BEIRUT: Though it opened just last month, Cafe Diem has the feeling of a longtime neighborhood haunt. At lunchtime, businessmen huddle at a back table discussing a forthcoming deal. A man tenderly holds his wife’s hand from across the table. A bevy of ladies who lunch sip diet cola and snap photos with their iPhones. Everyone seems at ease.
The small cafe-cum-brasserie has cultivated a fan base in the few short weeks it has been open. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant has a character and clientele that evolve throughout the day, owner Donald Batal explained.
“We offer multiple kinds of experiences,” he said.
The early-morning patron who reads the newspaper over a cup of coffee is vastly different from the epicurean customer who enjoys multiple courses and a bottle of fine wine in the evening.
Batal says this flexible, fluid atmosphere has proved a success.
“So far it’s doing very well, people are liking it as you can see,” he said, nodding his head at the table of customers enjoying their dishes.
Cafe Diem has eschewed any advertising blitz for its opening.
“We’re counting on organic growth. We’re not planning to do mass-media campaigns,” he said.
Like their communications strategy, Cafe Diem’s culinary formula is a simple one, he explained.
“We tried to put items on the menu that are familiar to everyone. We didn’t create anything. Just the recipe has been revisited.”
The menu features many classic cafe items, from chef’s salad to club sandwich. Asian-inspired items such as shrimp dumplings and steamed edamame add a cosmopolitan twist while a salad bar provides an Americana flourish.
Cafe Diem sets itself apart, however, in the quality of the ingredients and the presentation, Batal explained. The restaurant does not have a single supplier. Rather the elements are individually sourced.
“Were trying to find the best supplier of each ingredient,” he said.
The food is served on stone slabs, which, according to Batal, is “a new trend all over the world.”
Batal and his team have clearly made a careful study of restaurant aesthetics. Waiters wearing suspenders recall Parisian servers, while the glossy, white tabletops and counters evoke an urban New York mood.
“If you notice most of the foreigners that live around, they feel at home if passing by the front of the shop,” Batal said.
The cafe’s small size – it sits just 24 people – adds a sense of intimacy.
Batal is perhaps better known for his previous, larger ventures, including Classic Burger.
Despite the early signs of success at his newest spot, Batal says that there are currently no plans to open additional locations.
“We don’t have big plans for it. It’s just a destination shop that we will enjoy personally with our clients.”