N: I’ve turned on recording. If you want me to stop it at any time, just do a gesture like this. Okay?
N: Thank you so much for your time. Will you introduce yourself to our readers?
C: My name is Chaima. I’m the manager of Blintzkrieg.
N: Can you talk about Blintzkrieg a little bit?
C: Sure. My family is French Algerian. May I talk a little more about this?
N: Please, as much as you like.
C: Algeria was a French territory for a century. It was the destination for many immigrants from Europe. The Evian agreements ended a decade of war, from the 1950s to 1960s. There had been revolts and coup attempts before that, of course. And during Operation Torch, in the Second World War, the loyalties of the French - the Vichy government - were uncertain. If I understand the history lesson being taught to my daughter in America, Torch is not a well understood part of the war narrative, because the French were essentially the enemy. Americans seem to have an ambiguous relationship with France, I have seen. Algerians understand that very well. Please pardon me.
N: No, this is fascinating. Is there more?
C: You could say that the movie Casablanca romanticized the whole mood. Casablanca was also a target of Torch. But that sense of international tension, of gunshots from darkened doorways, enemies taking hospitality from each other, that sort of thing - it was all alive and well in Algiers. These are the stories my grandfather taught. He was Darlan’s own personal cook.
C: François Darlan, commander of French forces.
N: I see.
C: Darlan was assassinated on Christmas Eve of 1942. My grandfather joined the war effort after that. He was still only a cook, but he could speak several languages, and he could interact with Algerian Muslims, Free French, and Vichy forces with equal ease. At times he was forced to cook for Nazi officers. I’m told that secret messages were sometimes passed to the allies through his kitchen, but he never told us much more specific than that.
C: He did teach us one important thing. Growing up, he impressed upon his children and grandchildren how vital good food really was. “Even fascists must eat,” he said. People have rituals that bind them together and give their lives meaning. Eating is one of those things. In that spirit, my mother opened the coffee shop here in Halcyon City, when we first moved here.
N: I had no idea it had been open so long.
C: We renamed it twice. Blintzkrieg is only the most recent name. A reference to the German Blitzkrieg, or “lightning war”, tactic. My mother says that words have the power we give them, that words can be reclaimed, and that food is better than fighting. We don’t want people to forget the War. We want our name to remind people of its existence. And we affirm life, through food and coffee and conversation.
N: That’s really amazing.
C: Many coffee shops in Halcyon have similarly storied histories. I don’t know much about the local history, but I think your Underground Railroad and Red Strings organizations used coffee as a cover for the rescue of slaves? Coffee and slavery have long been associated as well.
N: Do you feel that more of your patrons should know about this history?
C: I want to present the opportunity. Some customers won’t care, or would be actively turned away if we pressed this information on them. I think it’s enough for some of our posters and photos to incite curiosity.
N: Were your blintzes always part of the shop’s menu?
C: No. My father brought the recipe to the family. At first we weren’t sure whether they belonged on the menu. Many coffee shops focus on the specialty brews, espresso and espresso-based drinks, tea, and more recently other options such as chai. It’s expensive to maintain a kitchen and freezer on the premises. Shops that offer baked goods typically partner with a bakery, rather than make their own food. If you cannot guarantee a certain level of custom, you risk baking food that goes to waste. We can donate food rather than waste it by throwing it out, of course, but the expense of preparing it remains.
C: We’re still not sure if the blintzes will stay on the menu. People like them, but what if we don’t have enough people to justify the expense? My father took out a loan to pay for the kitchen, and he is still repaying that.
N: Is there anything we can do to help you bring in more people?
C: You already are, which is one reason I consented to this interview. I am grateful that your group, your ‘Ponies’?–
C: That you are here, and publicizing us among your peers. Another Halycon tradition is, of course, superheroes. Heroes played a big role in the Second World War, so hearkening back to that history reinforces our own theme. We are not a “hero cafe” or costume shop, though I know two coffee houses that are experimenting with that theme. We feel that the ambiance is enough, and hope that what we really are selling - a sense of community - is enough to keep people coming back.
N: I love it here.
C: That is good to hear. Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my family and my business.
N: It’s been so rewarding to hear about. Thank you, so much.
author: Bill G.