different approach' - the style of Lounge is art nouveau as is the building itself. We tried to make it look as a living room combined with a Viennese café from the period of the First Republic. My mom was in charge of the interior and we have just 'provided the final touch'. I like the space a lot but the style of art nouveau is not so close to my heart. In the meantime, we travelled a lot to find and taste good coffee and with my colleague Karolína we started looking for a space for a new project. We wanted to try the concept of coffee to go and at the same time give more creative space to our baristas and make the running of the kitchen and dessert bakery at Café Lounge more efficient. It took us about a year to come across a possibility to rent a great non-residential space from The Academy of Sciences. It was in a horrendous condition but we knew it was the one. It is in a functionalist building that used to be a department store named Ferra. It fit our concept perfectly - having a simple and yet fully effective bar at a busy spot where coffee is the top priority and the rest would follow. We drew inspiration from cafés that we had seen abroad.

EMA does not only stand out because of its excellent coffee but also because of its stylish interior. How did you go about choosing the architects and what was your idea of the whole process?
We had quite a clear idea of what the place should look like but at the same time we felt that we wanted to co-operate with architects because I think that the traces of a skilled architect's head/hand can be spotted at first glance. We had a mini competition where we contacted 3 architects/studios and asked them to put forward their proposals. The winning pair was a café owner and former fashion designer Lucie Trnková (I Need Coffee!) in collaboration with Pavel Griz (Molo Architects). Their proposal was exactly what we had imagined. EMA, as you see it today, is not much different from what it had looked like in the proposal and more importantly we met two awesome people.

EMA has quickly gained a devoted customer base. How would you characterize it?
The reason we chose this location was because of the construction of Florentinum and good public transport connectivity - metro and trams. Our aim was to build customer base among businessmen but at the same time we were hoping to appeal to others who enjoy a good cup of coffee. To be honest, we did not expect it to become such a hit, at least not before the opening of Florentinum. Regrettably, I don't get to spend much time in EMA so I may not be the best person to comment on the regulars. In any case, I've noticed that the range of customers is quite wide which is great. With a bit of luck and a slightly addictive product the number of regulars will hopefully be increasing.

We assume that coffee is your passion. Are you involved in the choice of coffee sold in your cafés?
I love coffee and drink it a lot and I enjoy travelling to discover new tastes but I am not an expert and much less a barista. I take trips to roasting houses and try to find new suppliers. Our baristas do the same and they are the ones in touch with the customers and are constantly on the lookout for coffee for their competitions and have more opportunities for comparison. My task is to create conditions that would allow the business to run effectively, ideally with the baristas in charge. EMA runs on its own to a large extent – I don’t assist with orders and choices. Also, the rotation of roasting houses and types of coffee is quite frequent so they give me something to taste from time to time but I don’t have the capacity to try everything. I can try more kinds of coffee in Café Lounge where I spend more time but, same as with EMA, the orders and choices are in the competences of head barista. We have chosen a number of roasting houses that we enjoy working with so we avoid burning our fingers, unless, of course, they burn the coffee. ;)

Do you have a favourite café in Prague or abroad that has inspired you?
My favourite are Můj šálek kávy and I Need Coffee! but I have to admit I don’t go to many more cafés in Prague as I have quite a busy schedule and when time allows it I prefer to go out of Prague with my family. London has probably been the greatest source of inspiration for EMA. My brother lives there and at one point I used to spend quite some time there. The list would be a bit longer for London but just to name a few, I enjoy Caravan at King’s Cross, Ozone Coffee Roasters, Workshop Coffee cafés, Taylor St Baristas and Fernandez & Wells. Online visits to cafés have also proven very inspiring.

