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Vojen Smíšek: Love for traveling and coffee runs in our family

30/4/2024 | Horsefeathers / Renča

Passionate traveler, boardsports enthusiast, coffee&beer lover, photographer and videomaker. We are talking about Vojen Smíšek, our former HF crew colleague and current marketer for Czech tourism. We spoke with Vojen about what it was like at Horsefeathers during his time, more than 10 years ago, about his travels, and about his current gastro business named Shots and Sparks.


Vojen Smíšek

Hello Vojen, could you please introduce yourself firstly?

My name is Vojen Smíšek, I am 38 years old and I'm from South Bohemia, a bit away from Budějovice. Since 2016, I have been living in Lipno nad Vltavou, at the base of the Lipno ski resort, which my friends and I take care of, and where I started my snowboarding career that led me to Horsefeathers and other activities. Currently, I work as a PR and marketing manager. I work in tourism management within the Budějovice region, and I also create video content for @jiznicechy socials. That's my full-time job, but for four years, my girlfriend and I have also been running our espresso bar called Shots and Sparks. It is a mobile espresso trailer, which has a permanent spot a few meters from the water on a cyclo path in Lipno nad Vltavou. We offer specialty coffee, local beer, cider, and various lemonades. We really enjoy it; it's also a kind of therapy and a change from the managerial work. This year we plan to expand, opening a brick-and-mortar operation in the neighboring village with specialty coffee, beer, and snacks.

How did the idea to have such a beverage booth come about?

The love for coffee was awakened in me by my parents, who used to make homemade espresso from a lever coffee machine, which at that time was not entirely common. In college, I then got something similar, made espresso, and classmates would come to my dorm for coffee between lectures. We joked that it was like a café at Vojen's on the 7th floor. Gradually, I got into specialty coffee, which fascinated me, and I started tasting various types. Through a friend, I got in touch with her husband, who owns a roastery. So, we stocked up on specialty coffee at home and continued the story from college, where friends regularly came over for coffee as if to a café. It was they who suggested we should open a café somewhere, and so we decided to go for it, and during the COVID summer of 2021, we launched our espresso trailer.

How did the opening of your portable café go?

With a friend, we locked ourselves in the workshop for three months and built a stand on a trailer. I finally utilized my engineering education; we welded the structure, mounted the sheets, and installed water, electricity, and wiring. All DIY. We opened in July, at a time when there were really many people around because everyone was spending the summer at home due to COVID, and Lipno is quite a popular local destination. So, we jumped into full operation without preparation, fine-tuning and solving issues on the go. It wasn’t easy at the beginning, but even then, we knew we enjoyed it tremendously, so we had to push ourselves and go for it. And now, we are successfully opening our fourth season.

Shots and Sparks booth

What do you consider the top product from your assortment?

Last year, we managed to secure a supplier of specialty coffee in Bali, and that was quite a hit. We don’t have it yet this year, because unfortunately, the Balinese coffee season does not coincide with ours. But we hope we can still make it. By being in Bali personally, we know where the coffee comes from, we know the person who grows it, and his daughter who leads the company, which made it much more personal and this is something we shared with the people who tried it at our place. Suddenly, the product was no longer anonymous; it had a real face and form, making it much more interesting for people.

What do you enjoy most about this work?

The fact that people enjoy it, and that they keep coming back to us. Whether they are locals or people who are just on vacation at Lipno. By the cyclo path, they suddenly find a booth with drinks; it's totally punk, but with good coffee. Sometimes, people return even after a year, they remember us and come directly to us. It incredibly charges me with positive energy when I know that we're not doing this primarily for the business, but for the feeling that we've made someone's vacation or ordinary day better.

Trip to Bali and securing cooperation with Bali Beans Coffee

You are also a passionate traveler, what does traveling mean to you?

