Cape Town is home to the first global Coco Safar at Cavendish Square. Just another shopping centre coffee shop? I say no.
The experience starts with the Safajores chocolate-coated buckwheat biscuit and glass of water that arrives on a beautiful tray with every coffee order. It continues with a waitress’s descriptions of exotic fillings: colourful operas, star domes and pastries as exquisite to admire as to savour.
We have ordered high tea for two, served in a trio of sweet and savoury waves (the Third Wave is a purist approach to sourcing, roasting and brewing coffee). A Canadian apricot streusel pecan scone is surprising and crumbly; a keylime and kumquat éclair’s citrus tang perfect. A flat white is rich and strong. A chilled, slow-brewed coffee is spiked with orange peel.
At Coco Safar every aspect is crafted. Croissant Benedict breakfasts extend to brioche pizzetta light lunches. The café may be accessed via the din of a shopping centre, but there is a reprieve, thanks to ceiling fans, jazzy tunes and moody ambience that could be in cosmopolitan Vienna or Brussels.
During their honing process owners Caroline Sirois and Wilhelm Liebenberg sampled from Pierre Hermé’s Paris patisserie to Dominique Ansel’s cronuts in New York’s SoHo. Liebenberg becomes animated when he is describing Coco Safar creations concocted after many product development hours in his Willie Wonka-like Woodstock facility.
Nearly everything is created locally for Coco Safar, from leather-stitched armchairs and crockery to eye-catching uniforms. Banquette seating below mirror panels is framed by cast metal with weathered bronze effects. Dangling glass ball lights — they remind me of creamy chocolate truffles — were blown by Red Hot Glass in Paarl.
At the adjacent retail capsule emporium, collections of coffee and rooibos capsules entice behind a counter. Their packaging forms a colourful wall backdrop.
The espresso bar outside is for a quick, quality coffee stop. It is also a shrine to the iconic Idrocompresso coffee machine, a shiny steel and glass one-off with leather detailing on surfaces and handles. Says the barista: “It’s like playing with a Ferrari every day of your life.”
Q&A WITH CO-OWNER AND CEO WILHELM LIEBENBERG
Why Cavendish Square as your international flagship store? We were looking for one spectacular retail space that would allow us to best showcase our unique brand and business model. That is what we found at Cavendish, ideally situated in the southern suburbs of Cape Town, where no coffee capsule retail offering existed. The roll out of other Coco Safar stores in SA and other key global markets is in the works.
What makes Coco Safar not just another coffee shop? The experience is all about daily escapism: it is the first authentic luxury espresso bar and café that incorporates a capsule emporium of its kind, pairing Third Wave specialty coffee and rooibos with couture patisserie and cafe food. We bring the best of Paris and New York in a luxurious cafe bistro-style environment where quality reigns at every level. Our patisserie offering is like no other in South Africa; our breakfast and casual dining offering very different to what’s on offer in Cape Town cafés. And it’s the first time you can have a plated dessert experience in a cafe environment.
Which elements and local design input will you replicate in other stores? Our original store design is reminiscent of the French industrial era and the golden age of travel with Jules Vernes-inspired design elements. A timeless understated luxury setting that should transport anyone who steps into the store to another place and time.
We intend to almost exclusively use the custom-made local furniture, fixtures, decor elements and store cabinets for the brand’s global roll out as part of a proudly South African export story.
This timeless interior design will form the basis of all future stores, but always allow for some elements to be incorporated in each new location, to give each store a slightly different identity.
Why Woodstock to supply an international coffee and patisserie brand? More than a year ago we opened our central kitchen, patisserie/coffee lab and production facility in Woodstock. We found this neighbourhood to have incredible creative energy with a true entrepreneurial spirit, just like it used to be in the Williamsburg district of Brooklyn, New York.
This environment is highly conducive to hosting and managing a production facility where we can train all our culinary talent, under the supervision of corporate chefs from New York, focused on producing quality sweet and savoury products daily. As part of our hub and spoke business model, where the production facility supplies several stores, Woodstock is centrally situated with easy access to Cape Town neighbourhoods.
Explain your “couture quality” concept for the French patisserie at Coco Safar. When speaking of couture quality, we specifically refer to the haute couture nature of our patisserie, which is conceptualized, designed, styled and handcrafted by teams of artisans, just like designers crafting haute-couture fashion collections.
If the concept is capsules, why does the adjacent Espresso Bar grind coffee and beans? The Coco Safar business model is truly innovative: offering specialty coffee drinks at our Espresso Bar and Cafe, made with our signature beans that can be taken home. And our specialty coffee and rooibos capsules showcasing a range of single-origin, award-winning auction-lot coffees, put in capsules for the first time and sold at the first retail capsule emporium besides Nespresso.
How did your custom-designed Idrocompresso machine come about? Kees van der Westen is the undisputed industry leader from a commercial espresso machine design, technology and manufacturing perspective. Considered a true visionary, he has created some of the world’s most iconic machines ever to be used commercially. Kees gave us exclusivity to a completely new Spirit espresso machine, marrying lever technology from the past that he has brought into the future, confirming his appreciation of our brand as an emerging market leader in the coffee industry.
COCO SAFAR, Ground floor, Cavendish Square, Claremont. Open daily. Tel 021-671-1607, Coco Safar
A version of this appeared in Business Day Homefront magazine in October 2016