Its been some years since we closed our beloved little coffee shop and I have been thinking about quite a bit lately. So today, I think its time to revisit it a little and grace it with some more life as well as a tribute to the hard work we put in and the love we received in return.
Picking up and moving to Poland was not in my plan. Ever. And certainly, the thought of running and operating a small Coffee Shop in Poland had NEVER crossed my mind. But when the question came from my girlfriend if I was willing to move back with her to her home country of Poland and start a life there, my only answer was yes and in short form, this is how it happened.
The process back in Seattle started with selling everything we owned (I sent 346 packes on Ebay and then 3 large garge sales) shipping off the rest, saying goodbye to friends and loved ones and starting an adventure in, what was to me, an unfamiliar country in an unfamilar city. But, I was game and very excited (a little nervous too) for the process and looked forward to starting this new life with Agnieszka and learning how to adapt to it. Really, I had no idea what I was in for.
When we arrived in Poznan, we lived just outside of the city in a little town called Swarzedz. Here we settled in and I started to take in our surroundings. Agnieszka (my girlfriend) attended the University to get a higher degree which left me to consider how I might make a living and what that could look like. Through the winter we discussed the possibilities and finally settled in on opening up a small coffee shop to utilize my background in restaurants (20-year veteran). We started looking at spots and finally found one that seemed rather suitable. A small place tucked into the historic Pasaz Apollo just off of the main street of Ratajczaka near the city center. I liked the spot because it was small and unassuming and also because I still didn’t have any grasp on the language and felt that a slower start might be the best idea since I would be the sole operator day to day. Learning curves and lots of them.
And so it started. We hired a couple of local contractors to get the place ready with plumbing and fixtures and then after that, we did the rest pretty much ourselves. I was adamant about having to use local goods and we sourced our wood from a man who specializes in reclaimed wood that he would get from old barns and houses in the mountains that were going to be burned. Most of the wood we had in the shop was from barns 100-175 years old. To this day, we still use him for our home furnishing and you can find his many wonderful products here at Regalia. We also found what would be our coffee supply over the next five years from the incredible roaster Apro-Trade located in Warsaw. From the very start Tom and Agnieszka became our allies and friends throughout our time of being open, providing us with a consistant and very tasty blend to which we drank and served with glee. To this day, I can still taste it when I think about it…and I also miss it very much! Being from Seattle and having grown used to strong coffee, I took a different approach with the espresso pour from the very start and pulled a double shot for every cup. No stopping the conversation now!
It took some time to gather all the equipment and get the permits submitted but mostly everything went without a hitch and the learning process was steep, but manageable. Of course, there was an assortment of folly’s that tested our limits and at one point we considered abandoning the project. One such instance came by way of getting water tested to make sure it is safe and this is required by the city for every restaurant. When we tested our water, it came back negative…actually several attempts at testing the water produced the same result and cost a bunch of money to continue the testing. At one point we were told that all of the pipes in the building would need to be replaced in order for us to open. And then….PANIC! What I didn’t realize was that we were not asking the right questions and on the last trial, I asked what the exact problem was and was told that it is a fungus microbe (harmless) found in the water of Poznan and very normal, but we were showing too much in the system, which is also normal. I asked that since we were not serving tap water but were running everything through a filter if we could test from that. Yes…of course came the answer and our next test came back 100% clean. Lesson learned. Ask a bunch of questions because no one is going to help you figure it out.
The final puzzle piece was the name. We tried so many different ones in the early stages and nothing seemed to stick or had that special quality about it. One Sunday morning while we were lazily enjoying our coffee, Agnieszka said half joking “How about Bigfoot Coffee Shop?” and immediately I knew that was the right name. It was something that tied me to my home state of Washington, and I loved the idea of it being nonsensical if not somewhat mythical. Poland loves it animals and it would seem that half of the stores are named after critters like Malpka, Zabka, Biedronka…(Monkey, Frog and Ladybug) being a few. So, I figured we would fit right in!
We opened on the last week of August 2012 and from day one, it became a meeting place where our guests soon became friends, many of whom remain close and dear to us today. We saw friends have babies, get married, meet their significant other in the shop and had the pleasure to spend last moments with some who passed. In the morning before work, I would set out to gather supplies for the day and also practice my photography along the way. While in Bigfoot, I would photograph our daily offerings to post to our Bigfoot FB page and give a little shout to whatever delicious treat was in the store that day.
There are countless stories that have come from the shop. Moments that I never quite expected to be a host to and certainly became some of the proudest times of my life. Seeing the shop become such a friendly face in the city filled me with pride and although we struggled to make it work, the folks who graced our lives made it more special than I could have imagined. I met people with names I couldn’t pronounce for the life of me and it took me a while to get my mouth to function properly enough to pronounce them..I am thinking of you Zbigniew! I met people of all ages and positions in life, we had famous people come in and people that would later become famous, students become lawyers and doctors, newly arrived residents looking for somewhere to feel grounded, Polish folks from every city and lifelong residents of Poznan who gave me histroy lessons on a daily basis. I had run ins with local thugs who somehow grew to like me and spread the word to leave me alone. I listened to the endless stories of the local character Pan Roman, all in Polish and accompanied by his interpretive dance. I had a lady pass by and made an effort to knock on the window everyday to let me know she was there. My very own Mom came to visit us and take in the beast Bigfoot while sipping her coffee. We had students, hipsters, metalheads, musicians, nuns, priests, tram drivers, photographers, expats, travelers, doctors, lawyers, vegans, straight edge, gay, and tattooed all of whom were welcome, and no one was excluded. We met people from all over Europe as well as the world. Guests from Japan, Austrailia and South America being some of the furthest. We had all types from all walks of life and cultures drink coffee there and it always amazed me when someone new had found us, recommended by someone who had been in. We became trusted in the community and served it back with that trust in mind.
