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No. 213 February 2022


Translation: Marek Dyba

Images: press releases | Wojciech Pacuła

No 213

February 1, 2021

Or about decisions concerning switching a company from a boutique-size to a larger one

Development is good, but not always „bigger” means „better”.

CAN'T SAY THAT I THOUGHT about writing about what I you can read below, as soon as I walked into the newly reopened TOCIEKAWA cafe - it’s not what happened. I realized that something was wrong, that there was something bothering me, but it was Bartek, my son, who then said: "that corporate thinking", that actually caused everything to fall into place for me and created a clear picture.

⸜ Once the ToCieKawa cafe ended where now, on the left, you can see the pillar.

In the Facebook’s entry it reads:

A modern specialty cafe. We serve high-quality coffees, brewed using various methods, from an espresso machine to an aeropress. The best pastries made in-house! The owner's wife bakes the best cheesecakes (not only) in Krakow :); accessed: 17.12.2021.

And yet, before the summer holidays, it was one of my favorite "coffee" places in Krakow. Good mixes, great coffee machine, enthusiastic owner serving coffee and - already mentioned - owner, whose fudge cheesecake was a hit and sold faster than you can read this paragraph.

To this day, I remember the experiment that the boss once proposed to me, namely, he threw in an ice cube into a strong Ethiopian coffee and told me to drink it so that the hot drink flows around the cold cube - an amazing experience! This approach to clients was possible because ToCieKawa was actually a micro-cafe - three or four people could enter it simultaneously. However, this was compensated for by the unbelievably beautiful garden one could go to with an ordered specialties, which was just around the corner.

I am presenting it all a bit dishonestly, because I use the past tense, saying: "was", "did", and yet this story developed wonderfully, I say it honestly - today this cafe is a much larger place, a mezzanine and a large underground space with a separate kitchen. Lots of people sit there all week, so the owners have been successful.

So what do I mean? Well, in this example, two values of EQUAL importance collide, both worth cultivating: uniqueness / exclusivity and accessibility / openness. From the point of view of a guy like me, that is, who stops by for his favorite coffee from time to time, this is an undesirable change. The coffee and cake are the same, but something has changed in their perception. Apparently, the psyche is as important here as the "hard" facts (the psyche is also facts, only "soft" ones).

So it was a good move or not? For me - no, this is probably the end of my "flirting" with this place. On the other hand, from the point of view of the owners and many more people, only now we can talk about a cafe that is truly open to people. So one value disappears and another appears. It is important that the owners of ToCieKawa managed to maintain the previous level when it comes to what is most important - the quality of the served coffee. Although larger, it is not a chain shop, so it has retained a lot of what "built" it.

⸜ Umeblowana Cafe is located in the historic building of Cracovia.

Sometimes it happens that a given place is immediately designed in such a way - an iconic place, a clear design, usually associated with a given place, plus good coffee, pleasant tea and tasty snacks. But most of all - there is a focus on a large flow of customers. This is what UMEBLOWANA CAFE is like, located in the corner of the building of the former Cracovia hotel and furnished with Polish design from the 1950s-1970s.

This is a unique place for Krakow, and yet there it has no luck with revitalization. It is a modernist building designed by Witold Cęckiewicz, which, when it opened in 1965, was the longest and one of the most modern hotels in Poland. After it was closed, nobody knew what to do with it. First, another shopping mall was planned there, and in 2016, after the building was expressly entered into the register of monuments, it was planned to become a museum of contemporary art. Nothing came of it.

But to the point - this place belongs to the group of cafes that focus on accessibility / openness, but still on the "side" of the chain-like vibe, meaning it gives the feeling that we are sitting in a place where they want us. However, this is not an intimate place like ToCieKawa. There is another one belonging to my favorites, that is, YELLOW MONKEY. In the Municipal Register of Monuments, under number 1519 1, we find a laconic entry: „ul. Gertrudy św. 17 / Sebastiana św. 1 | kamienica | 1883”, without the name of the architect. More fortunate was the neighboring tenement house at number 19, where the director Wojciech Jerzy Has (1925-2000) lived, as evidenced by a commemorative plaque - the artist lived and worked there for 24 years.

⸜ The Yellow Monkey is located in a corner building.

At the it reads:

Yellow is the color of the sun, which is undoubtedly associated with the morning, the latter - with coffee, and the monkey is a symbol of resourcefulness. Everyone should feel fully themselves and happy - this is how the name of the new cafe on ul. St. Gertrude is explained by its owners.; accessed: 17.12.2021.

We can find there completely different coffees than anywhere else, good pastries, and also ... a turntable. Yes, it is a place with a stereo receiver, small loudspeakers and a turntable. Although usually music is actually streamed there, but still ... The place is tiny, there are five tables there, and the cafe itself opens late and closes quickly. However, it has this "something" that makes us feel good there.

⸜ My typical order :)

With which I return to the thought that begins this text, namely, when big is too big? I admit that from the beginning I had an association in which the situation with the above-mentioned cafes is an exceptionally faithful reflection of what we are dealing with in audio.

After all, in our industry we also have 1) products intended for a wide audience, not necessarily interested in broadening their knowledge on this subject - this is the basic level. Above are 2) specialized products, but coming from smaller, often family-owned companies, which constitute the core of the offer in audio salons. And finally there is 3) top high-end with often one-man, passionate-led companies.

