In this week's post, Emma chats with the co-owner of Bibi's, a beloved cafe in Dublin, and finds out the story behind this family business and what drives their craft. She also describes the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of this local spot and tells us why this is her favorite spot (and why it feels like "home").
Bibi’s has a mood. One of those particularly unique moods. One you wish had it’s own Spotify playlists—so that you could channel a “Bibi’s state of mind” whenever you so pleased. If such a thing did exist, I promise...you would be a listener for life.
I walk into this corner cafe, tucked snuggly within the surrounding brick neighborhood, on a misty Thursday morning. I am here to meet Geoff, the co-owner and composer of this grand atmospheric symphony, to learn more about my favorite place in Dublin (just 7 minutes from Griffith).
The relaxed hustle and bustle of this cafe make it feel like home…where the door is always open.
While the store has only been open for an hour, it has not suffered a groggy start. Passing the windowed walls of the main dining room, I see that patrons have already populating the soft wooden tables, sipping out of their steaming ceramic mugs.
Stepping into the entryway, I am greeted by the laughter of a passing cook who yields a whisk and mixing bowl, full of delicious looking cream. Waves of relaxation, in shades of blue and green, wash over me slowly... to the beat of Alabama Shakes. Behind the counter of the kitchen, which is situated in the small right angle of the room, is Geoff; working away and chuckling with the cook behind him. Lynne, the hostess and coffee guru, welcomes me by name. Geoff pops his head up above trays of decedent baked specialties with a smile and tells me to take a seat upon the bench lined with plush, floral pillows.
After dusting off his hands with his apron, he walks over and offers me one in greeting. He asks if I want a coffee, but I decline (although I am so tempted). He plops down onto the pillow beside me and I get the sense that he has been on his feet for hours now. A reality, I also assume, he does not mind.
A steaming hot cup of joy (and the best coffee in Dublin)!
Geoff has been working at Bibi’s since his oldest sister, Meisha, opened the shop 10 years ago; when he was still at DCU studying business and when half the space was devoted to a boutique run by his other sister, Petria. Although he does not have professional training like Meisha, you can see (and certainly taste) that Geoff’s passion for food drives his craft.
Amid answering a question, his internal timer goes off and he pauses to alert his co-worker that the tart is done—a gift bestowed only upon those with years of hard work and experience. “Thanks!…” he turns back to me, “…Sorry, a lot of things going on.” I learn to what extent later when he shares (with insuppressible glee) that Meisha had given birth to a child just the day before. If he is stressed, I can’t tell. He is so relaxed, it seems like we are sitting at his own kitchen table—and he is happy to have company. His face lights up when he learns that I have tasted his favorite dish on the menu, the squash eggs. Meeting my excitement, he undeniably states, “they are outrageous.”
Geoff never fails to mention the contribution of others in explaining how this business operates. Whether that be members of his staff coming up with new menu items, his mother working on the interior design of the café, or the local producers crafting quality products—Geoff treats everyone involved in this process like family and protects them as such. Throughout the interview, he checks in with his staff to see if they are doing okay. He noted earlier that owning your own business is “an expression of you”. If that's true, the business of Bibi’s cares a lot about people.
In Bibi’s, you feel relaxed…just like these therapy dogs Griffith brought in for finals week!
Conversing with Geoff is as easy and fun as letting the name “Bibi’s” bounce off your tongue. When I inquire where the name comes from, I gain insight into where the family’s interest in food originates and a story that really hit home for me.
“Bibi was a nickname for our grandmother, which is Swahili for ‘granny’. My sister Meisha was born in Africa—my parents were working there at the time—and she came home and called her Bibi. And she was like a baker, a cook, you know a typical grandmother—so that's where the name comes from….There’s a picture…” he calls over to Lynne, standing in the next room, “where’s the picture of Bibi — is she in there?” He turns to me, smiling, “she’s watching…. Just to make sure everything’s okay”. Lynne brings over a black and white clipping of a young woman wearing a hat, and a bright smile.
“She needs a new frame” says Lynne.
“Yeah, she needs a new frame,” Geoff agrees and then says to me, “She’s part of the story.”
I swallow hard here. My grandma died just the week before. Being abroad, this was incredibly hard to deal with, it was more than just the services that I missed—it was everyone back home who could share memories of her. However, seeing this picture of Bibi did not evoke sadness in me, but instead, comfort. You can feel that that the life of Bibi was never really lost. When you talk with the people that loved her. When you taste the food inspired by her. It is in this incredible celebration of life that you find her. Her, and everyone else that has ever brought you joy.
Balloons never made for a bad memory.
Thus, walking into Bibi’s is like shuffling through a playlist of your most euphoric memories. And if you come to find you don't have any…I advise you to order the eggs. They’ll “squash” any bad mood.
Emma Aulenback is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2019, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Sociology major at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, she is studying abroad in Dublin this semester.
Emma's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.