Monday, May 7, 2007 | Clad in a T-shirt, corduroys, and an apron, all shades of wheat and cream and caramel, Emmanuel Burgin blends in with the flour-dusted counters of Con Pane, a European-style cafe near Shelter Island.
Burgin, called “Burgie” by friends and fellow workers, presides over loaves of rustic breads and baskets of brioche twists and almond-covered scones, making change for customers at the cash register. A close friend of the cafe’s owner, Burgin is a fixture in the Point Loma spot where the mid-afternoon sun streams through great windows onto heavy chestnut-colored wooden tables, and where jazz music bounces from a stereo in the corner off the tall taupe ceiling and brown concrete floors.
But the off-white baseball cap topping Burgin’s head proves perhaps the most serene hat he’s ever worn, and the jazz soundtrack the calmest music to ever color his days.
Born in Compton, in south-central Los Angeles, he played minor-league football in the 1980s in northern California and helped start a security company for major rock ‘n’ roll concerts. That launched him onto the summer 1986 Tom Petty and Bob Dylan double-ticket tour. A terrifying injury at an AC/DC concert propelled him out of the concert security business and into writing short stories and novels, which he’s done from spots in California and the Czech Republic. He recently published a novel about his football days, telling the stories of the guys you never hear about. And he plans to return to Prague within the next few months.
But for now, Burgin spends his days in the cafe, supervising the retail shift. One recent afternoon, workers craft sandwiches, slice tomatoes, wash dishes and push loaves of bread through a serrated slicing machine.
In mid-1999, when his friend Catherine started the cafe, Burgin helped lay the concrete, paint the walls, and cut doorway openings in the 18-inch thick walls of the former Wells Fargo. The oven, a special Pavailler oven made with eight three-foot by 12-foot stones spaced as four shelves, was imported from France and assembled by a flown-in French technician, with Burgin as go-fer for the six 10-hour days it required.