Which of these groups is the "real" one for audio? Which one of them we could do without? I don't want it to sound like a new-age trip, but the thing is, they all add up to something that creates value that none of these groups would be able to generate on its own. So - they are all equally important. And, similarly to the cafes mentioned above, growth is a natural tendency here. So it is often the case that a small company becomes a bigger one, and often a really big one.

⸜ This building used to be the seat of my cult toy store ... Today, at number 7 in the Zgody estate (until 1958, the C-32 estate), we will find the CAFE NOWA.

In this way, it loses its "roots", because the owner / designer is no longer responsible for everything, but in turn, more customers are gained, and the primary goal of running a business is, after all, earning money. From what is inherent and hermetic we go towards what is transcendent and universal. By losing your own distinct feature, you gain a "general" feature in return, which is more acceptable for most people. The only important thing is not to forget that it is all "happening" for the music. Where a quick profit is assumed at all costs, it ends badly and such a company quickly disappears from the market.

The sole arbiter of such a change is us, the customers. As I say, there is no "good" and "bad" here, as long as we move within the common margin of what is right. Therefore, starting from what is important to me, I could say that although ToCieKawa is no longer a place I often visit, I still do drop by, just like to the Umeblowana. It's just that my heart beats faster in Yellow Monkey, in KAWA - Coffe & Breakfest on Zwierzyniecka Street, in the CAFE NOWA cafe and bookstore in Nowa Huta (st. Zgody 7), or in the MECH CAFE I discovered some time ago. I will say a little more about the latter in a moment.

On their website it reads:

Mech Cafe is a place inspired by nature. Here you will find the best, freshly roasted coffee, artisan ice cream and cake in the woods. All products are packed in ecological packaging, and coffee is served in biodegradable cups.; dostęp: 17.12.2021.

Mech Cafe is not an independent existence, but part of the Center for Ecological Education "Symbioza". And this one is located in an unusual place - right next to the Krakow Zoo, in the so-called Okocimski Pavilion. It has an amazing history. As we read on the website of Symbioza, when the city of Krakow purchased Las Wolski in 1917, engineer Wincenty Wobr developed a forest management plan. He marked out sidewalks and clearings, divided it into recreational and economic sectors. One of such places was the Glade of Juliusz Lea.

⸜ Okocimski Pavilion - Juliusz Lea's Glade was not covered with trees before World War II.

As we read, it looked different in the 1930s than it does today. It was open, with single trees in the center. There were gravel paths and benches in the clearing, and the clearing overlooked Krakow and the Vistula valley. And next:

In 1934, Baron Antoni Jan Götz-Okocimski leased a fragment of a clearing from the city, on which he built the Okocimski Pavilion. The investor was the Baron Götz Brewery Representation in Okocim. The pavilion was designed in January 1935 by the architect Jan Głódek, associate of Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz. In the spring of 1936, the pavilion was opened, and on June 24, on St. John the Baptist Day in the pavilion, the name day celebration of the famous tenor Jan Kiepura was held, during the meeting of the construction committee of the National Museum at Błonie in Krakow.

The end of World War II also meant a change of the owner of the Pavilion. In 1945, the communist authorities took over the brewery in Okocim, the brewery at ul. Lubicz in Kraków and all buildings, including the Okocimski Pavilion in the Wolski Forest, which belongs to the Brewery. In the years 1950-1960 there was a restaurant and café run by Krakowskie Zakłady Gastronomiczne, which, as many sources testify, was very popular. On the wave of ownership transformations after 1989, the pavilion was leased by a franchise holder and its condition was deteriorating all the time. In the 90s it was abandoned.

"Krakow activists came up with the idea of revitalizing and restoring the splendor of the Pavilion," says Symbioza's website. Thanks to money from the European Regional Development Fund, they were granted co-financing and the building of the Okocimski Pavilion was modernized and the area around was developed in order to adapt it to the needs of an ecological education center.

⸜ The interior of the cafe with roasted coffee and a great metal mug, visible in the foreground.

So, anyway, without money, one can’t do a thing. But for this to make sense, the growth of such a place must have limits. When the "chain" begins, uniqueness ends. Up to a point this is perfectly acceptable, but then the "mass" approach starts, and that's not something one can get emotionally attached to. And yet everything begins with emotions.

To understand what's going on, it's worth reading the ending passage from Philip K. Dick's novel, a man without whose ideas there wouldn't be The Matrix. In it we witness the birth of a new turntable production company:

– Well ... - he began skeptically - it’s not much, but we will have a lot of fun. We may fail, but we'll have a great time.
"Jack just said we were going to be rich," Marsha said in disappointment […].
"It'll come after that," Laws explained. - When we're too old and broke to play.
- What will you build? - He asked. - Rockets?
"No," replied Hamilton. - Turntables, so that people can listen to music. […] “I think,” said Hamilton, “that music has a great future ahead of it. But the mere handling of the equipment will become an art. The kits we produce will require the same skill to handle as they do to construct.

⸜ PHILIP K. DICK, Eye In The Sky, translated by Katarzyna Mioduszewicz, Warszawa 1999, p. 221-222.

And who would have thought that these words would be true almost to the letter both, when it comes to audiophile turntables and file players, and when I start to compare audio with coffee shops ...

Chief editor


⸜ TOCIEKAWA – Speciality Cofee
Address: DŁUGA 37

Address: ul. Focha 1, in the Cracovia Hotel

Address: ul. Św. Gertrudy 17

Address: Las Wolski, next to ZOO

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