“I guess I should be wearing a suit and tie and jetting around the world. I should have 30 [Bohemia Bagel] locations by now. But I like to hang out with my friends and have a beer or two. Sorry, that’s just me,” he shrugs and laughs. Labeling himself as a “’mom and pop’ fighter on the streets,” the 44-year-old Connecticut native says with a grin that he is “still fighting after 17 years here,” but wouldn’t have it any other way. Spicker’s passion for new ventures coupled with a sometimes risky spontaneity might just be the perfect recipe for his continued success in Prague’s ever-changing marketplace.
He shows me a text message on his iPhone (his mobile office, the way he prefers to do business) that the manager of his New York Times-reviewed jazz club, U Malého Glena (Little Glenn’s) has just sent. He discusses it casually, as if we are at a business meeting, instead of sitting at a corner table in the largest of his popular Bohemia Bagel cafes, just off Staromĕstké Náměsti. It is one of three locations that now exist around Prague, each maintaining its own unique personality. Spicker mentions his current favorite as the fancier and recently renovated location in Holešovice, where the signage is being changed to simply read “BB” in a slick black font. Until he found his new manager for the Prague 7 location, Spicker had been unhappy with the design of the store, but now things seem to be moving in the right direction. They are smoothing out the rough edges of this ‘grown up’ location, with the inclusion of a full bar, an elegantly decorated dining area and a gourmet menu featuring both American and Czech specialties.
Spicker is of the old school entrepreneurial generation who swept into Prague soon after 1989. Prior to his arrival in the Czech Republic, he had been studying for a master’s in International Studies in Germany, and had not yet entertained any notions of starting up a business in the fertile post-Communist grounds of Prague. But Spicker admits that as a kid, he’d always kept newspaper routes and tried “all kinds of lemonade stands.”
To open the Red Hot and Blues jazz cafe, his first partnered venture in Prague, he maxed out his credit cards, took out a loan and used money that had been left to him by his grandfather. “My grandfather spent his whole life saving up that $50,000. I spent it in probably two days,” he confesses.
With his multifaceted collection of businesses, “it´s up and down,” says Spicker, whose pattern tends to consist of selling out his portion of a business, having a chunk of cash, and then spending it all on a brand new venture.
One good example of this has become a must-see landmark on every tourist map of Prague: The Museum of Communism, which sits above a McDonald’s on the shopping street of Na Příkopé. Spicker’s idea was to establish a private museum about the Communist era. However, the irony of an American teaching the Czech people about their Communist history is not lost on Spicker, and he recalls the reaction to the museum idea from some Czech friends: “I don’t need to go there. I grew up with it!” Spicker says that when Czechs do come to the museum, they recognize everything and laugh. But Spicker maintains that he simply wants the museum to be a place for people to learn about Communism. “I wanted to finance it, but I definitely wanted it to be by and for Czechs, but it was intended for tourists and anybody really,” he explains.
Spicker is now keen on pursuing yet another museum-like venture, hoping to establish a not-for-profit textile printing museum on the grounds of his farmhouse in the north of the Czech Republic. With the help of EU grants, Spicker would be able to house his 5,000 plus collection of wooden textile printing blocks. Yet another one of his tangential ventures is a little shop called Traditional that opened three years back, and is dedicated to the display and sale of the late 19th century hand-carved wooden blocks originating in northern Bohemia. While searching out pieces to exhibit at the Museum of Communism, Spicker had stumbled across several of the printing blocks, become fascinated, and continued to unearth the blocks. Spicker points out that SlickTouch recently designed a website for the shop, where blocks and prints can also be purchased.
But an even more pressing item on Spicker’s ever-evolving agenda is the creation of a new “pub-club,” as he calls it. Located in the cavernous cellar level of a 13th century building on Michalská 12, “Propaganda” centers on a “tongue-in-cheek” look back at Communism in the Czech Republic, specifically Prague. The sprawling rooms of the bar will allow Spicker plenty of space to let his ideas run wild, such as a beer hall/70s era living room display/dancing area, an open grill, a bar featuring Soviet bloc vodkas and several sectioned off nooks for the display of Communist artifacts from the Czech and Slovak Republics. Propaganda, scheduled for a soft opening on May 1, will also serve lunch and dinner, featuring typical Communist era fare. And not surprisingly, Spicker plans to double the pub-club’s office space as the home base for another new venture called Pure Salts for the importing and wholesale distribution of gourmet cooking salts.
As for any role models, Spicker points to Richard Branson (of Virgin brand fame), an entrepreneur known for his risk-taking attitude. “I’d expand in a time of crisis, and everyone would tell me not to do it, but I’d want to do it anyways,” he smiles.
But Spicker also knows when to lay low. He is quite content with where his ventures have taken him. Nonetheless, this entrepreneurial expat always seems to have a new idea, something to keep him excited, to keep him from getting bored. “I could name eight different ideas right now, although most of them would be restaurants, and I don’t think it’s a good time for that right now,” he says. Spicker mentions a book he admires, “Good to Great,” written about major corporations, and full of advice that Spicker takes to heart: Be humble, and know when to be a hedgehog and hunker down.
Certainly, Spicker entered Prague at a time when costs were low and opportunity was sky high. But he has persisted in the face of several financial crises, continuing to expand, taking the time to work his ideas out and pursuing his passion. And he feels that even now, when rents are higher, restaurants are well established, and coffee chains are swooping down into the city, someone who truly wants to establish a successful business in Prague will persist and find a way to do so. For Spicker, “if the passion is there, anything is possible.”