Bigfoot was 13-meter square and often it would fill with people with hardly any room to move, but crammed together in some sort of espresso orgy. In the winter months, there would be so much condensation in it from people heat, the ceiling would rain. And in the warmer months, we saw the pasaz fill with vibrant life and people filling the walkway sitting in chairs or just standing in groups. And there were days when it would be empty, waiting for cups to fill and a lost soul to come in seeking conversation. A small place for sure, but we had a big heart.
After the first year, we decided to expand our menu and I would make daily sandwiches that were not common to the area as well as cakes, cookies, brownies, and banana bread to satisfy the sweet tooth. Perhaps our best know sandwich came as a Pulled Pork offer one day, although some may still say it was the Sloppy Joe….the rest was history. I think everyone had their own personal favorite and posting daily on FB became the way we let them know what was what. You can find the recipe for the banana bread at the end. I have been asked countless times for this recipe and never gave it out until now. By and far, the banana bread was highly coveted as well as the Salted Caramel Brownies I would make (perhaps that recipe will appear in a later post…so stayed tuned).
It was also in Bigfoot that I met my soon to be right hand and adopted little sister, Zosia or as she liked to be called at the time Ta Zosia. She walked in on our second month of being open while looking for a job in the city and from that first moment she really never left. I also knew that I would never get rid of her and a year or so later, I hired her, and she became an invaluable asset and best friend to me and Bigfoot. There are countless others who became valuable fixtures and friends in the place, people that you could find just about every day hanging out, drinking coffee, chatting, meeting up…Adam, Jan, Piotr(s), Rafal, Marianna, Mikolaj, Filip, Tyna, Gosia(s), Matt (my American counterpart), Hubert(s) and the list goes on and on and on. Too many to name, but you know exactly who you are and the role you played!
I could tell so many stories from this little shop and my intention is to do that in some form later. Or perhaps I will tell these tales here from time to time and collect the work for a larger, more thorough project. I am not quite sure yet but what I am sure of is that it was the single most rewarding thing that I have ever done or been part of and I am proud of that accomplishment. I honestly never imagined it to be the way it was, but it was even better than I could have in many respects.
When the time came to move on and close the shop, we did so with a big final party making for a day I will always remember. So many folks stopped in to say goodbye and good luck, enjoy the last coffee and regale in stories of episodes in Bigfoot. It wasn’t an easy decision for us but it was the right one. I wanted Bigfoot to become a legend and after working endlessly for 5 years, it was time to put it to rest and forge out on something new. I have no regrets about any portion of it and to this day I still miss it dearly and all that graced it with their presence.
This is just a small portion of all that was Bigfoot. There is much, much more and so many little episodes that had me laughing at the nonsense of it all. I learned so much in that little spot and it became an invaluable asset to me while I lived in Poznan providing me with a place to be and having a purpose. Over the years, I have been asked constantly about what the hardest part of running a business in Poland is and to be honest, I never really had an answer until now. The hardest part was saying goodbye. We did it though, we opened a small little coffee shop against all odds and it will always have a very special place in mine and Agnieszkas hearts.
To be continued……..
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (In Poland I use Typ 550)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I like a bit more and add 1/8 extra)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar plus 2 tablespoons of vanilla sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 – 4 1/2 bananas, very ripe, mashed
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
Add berries or nuts to your desire.
- Preheat oven to 174c (350f).
- Butter bread loaf pan and line with baking paper. I use 8 x 4 or equivalent.
- Mix dry ingredients, flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon. Set aside.
- Mash bananas and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, use a hand mixer to cream the two large eggs and sugar until soft, creamy and golden yellow. 8-10 minutes. You will want the sugar and egg completely combined.
- Slowly, drizzle in the oil and continue to combine on low speed until the all of the oil is in with the eggs.
- Add the flour mixture until just combined. Lumps are ok. About one minute.
- And mix in the Sour Cream until it is combined. Softly and slowly, using full turns. Don’t over mix!
- If you are using nuts or berries, add now, slowly mixing in by hand until evenly dispersed.
- Fill bread pan to just below the top.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown on top and springy. Depending on your oven, cooking time may vary. Check at 40 minutes and every 5 after. If you are using fruit, the cooking time will be longer and can go past one hour. Try without fruit first to see how it works for you.
I tend to like my banana bread on the moist side and will undercook it a few minutes to ensure that it is this way. The recipe indicates a proper cook time for a fully cooked loaf.
I often use frozen blueberry’s that I get over the summer. I add them frozen but it will take longer for the bread to cook. Approx. 10 minutes longer, but this is also trial and tasty error to find out what best works for you.
I hope that you enjoy the bread and if you do make it, I would love to hear how it turns out for you!
Until next time, cheers!