A New Cafe With Old World Flavors

Jana Boemer was once the leading curator for photography in the Czech Republic. In 1992, she and Markus Boemer married on Kaua’i, opened a small gallery in Prague and were flung into fame with a single exhibit.

Working from a small office, the Boemers featured the work of Sebastião Salgado, a relatively unknown photographer from Brazil. The exhibit, “Migration: Humanity in Transition,” documented refugees, gypsies, war widows and peasants moving toward a better life. At the same time in the United States, the World Trade Center was destroyed.

Czech Republic media compared the tragedy to Salgado’s collection. In a single month, 47,000 people visited the exhibition. As a consequence, the Boemers created relationships with humanitarian associations such as Amnesty International, and a swell of change was inspired by art.

Moving to the Prague Castle Supreme Burgrave, built in 880, the couple opened Leica Gallery Prague, which included a simple café. It became the most relevant gallery in the Czech Republic.

A new presidency forced the gallery’s closure, and a clever idea brought art to the people. Exhibits by photographers such as Salgado, AntonÌn KratochvÌl, and Wim and Donata Wenders toured Eastern Europe on three Czech Railway carriages.

“It was a lot of work,” says German-born Markus.

“After three years, I was so tired,” adds Jana. “We were too big, too famous and too interesting for some people. I love Prague, but it is a horrible country. It’s very corrupt.”

In the spring of 2010, the Boemers sold the gallery and moved to Kaua’i. Art Café Hemingway opened in September 2011. “We used his name because he was a traveller who loved to eat and drink, and he was a good artist,” notes Jana.

Hidden in the back of the café next to stairs that lead to a small gallery is a collage of photographs memorializing those years.

“From the first idea, we know we can’t build anything like what we had in Prague,” says Jana, who was born in the Czech Republic. “But we love it here, and we had a lot of luck to find this building.”

For the Boemers, exhibiting commercial art is not a priority.

“Art for me, is like really you show yourself,” says Jana.

“You won’t see populistic things just because they will sell,” says Markus.

“You’ll never see images of turtles on the beach or dolphins in the ocean,” adds Jana.

New artists are introduced on the first Saturday of each month, in conjunction with the Kapa’a Art Walk.

“The exhibition has to have a concept,” says Markus. “One person, one show, and we stepped away from only doing photography.”

Artists should arrange to leave a bio, portfolio or their work for a week. Examples in small prints are acceptable, but not preferred, and they must include the size and medium on the back. The Boemers know this is a weighty request, but they are occupied with running a restaurant.

“I love to eat,” says Jana. “And to me food is art.”

In this spirit, she buys the best coffee, tea and ingredients she can find, and makes almost everything from scratch – including the mayonnaise. They’ll even bake a baguette ($4.50) to order (the dough is not made in-house) so you can take it home.

Filled with crepes, European deli meats such as pancetta, and scrambled eggs made with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, the small, European-inspired menu is tricky to navigate if you’re used to typical American fare.

“We have a small menu because, with fresh food, you can’t have a huge menu,” Jana says. “And every day we make a lunch special.”

With an 80 percent local clientele, it seems that European fare isn’t so foreign to Kaua’i residents.

“It’s starting to be like a family,” says Jana.

It also feels like family. The café looks like the home of a stylish grandmother. The floor is laid with wide wood planks. Large works of art are framed and hung on white walls. Curios and china cabinets hold silverware and napkins, or smalls gifts for purchase.

This Mother’s Day, moms will receive a free yogurt, normally $4.50. The yogurt isn’t just spooned from a container. Jana makes a light custard of eggs, sugar and vanilla, mixes it with Greek yogurt then tops it with fresh fruit. The result is light, almost fluffy, and definitely delicious.

“My grandmother always fed me this yogurt,” she recalls. “And now, when I see a mother feed it to small children, and they really like it, in this moment, I am glad I am cooking.”

Art Café Hemingway 4-1495 Kuhio Hwy, Kapa’a 634-4056 Tuesday-Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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