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Roman Deingruber Loves the People-Watching at Cafe Gitane

"We get a lot of the Australian community, like Nicole Kidman."Photo: Melissa Hom

Roman Deingruber was painting for the building super when he learned of a job at Cafe Gitane, the French-Moroccan restaurant that’s a refuge for Nolita hipsters when it’s not mobbed by Soho shoppers on weekends. We asked the video and installation artist to share some of his experiences from the six years spent working his way up from barista to manager.

How have you guys evolved with the neighborhood?
The rent is skyrocketing; stores are popping up next to us. A lot of the regulars don’t come as often — they're all living in Park Slope or Long Island, or they have families and they had to move out because it was too expensive for them.

Of the old crew, who will still stop in?
Models, photographers … Terry Richardson stops by now and then, because he lives in the neighborhood. Anabela Zigova will come in; she's a great Slovakian performance and video artist.

Ever get any A-listers?
Björk used to come now and then when she was in town — a lot of the Australian community, like Nicole Kidman.

Why Aussies? Because you serve Vegemite?
We’ve always had it. They stop by because they like good coffee.

What’s the best time to snag an outdoor seat without waiting?
Between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. On the weekends people wait over an hour sometimes for a table.

Will people hover over tables?
Sometimes, because they’re inconsiderate or the sidewalk will be full — we try to keep them away.

What do you do about people who hear the word “café” and linger all day?
People know that the neighborhood is changing and they can’t really hang out. We do sometimes have to, in a nice way, force people out.

Has your signature tower of couscous ever fallen while you’re serving it?
It has happened in the past — once in years.

Do people try to light up at the outdoor tables?
A lot of Europeans. We just tell them they have to stand up — if you have awnings over the tables, it’s considered indoors.

You must do a lot of people-watching from the open windows.
That’s the best thing. Late at night there’s this Chinese guy on the bicycle. He has two kids: one kid sitting in the front facing him, and the other kid sitting in the back holding his waist. They’re small kids sitting in baskets. It’s nice to see — every night the same thing.

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