(Kamil Skrbek, EMA espresso bar owner)


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Your dad is a renowned Prague based butcher, much like yourself. Did you want to follow in his footsteps even when you were a kid?
We have become renowned after working together for 20 years so he has influenced me a great deal and taught me a lot of things and I’d say it was the other way around as well. I definitely wanted to work with my dad even as a kid and it was also due to the fact that he worked abroad for a long time so he wasn’t there for some parts of my childhood. I liked the way he worked with meat, how he knew so much about it and I couldn’t get my head around how he was able to tell it apart. The beginnings were sometimes tough but it started to make me happy when I got to taste a frankfurter right from the smokehouse and gradually started to understand meat. My dad could be quite a tough teacher sometimes but his motto is that there are softies and there are toughies. I’m glad I haven’t gone soft and I want to continue and see what’s out there. Butchery is a beautiful profession and making people happy by providing good meat is definitely worth it, same as with food.

Since 2014 you’ve been the face of the butcher shop Naše maso which is a part of the Ambiente chain. Were you involved in the development of the concept itself?
I met with Tomáš Karpíšek, the owner of Ambiente restaurants a few years back to discuss the idea of producing and selling our own meat that would be of excellent quality. At that time they had started meat aging using a dry method for Čestr restaurant and I liked their work very much. They had a company called Amaso, which supplied meat to restaurants and I started to make smoked meat products for them. The guests wanted to have the possibility to buy that meat for home use as well so my dream of having a great butchery shop started to take shape. My and Tomáš’s ideas of what the place should be like and how it should work were very similar and that’s how Naše maso was born. We took a trip to New York to get some inspiration before we opened the shop.

Likable and helpful staff is one of the essentials of Naše maso. What criteria do you base your choice of staff on?
We have an excellent personnel assistant Hanka Smítalová in Ambiente. Her experience and advice have been priceless for me and she is the one who helps us with hiring new people. I see my colleagues as a crucial part of the business and it’d be impossible to run a successful business without skilful people. It is important that they enjoy working with meat and even more importantly with people so we have a trial period after we meet for the first time during which we get to know each other. The most important thing for me is that I see that they put their heart into it. They don’t have to be professional butchers.

Your costumers are welcome to sit down in your shop and taste your meat products right there on the spot. Who is behind the menu and what’s your favourite dish on the menu?
Our menu is based on the products on offer. Before we opened and a couple of days after opening, Tomáš Karpíšek and I had already known what the geratest hits would be – beef tartare and our hamburger. We also had the best meatloaf contest‘ among our staff. Jirka Michal’s meatloaf was voted the best one. He followed his grandma’s recipe and we’ve been preparing it like that ever since. Anyway, Dalibor Křivánek who is the store manager, is in charge of the menu as he has gained a lot of experience also from working as a sous chef in La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise.

Are you fully aware of the origins of everything you sell in the shop? Are your customers interested in these things?
Absolutely! Our supplier, the company Amaso, which also belongs under Ambiente knows absolutely everything about the origins of the meat. We choose particular cattle and oversee what they are fed and also the process of slaughter. We separate the meat ourselves and let it ripen. Our meat is exclusively Czech and fresh – we don’t freeze anything. The meat that you see in our shop is also the meat we use to make our smoked meat products. Our costumers do sometimes ask where our meat comes from and we are truly grateful for that.

Could you imagine living your life as a vegetarian?
Yes, but in that case it would not be possible for me to work as a butcher, examine the quality of meat and share the happiness of a great tasting warm sausage with my colleagues.
 
(František Kšána jr., butcher and co-owner of Naše maso)

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Spud. is an unconventional Prague city guide, that highlights its interesting spots and local businesses that are really worth visiting. With a Polaroid camera, we’re mapping four different areas: food and drinks, shops, workplaces of creative people and architecture. Spud. is focused on fresh places with unique atmosphere, cafés with the best coffee, shops with the finest goods, workshops and studios of the most skilled designers and architectural attractions with the greatest charm. Spud. is also mainly about people, who stand behind these projects. Without their invention and courage to fulfill their dreams Prague would be a much poorer place. That’s why we’re so grateful to all of them!
 
Tereza a Michal
info@spud.cz / 728 764 380



 
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