It’s le gôuter hour in Paris, and the warm scent of cookies baking is distracting me from Moko Hirayama’s story. The former lawyer is now a formidable pastry chef and co-owner of cafe and bakeshop Mokonuts with her partner, chef Omar Koreitem. Her discretely decadent creations are surprising and a little unexpected, much like Mokonuts itself. Combining elements of a coffee shop and a restaurant, the low-key space adapts to the day’s clientele, from breakfast and lunch to late-afternoon indulgences.
Koreitem and Hirayama opened Mokonuts near Place de la Nation in summer 2016. Loosely inspired by American- and English-style coffee shops, the mellow blend of cafe and restaurant is underscored by fine dining craftsmanship. “The idea was to open a coffee shop where we would serve good food,” says Koreitem. “[It] turned into a restaurant that serves good coffee.”
Koreitem’s concise, Mediterranean-influenced menu changes daily based on what local produce is available, but it usually includes four starters, two mains, and a variety of desserts—including Hirayama’s fresh-baked cookies in flavors like coconut-black pepper, peanut butter, and white chocolate-olive. Her lighter, savory take on American home-baked classics offers a refreshing change of pace from typical coffee shop sweets.
Both of them self-taught chefs, Koreitem and Hirayama came to fine dining and coffee in their 30s. Each forged an unconventional path, following a series of internships and jobs in enviable kitchens in the US, the UK, and France. They also both discovered the joys of coffee through their work in food but felt truly good coffee was often lacking in restaurants.
“We knew that if we were to open our own venture it would not be a restaurant,” says Koreitem. “We thought, why not bring what we know into a coffee shop setting?” The result is a comfortable space with a wide-open kitchen where guests can sip a Kent d’Unna filter coffee from L’Arbre à Café or a Japanese roasted barley tea while watching Koreitem sear squid and Hirayama mix batter. “We did not want this place to look like a restaurant,” says Koreitem. “We wanted people to feel like they were coming to someone’s house.”
The only compromise there would be the small, gleaming La Marzocco Linea PB tucked in a blue-and-yellow-tiled corner. “In the entire restaurant, the most expensive material is the coffee machine,” jokes Hirayama. She and Koreitem are not certified baristas, but they trained with a local barista and regularly tap into the wealth of expertise now present in Paris. Their coffee meets with approval from professionals and the average passerby alike—and goes perfectly with a fresh-baked cookie at snack time.