I have been traveling since I was a child; it runs in the family. At our home, money was spent on travel, good food, and drinks. And that probably shaped me. It has stayed with me, whether it's a love for traveling or for specialty coffee. Our family vacations looked like today’s road trips. We traveled by car all over Europe, and I looked forward to the holidays all school year long, eager for us to set out again. Each time, it was an adventure packed with experiences. My grandfather also traveled a lot; in the 90s, he went on quite challenging, and for that time unusual, expeditions. For example, to Papua New Guinea to indigenous tribes and similar. I took my first major trip in 2015, when I finished at Horsefeathers and set off for Thailand. I fell in love with Asia - great food for little money, amazing adventures, cheap travel, just with a backpack. I wanted to go back again and again. So then it went on - Sri Lanka, back to Thailand, the Philippines, from where I unfortunately brought back dengue fever and jaundice, Bali, Portugal, Morocco, back to Bali, and so on.

Do you have a dream destination you would like to visit?

Vietnam has been on my bucket list for a long time. But there are so many places I'd like to see - for instance, following my grandfather's footsteps to Papua New Guinea, from which we will have coffee this year, or exploring other Indonesian islands, which are also a huge source of undiscovered coffee. These places also attract me because of surfing; it would be great to surf some amazing secret surf spots, since the well-known surf destinations are usually overcrowded.

Traveling

Do you have any travel plans for this year?

This year, we are making a big investment into a new business, as I've mentioned before, we plan to open a brick-and-mortar location for our espresso bar, so we're not planning any major trips. However, we won a pair of tickets to Valencia, Spain, at a ball, so we will definitely use them and go explore the local specialty coffee shops there.

You guys are quite into vanlife as well, what are your favorite destinations?

We mainly drive around the Czech Republic in the van, and we sleep in it even when visiting friends. We often go to Šumava, but most of the parking areas there fall under the national park, and there's a risk of being kicked out and fined. So, we try to find parking spots where it's allowed, and at the same time, we try to be discreet. Arrive in the evening, leave early in the morning, and most importantly, leave no mess behind. Occasionally, we head to South Moravia, where we have relatives and friends, and we also go there for the wine.

Vanlife

Let's now move on to your time at Horsefeathers. When was it and what were your responsibilities?

I first got involved with Horsefeathers in high school through a snowboarding camp in France, which featured some of the biggest snowboarding stars at the time, former HF riders like Richard Skandera, Honza Zajíc, and even the then 13-year-old Roman Dlauhý. Richard approached me to help shape the park for the Horsefeathers Jib Masters event in Černý Důl. One evening at an afterparty, I was introduced to Hanuš, a co-founder of Horsefeathers, who offered me a job in the HF warehouse. That kickstarted my journey with the Horsefeathers brand, with which I still have a great relationship, and I'm very grateful for that. Gradually, I began helping at City Jib and Pleasure Jam events, and during that time, I was offered a full-time position as HF junior sales manager for the Czech market, which I, of course, accepted. I must admit, I also experienced those HF good old punk days when the party started on Friday after work and ended on Monday morning before work, haha. Later, I moved to the position of snowboard team manager within HF, an opportunity I couldn't refuse.

How do you remember the years spent as an HF snowboard team manager?

Initially, it was quite challenging because we were going through a change in riders' marketing. At first, riders were given clothing and a budget for the season, and when they participated in a project, whether it was filming, photoshoots, or competitions, someone would load them into a van, arrange everything, drive them to the hill, "strap them into their bindings," and let them do their job. They were taken care of; they didn't have to deal with anything, just ride. Gradually, however, this shifted towards riders having to build their own social networks and promote themselves on them, as we know it today. They had to start being proactive, coming up with content and executing it on their own. This transition was extremely challenging for some riders. Unfortunately, it also led to the termination of some riders' contracts.

What was the highlight of your career at HF?

The highlight of my career at HF was first the entry of Eiki Helgason into the team, whom I accompanied around Prague and Pilsen and initiated into the workings of the brand. Subsequently, the entry of Halldór Helgason into the team as well. I was at the first meetings, which were super secret; I had beers with him in Pilsen pubs, and I couldn't tell anyone about it. When the day came to reveal this collaboration, I picked him up at the airport and smuggled him through the back doors to a sales meeting in Italy, where everyone else found out. It was a big surprise and it was great. I'm really happy for such experiences.

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