Antonia and Lyubomir Chonos have been married for fifteen years, and even though two thirds of their marriage have been spent at KANAAL, they can still make each other laugh, which is probably the key to their success.
Antonia and Lyubomir Chonos have been married for fifteen years, and even though two thirds of their marriage have been spent at KANAAL, they can still make each other laugh, which is probably the key to their success. Their bar first opened ten years ago, but they have been planning it since 2008, when they took over an old family property by the Perlovska river canal, right across from Zaimov Park, and said to each other "let's open up a bar" even though they had no experience in that industry. Their travels and dreams drew them to the Netherlands, where they like the culture, the urban environment, the thoughtful details, the canals, the bicycles and "the little magical beers that shoot you into space," so they brought a part of it to Sofia. They turned to one of their professional idols – the Amsterdam creative agency KesselsKramer – for the name and visual identity for the place, and thus KANAAL was born.
The bar has since become a mainstay in both the daily life and nightlife of the capital, and is now much more than a mere beer bar – offering a selection of craft beers, hosting cool music sets and various cultural events, as well as serving as an ideal location for a cup of coffee or working on the go. Their 10th anniversary celebrations began in March and will continue in early August with the first edition of a German lager festival focusing on beer from the Franconia region. They are planning a jubilee beer that will debut in the fall, and they are also moving ahead with their project for a small acoustic stage, which got delayed by the pandemic.
Antonia and Lyubomir Chonos / Photographer: Boryana Pandova
What were the initial challenges you had to overcome, and what are the current ones?
In the beginning, it was our own naiveté and lack of experience with this business. We were learning everything on the fly and making mistakes, we worked too much and never took a break. Now, we face a challenge common to our industry – there are not enough people with the requisite skills, qualities and/or desire to work.
What sets KANAAL apart in today's vast craft beer scene?
Our selection. We focus on small and independent breweries, local and foreign, all really interesting and good at what they do. Another thing that sets us apart is our draft beer system – we use state-of-the-art technology, we have an impressive 38 taps, and apply ultra-high hygiene standards – thus guaranteeing the best presentation for every beer we pour in the bar.
What are the most unpopular decisions you have made over the years at KANAAL?
One of the first was to completely ban smoking in the bar, before the official ban was even in place. Another is that we don't offer the popular mass-produced beer brands that are advertised everywhere. Over the years, we have repeatedly turned down offers to host lucrative private parties with "music chosen by the customer" which doesn't match KANAAL's vibe.
What does the bar take from, and give to you?
Owning a bar is a bit like owning a black hole – it's very attractive, but it sucks up a lot of your time, energy and resources. Unfortunately, we don't travel as much as we used to, but we meet great people in the bar – from the neighborhood, from the city, from other countries and continents. Some of our warmest friendships happened because of the bar.
You are partners in work and in life. What are the pitfalls in this combination?
The lack of distance. When everything is 24/7, it's hard to draw a line between "colleages during the day" and "spouses after work." Our workdays often last 12-14 hours.
Music is an essential part of the KANAAL experience. What type of people does it attract and keep away?
We've always been consistent in our music selection, it's stylistically quite broad and appeals to different audiences. The bar plays soul, jazz, funk, hip-hop, reggae, disco, house, electronica... We hope that people who listen to completely different kinds of music won't mind having a beer with us.
What will KANAAL look like in another ten years – what are your dreams for it?
It will be in the same place and it will continue to welcome both familiar and new faces. It'll be even better and we will have finally renovated and opened that mythical basement party space.
Tell us what else you have planned for your 10th anniversary event series.
At the beginning of August, we are organizing our first fest for German lager from small craft breweries in the Franconia region. We are also working on our anniversary beer, we will leave that surprise for autumn. We are also about to realize a long-standing project that was delayed due to the pandemic – a small stage for acoustic music.
When is it easiest and hardest for you to follow yourself?
It is easiest when your mind, body and spirit are in a good place. It's hardest when other people depend on your decisions.
This interview is part of the #followmyself series in collaboration with Fashion Days.
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