Danny Mannheim
Danny Mannheim and his partners opened Espresso Art at 942 E. University Blvd. about three years ago, and the coffee shop has become a multicultural meeting spot. The shop offers mini-piano recitals, walls lined with art and hookahs with flavored tobacco and tobacco-free concoctions. The quiet room upstairs is a large study for private or group meetings, and remains hookah and music-free. Comedy evenings kick off every Tuesday at 8 p.m., hosted by UA student Jacob Breckenridge. A sign-up sheet is available in the café around 7:30 p.m. for anyone who cares to tell a joke. The second and fourth Fridays are open-mic nights. For more information, call 624-4126, or visit the Espresso Art Web site.

Espresso Art vibrates on a unique frequency. How did the shop develop into such a multicultural haven?

How long this amalgam ... will last, I do not know. I certainly enjoy coming to work every morning as long as this lasts. Anyhow, the Italian, French, German and Spanish magazines, combined with CD music from all over the planet, are something I enjoy, and the music doesn't seem to bother too many customers.

Is this place a manifestation of what you had in mind, or did the coffee shop take on a life of its own?

Originally, the idea was to create a friendly place conducive to intellectual endeavors, with a little bit of class, but not sterile, and a little bit of hominess, but not too messy, a place where I personally would enjoy going when in a mood to socialize or when tired of reading in my own bedroom. I wanted a place away from home, but not too far from it.

I think the coffee is consistently delicious. Tell me about it.

The coffee had to be good, so we hired Mr. Alex Fisenko--he is one of the world's top espresso consultants--for guidance and advice. He recommended a proprietary mixture of five different coffee beans. The espresso shots had a strong initial coffee taste, followed by a lingering mild aroma. We all liked it from the start and stayed with it. Some customers asked for a more bitter/acid flavor, so we also offer the Italian Illy brand. I personally prefer our five-bean mixture.

How do you decide which art to hang up, and which to ditch?

The bimonthly art exhibits and the daily classical-piano mini-concerts are a little refuge from the daily grind. The artists we accept have to be accomplished drawers, a skill widely neglected by most art schools in favor of esoteric theories and colorists. The artwork has to be aesthetically pleasing and shall not trumpet social, economic or political messages--that is what the journalistic media is for. L'art pour l'art. Art should be for the art's sake, for beauty only.

What kinds of group meetings are held upstairs?

Various organizations affiliated with the university gather for a few hours. Everything from philosophy, religion, language, biology, archeology, math and ROTC groups meet.

There seemed to have been an awkward point when you began to serve the hookahs, and the usual crowd of studious customers clashed with all the freshmen who swarmed in from the dorms to use the pipes--but it seems to have worked itself out. How?

The introduction of the hookahs last year was quite controversial and alienated some different-minded customers. Lately, however, it seems that everybody became more tolerant of each other and found their private time, space and comfort niche.

You, your wife, Cherie, and son, Paul, are always around. Do you guys come in everyday?

Yes, at least one of us comes in daily, if not all of us.

Tell me about the employees. How do you help keep coffee standards high?

When hiring, the main criteria was that (the employees) had to be smart, keeping in mind the necessary condition for real wisdom is having a good heart.

Rumor has it that you could be opening up something else around town. What is in store for 2008?

We plan to organize this coming year, at Espresso Art, a few international amateur culinary parties, potluck-style. Students bring some of their own ethnic foods, and we all enjoy it. Maybe free coffee, too.