Alex lives in Bucharest where he runs his small coffee & bike business called Atelier Pinion. I met him in the fall of 2015 at Hubcelerator, a programme for entrepreneurs. Although not into bikes myself, I visited Pinion on and on for its nice atmosphere and very good coffee. So much so that it became a place where most of the times I’d find my inspiration. This is the story behind it
Tell me about yourself. What defines you? What makes your heart jump for joy?
I am a curios person. I like to explore – places, cultures, foods, coffees, tastes, sensations, my own limits. I always get a kick doing those things and doing them right.
How do you spend your time? Job? Hobby? How do the two come together?
I used to have a hobby – bikes. Now that hobby is turned into a career endeavour, since I have quit my job as a developer with a multinational IT company to start a bike and coffee shop in downtown Bucharest. Now all my skills, even ones that I did not know I had, are put to work in this pursuit of turning my hobby into a viable business. I take photos for our social media presence, since I was an amateur photographer for a while, I program integrations with the systems that we use for the bike-shop, since I feel I’m still a programmer, I carry 30 kg beer kegs since I do shifts at the bar, and I gently pour steamed milk into patterns of latte art in our flat whites since coffee is one of my other passions.
What’s your education? How has it prepared you for what you are doing now?
I’m a Computer Science graduate at UPB (Politehnica University of Bucharest), and couple of years ago I was still working on my PhD. My work with SAP got in the way and I did not get to finish that. But I would not say that I was prepared much for what I am doing now, however my education has helped me build this “Can do” attitude that pushed me through all the downsides that inherently occur when having your own business.
How did you decide you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I didn’t. In fact, I don’t like much the star-like aura that entrepreneurs have in our society these days. Back in the day, they used to be called “privatizati” and looked down upon by the same society that makes almost rockstars out of some of us now. But I started to dislike my previous job and felt that I was not developing as a person from a point onward, although professionally I was on a rise. And while looking for new challenges I got this opportunity of developing my bike passion into a shop, so I grabbed it and tried to make the best of it. Am I succeeding? I think I’ll know that in a couple of years.
I started to dislike my previous job and felt that I was not developing as a person (...). I got this opportunity of developing my bike passion into a shop, so I grabbed it and tried to make the best of it.
Tell me about Atelier Pinion. What is it? How did it come to life? How old is it?
Atelier Pinion is a Bike and Coffee shop, the first of its kind in Romania. It came to life almost two years ago, first with the bike repair shop and then I have added the bar and brought the coffee into the scene. Why? Because bikes and coffee make a very good and healthy match, or so they think in countries that have a much older and larger bike culture.
What challenges did you face when putting your idea into practice? How did you overcome them?
I cannot count the number of hurdles that arose in our path. Legal challenges, money challenges, people challenges, preconceptions, misconceptions, one does not live long enough to see them all. But somehow we managed to get through by being persistent and keeping a positive attitude. And I guess that my optimism that sometimes borderlines insanity has something to do with it all.
How has Pinion evolved in the two years and why? What were the parameters that contributed?
People have come, people have left, few have stayed. The ones that have stayed are now our friends. I guess that in economic jargon this is called small turnover, high retention. But I prefer to think that we have gained a lot of friends. This is due to the laid back, friendly atmosphere and to the coziness of the place.
I guess that my optimism that sometimes borderlines insanity has something to do with it all.
What plans do you have for the next year?
We want to improve our customer’s experience with our coffee and make the place a bit more comfortable. We also plan to go out with a new coffee bike to more events. In the bikes department we will offer a wider range of bikes and accessories – we will be importing some high quality bikes and parts – add the ability to schedule online appointments for the repair shop and also offer bike fitting sessions. We will continue the bi-weekly tours around Bucharest and hopefully go beyond this radius.
What’s the most important thing you learned ever since you started Atelier Pinion?
Persistence is key. Don’t give up, work smarter.
I am a frequent visitor at Pinion, I know what it is about. What’s your opinion, why would you say people come there? What keeps them coming back?
We have managed to gather around Atelier Pinion a small community of bike and coffee enthusiasts that return almost on the daily basis for the friends that they have or meet there. It is the coziness and laid back atmosphere that brings back those people.
Pretty much in all western countries people ride bikes. A lot. Anywhere. How is this perceived in Romania, especially Bucharest? How do you see it changing?
In recent years i saw a huge growth in the number of people that ride their bikes in the city. Maybe it is the chaos in car traffic that is getting people on their bikes, however the city is not ready for cyclists. Drivers are not used to cyclists on the road, many cyclists ride as if they were pedestrians and there is a boiling tension between the two categories. It didn’t use to be that way 5 or 7 years ago when I was also riding my bike to work or college. Back then we weren’t that many and drivers barely noticed us, which was better than the aggressive behaviour that I notice today on almost a daily basis.
How is Bucharest ready to accommodate the new wave of cyclists? Is there something being done in this regard?
It is not. Bucharest’s administration has not managed in recent years to build more that 3 kilometres of proper bike lanes. However I am confident that the increasing pressure from the growing number of cyclists will change things in this regard.
In a way, you are an exponent of a generation. What would you say this generation’s values are? What does it stand for on a national level, but also international?
Freedom. However, my generation also values security quite a lot, so there is a little bit of conflict there.
If you were to have one superpower, what would that be?
That’s a too tough question. (laughs)