I'm sure most of us have, at least once, snuck in a beverage into a food-prohibited library, and after a long and focused search found an amazing book just right for the mood and then just as you get settled in, you're caught red-handed and asked to either throw your heavenly drink away or leave the book world that you’ve just been living in.
The last time I was presented with this horrible dilemma, I ended up with eyes welled up with tears, gulping my tea in humiliation at the library’s door, and walking back in with a burnt tongue and the loss of a perfectly edible partner to my book. Thankfully, those days are over now that I discovered BookMunch.
Equal parts bookstore and café, BookMunch is the first store of its kind in Dubai. It's a place that fosters that special connection many have failed to acknowledge, a connection between eating and reading.
To encapsulate the exhilarating experience of a visit to BookMunch, we talked to Dareen Charafeddine, the store and café's owner and Managing Director.
BookMunch is the first literary café of its kind in Dubai. With the concept being so novel in the country, what pushed you to risk opening it?
With a publishing background and a love of food, it was always my passion to combine the two. A bookshop/café is a perfect marriage of two of life’s greatest pleasures – reading and eating. Also, it seems that customers these days are looking for new experiences; they are tired of mainstream cafés and big-name brands with no personal touch – the concept of a café combined with culture is inspiring and welcoming and provides a much needed break from most of our busy lives.
What distinguishes your book collection from other bookstores?
Each book at BookMunch has been personally chosen. We stock everything from the latest bestsellers to lesser known authors in both English and Arabic titles so that there really is something for everyone – both fiction and non-fiction. I must say, however, I’m specifically biased to children’s books and cookbooks and enjoy the process of selecting them.
What inspired the café’s design and décor?
Our main aim was to create a relaxed, welcoming environment which would appeal to customers looking for an escape, be it with a book and coffee, a business meeting, or a meal with family and friends. BookMunch feels like it could be an extension of one’s own living room, with comfortable armchairs, colorful cushions and floor to ceiling bookshelves. The space is divided into a few areas, allowing customers to enjoy their privacy and caters to everyone from individuals to large groups. The bright pink and green color scheme is fun and vibrant and reflects the freshness of our ingredients and dishes, and the ‘mad hatters’ table at the entrance showcases some of the many takeaway treats we offer. It also sets the mood for the BookMunch experience – a warm and friendly space.
How has people’s response been to this new concept?
The feedback and turnout we have had has been extremely encouraging. We have already had several very positive press reviews and social media discussions and have even been asked for franchise so the future looks both promising and very exciting.
With the younger generation in the Arab World, reading as a hobby is being slowly replaced by other technology and gadgets. Given this fact, how are you attracting young readers?
We are planning a programme of events which will interest young readers including storytelling, arts and crafts, and competitions to inspire them to create their own stories. Our children’s section offers a huge range of Arabic and English titles which has impressed many parents visiting the café. Combined with our hugely popular children’s menu with dishes inspired by many popular children’s books, we are confident that young readers will really enjoy and benefit from the BookMunch experience.
What recommendations do you have for readers out there when visiting the café, both in terms of food picks and must reads?
The carrot and courgette cake is an absolute must – we’ve been told that it’s the best in Dubai by everybody who tries it! For breakfast, everyone at the café knows my personal favorite is our warm creamy oatmeal porridge. And of course I can’t resist our Japanese style salmon for main dish. As for books, we encourage our customers to browse through all of the titles on offer even while enjoying a coffee or meal; and we’re always on hand to recommend their next read. In fact, some book clubs always wait for our recommendations from us.
We understand that BookMunch will host regular events. What sorts of events will you host and what audience are you targeting?
BookMunch is very much a café for the community; we welcome absolutely anyone from Safa Park’s daybreak joggers to drop-off mums from the many surrounding primary schools, foodies, book lovers, WIFI nomads and coffee connoisseurs. Our schedule of events will include something for everybody; we will offer story time for children, readings, cookbook clubs, signings and opportunities for discussions with authors, poetry nights and much more. We have a newsletter people can subscribe to on our website to stay up to date with our events.
BookMunch is located at Wasl Square, Dubai, UAE. For more information on visit www.bookmunchcafe.com
– Khamael Al Safi