A few years back, Michael Chapman (above) decided to open a café in Budapest. Everyone told him it would take a while – a long while. And indeed, it has taken a lifetime. Luckily for Chapman – he is 38 – it was not his own. But during the time it took to open café Kiskőleves (“little stone soup”) in District VIII, Chapman’s son Freddy went from being a twinkle in his parents’ eye to a strapping two-year-old.
Half-Hungarian, and with an MA in art history (and a thesis on Budapest) Chapman has spent more than half of his own adult life bouncing between Hungary and the UK. He taught English in Pécs in the early 90′s, left to study in the UK, came back, married Eszter, a publisher of Hungarian books, and in 1998 they moved to London. In 2004 the two returned to settle down in Budapest.
“Your life completely changes when you have a child, and also with a new business, so we thought – why not do them together,” says Chapman.
At first he considered opening a franchise of some existing café chain, just for convenience’s sake, but quickly decided wanted to his own thing. On the other hand, Chapman isn’t one of those café or restaurant owners who acts like he is reinventing the wheel. Indeed, he readily concedes he has borrowed good ideas he has seen elsewhere.
“That wasn’t my recipe,” he says about the orange-zinger smoothie of carrot, orange, apple and ginger, one of twelve juice “smoothies” Kiskőleves currently serves. “I got the idea from working at an organic store in the UK. But as they say, ‘imitation is the best form of flattery.’”
He is being generous – the smoothies taste one-of-a-kind. Made to order “before your eyes” – just as promised on the lime green Kiskőleves flyer, they taste as delicious as the green and brown décor looks. Kiskőleves also serves freshly baked pastries brought in daily, waffles from a Belgian-friend’s recipe book, and hot sandwiches (below), reasonably priced between Ft 190 and Ft 400 (€0.75 and €1.50).
The name “Kiskőleves” is a derivative of Chapman’s cousin-in-law’s popular restaurant, Kőleves (“stone soup”) on Király utca in neighboring District VII. As the little-brother establishment (borrowing the name and logo design) Chapman offers Kőleves’ soups. Meanwhile, Kiskőleves’ sandwiches are available at Kőleves’ bar during concerts, making it possible to get a salami and cheese sandwich (Ft 350, €1.40) after Kiskőleves closes at 6:00 p.m.
But the recipes were the easy part of the three-year venture.
“It’s [an] experience that gives you knowledge,” he says of the process of getting the café up and running. And it’s not done. Chapman is still waiting for the wireless Internet to be installed. Once that’s in place, the café will be a small but bright place to work or idly surf the web in surprisingly comfortable plastic chairs (above).
All things considered, Chapman says he made it so far because he could afford patience.
“I held on because I was self-financed and I knew I would be ok. If I had had to pay rent for a year while waiting for permitting to come through I would be out of business before I even opened the door.”
Waiting for the change-of-use permit and operating licenses gave Chapman, who learned Hungarian as an adult, the chance to perfect his language skills, which will come in handy, as he expects to remain in Hungary “for the long run,” by which he means at least until Freddy is old enough to operate the blender.
“That first day when we opened the store for business, I looked up at the sign and thought, maybe one day we could have ‘and son’ there,” he says. “But maybe that’s just wishful thinking.”