Celebrating Joma’s New Cafe
Ever since I worked in Parallel 42, a wine and tapas bar, I’ve had a special interest in the concept of “third places,” or social areas for people to meet other than the two most common social environments of the home and the workplace. I saw firsthand the important role that third places serve in a community, as the interactions we have there often can’t or don’t happen in our other social environments.
I’ve been reflecting on this quite a bit today, as Joma Vietnam opened the doors to its new cafe on Ly Quoc Su in the Old Quarter. (Check out the pre-renovation and opening day pictures at the bottom)
I grew up in a small town called Riverside, whose major downtown attractions include a grocery store, three banks, Grumpy’s ice cream shop, and a public library. Though the ice cream shop was pleasant in the summer, there was no casual place for adults to meet and relax – especially in the evening. Riverside was ripe for a third place.
Carl and his wife opened Parallel 42 in mid-2006 on the ground floor of a neat old building next to Riverside train station (Burlington Northern line). One day on my way back from my job at an insurance company, I passed by the new wine and tapas bar. With a keen interest in learning about wine and eager to follow in Tom Cruise’s footsteps ala Cocktail, I poked my head in and inquired if they were hiring. I had no experience and could barely tell a merlot from a shiraz, but Carl offered me the chance to tryout the next night during the dinner rush. I spent the next day at work googling as much as I could about wine, and despite little previous retail experience, ended up passing their on-the-job test.
I loved every minute of my time at Parallel 42. I’d hop off the 5pm train from my first job and walk straight into the wine bar, eager to serve and chat with the relaxed pre-dinner crowd just off the train. Carl taught me as much as I could absorb about the art of hospitality, while Kevin (the chef) taught me about running a small kitchen. I quickly learned how to describe the wines, recommend pairings, up-sell customers, and manage the bar. Life in a restaurant is always busy – there are glasses to fill, windows to clean, floors to mop, food to prep, glasses to scrub, guests to greet.
Each month we changed all the artwork in the cafe to complement a new flight of wines from a specific country or region. I relished the opportunity to dive into the spicy, festive Chileans, get to know the subtle, earthy French, and appreciate the big, bold Americans.
Everyday I was able to welcome a new group of friends and help them to enjoy something we were growing passionate about. Our space hosted movie, art, comedy and music events, bringing in a diverse crowd, young and old, that I never knew existed in our little town. Parents of my friends and my old school teachers visited often, allowing me to reconnect with dozens individuals I had not seen in a long time. My uncle and his two young kids were regulars, since it was one of the few places he could enjoy a nice flight of wine while ensuring the kids were satisfied with the food (always bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese in an apple cider sauce and melted goat cheese and tomato dip).
One of my favorite couples was a pair of twenty-somethings that sat at the bar and ordered a bottle of cabernet sauvignon every Friday at 5pm. Things were always slow around that time, so we used to chat a lot. I always smiled when they left at precisely 5:55 so they could catch the beginning of WWF Smackdown, a “work of modern drama” they liked to analyze and deconstruct.
Being a waiter/bartender taught me how to listen and open myself to the world around me – I loved talking with guests and being a small part (hopefully a bright part!) of their day. It was tough work, but time flew by and there was nothing like closing everything up and finishing a long night by chatting with some regulars over a glass of red.
I learned a lot about myself that summer and I owe much of it to the people I was able to spend it with during my brief time at Parallel 42. Though I had already moved to Cambodia, I was sad to hear that it closed in mid-2007. Riverside lost a wonderful third place.
It is with this enthusiasm and admiration for cafes that I moved to Hanoi in early December to work more directly with Joma Bakery Cafe, one of Hagar’s social enterprise investments. Today, 11/01/2011, we opened our newest cafe. Set deep in Hanoi’s beautiful Old Quarter and just a stone’s throw away from St. Joseph’s Cathedral, the cafe is a perfect addition to the neighborhood and sure to be a hit amongst the hundreds of people that explore its historic narrow alleys.
Though I played virtually no role in the opening of Joma’s new cafe this morning, I feel immense pride in what the team has accomplished. The 150+ customers today included backpackers, Vietnamese professionals, Joma regulars, students, business partners, a graphic designer or two, and at least a few children testing our new furniture – their conversations, smiles and laughs floating over delicious lattes, creamy pumpkin soup, and warm cinnamon buns.
More importantly, I made my first foray into learning the art of being a barista. I pulled my first espresso this morning – 24 second double shot. Not too bad.
If you’re in Hanoi, check us out at #22 Ly Quoc Su. Congrats to the whole Joma Vietnam team!
Opening Day Photos:
~ by responsiblenomad on January 11, 2011.