Cheers to Business

Expats.cz Interview with owner of restaurant "Cheers"

Expats.cz

Written by Expats.cz
Published on 29.06.2005 23:42 (updated on 29.06.2005)

Interview by Eva Christiansen
for Expats.cz

Recently opened on Namesti Miru, Cheers is casual, upbeat yet sophisticated. The owner, Sahib Al-Nassir spent many years in London before making Prague his home. He loves English culture, and that´s part of what inspired him to open this restaurant which tips its hats to the old kingdom. The bar and restaurant doesn´t have anything to do with the “Cheers” bar in Boston that many Americans know from the TV series. It is more of a philosophy: a philosophy that pervades the menu and décor: right down to the subtle but pervasive branding of Cheer´s own “double e” logo on the walls. An architect by trade, his little details are in every nook and cranny of the space, including the discreet but perfect lighting. In fact, he runs a design studio on the side.

In Sahib’s own words, he wanted a space that incorporated three elements: a diverse ethnic menu, great cocktails, and a pleasant, young atmosphere. As far as the menu goes, it is all of that. The selections change every three months, and feature Mexican, Japanese and Thai. The cocktails are not only well made, but served with overwhelming friendliness and precision. And as for the atmosphere, is certainly is pleasant – and mostly young. There are some regulars who are over 40, but they are a vivacious, well-dressed bunch. So at least everyone is young at heart. The music comes direct from UK cable stations, and in between songs there are little English snippets of chit-chat that can bring a tear to the eye of the truly homesick.

Mr. Al-Nassir is an expat himself, first in the UK and then here, where he arrived in 1991, but didn´t return to stay until 1998. Already then he liked it very much, and he has a respectful attitude to Czech culture. He expounded a theory where the three neighbor nations of the Austro-Hungarian Empire each had their traits: the Austrians were known for their political and diplomacy, the Hungarians for agriculture, and the Czechs for technology, architecture and culture. Seen from that light, there is nothing altruistic or patronizing about wanting to “bring modern things to the people of Prague” but rather, it is helping to re-set the scale to what it was before Communism.

A true respect for Czechs often vanishes fast in other expat business owners – often they get frustrated with the day to day dealings and trying to manage an unmanageable workforce. One bit of advice he offered was “Don´t bring your own business customs and working practices with you.” Too many business people move to the Czech Republic thinking it is a land of opportunity and then try to enforce their own views on how a businesses should run. Although it is well within anyone´s right to run a business as they see fit, it´s true that you end up frustrating yourself in the process, and you may not get the most out of your staff. Mr. Al-Nassir has had to adopt the long-week-short-week schedule that bars and restaurants in Prague use, impractical though it may be. He has made a policy of explaining any changes to his staff, and the reason behind the change, rather than just making announcements of new policy. This seems to work well – his staff is attentive and courteous. Of course, this could be helped by the fact they aren´t stretched too thin: the place is generously staffed- it´s not a huge restaurant, but he has 1 manager, 2 barmen and 4 wait staff on every shift.

The Cheers Experience
The food is a little different from a lot of the typical restaurants that stick to one type of food. The menu at cheers has some diverse starters from around the globe, like Japanese tempura, sashimi and sushi. There are Italian treats like carpacio and prosciutto di Parma – an unconventional home made bread stick of dough that´s some sort of puff pastry, and then wrapped with soft, pink bits of ham. There is a Czech soup (bramboračka) and another from Thailand (tom yam). Both the starter menu and the main courses feature Middle Eastern standards such as hummus (look for “Homos with Fresh Vegetable”) and lamb kebob.

The pasta selection is, as is often the case, the place to order when on a smaller budget. Here too there are slight departures from the norm: in a good way. The gnocchi has a gratinated cheese surface, and you can order Chow Mein. When there´s a little more money to be spent on a good meal, I recommend the Mexican fajitas. All the fixings with them are good, and the bread has a warm, almost naan-like aroma. Delicious, and available with pork, chicken or beef.

When turning to the fish you again see the offbeat and interesting: red mullet with lime coriander and King Dorade with a coconut peanut sauce. The desserts sound light, fruity and unusual – like the lemon strawberry sorbet with sparkling wine, or again – somewhat unique – like the Cheers coconut cheesecake.

Cheers really is a truly cheerful place, and as many people seem to turn up to enjoy the good drinks and ambiance as for the food. The staff is ever so cheerful, almost to the point where you want to say “It´s OK, don´t worry! You´ll get a tip” but I´m afraid I´ve become cynical from my years in Prague. Deep down, I prefer this attentive and smiley nature to accompany my freshly served food and cocktails. From what I could tell, the very crowd of smartly dressed yuppies, older tourists, and slouchy students also all looked cheerful – and they´re not getting any tips, one can only assume they actually like the place. The décor is fresh and warm, lots of vibrant red, a huge painting of cacophonous abstraction and the modern Cheers “double e” logo throughout.

In fact for a Tuesday night, there didn´t seem to be an open table left. So some folks know what they like and just take it up the stairs of their nearby expat flats. The owner pointed out a fellow in particular who was there just about every night to pick up his to-go order (usually the perfect cheers burger). Cheers does not charge you extra for the box they wrap the take out in. Thanks for that! I mean, “Cheers!”

Click to find out more about Cheers restaurant and bar.