At first glance, Radiodays seems to have all the markers of just another specialty coffee cafe near the Canal Saint Martin: wooden tables and vintage metal chairs, a brick accent wall, an orderly shelf of lightly dogeared books, wedges of Anglo-inspired cakes under a glass dome next to a gleaming Kees van der Westen coffee machine. But Radiodays gently resists any accusations of redundancy by pushing the homemade aesthetic to the max, right down to the graham cracker crust on the chocolate cheesecake.
Coffee was almost an afterthought for Radiodays founders and childhood friends Ibraham Basbous and Emmanuel Arzoumanian. “At first, we just wanted to make cakes,” explains Basbous, who tells me to call him Beebo for short. “Then we started thinking about how we were going to sell them.” This was three years ago, when good coffee was starting to show up in Paris, but hadn’t quite become the cafe-spawning phenomenon it is today. Coffee and cakes seemed like a natural combination, and the pair embarked on a two-week training program at local roaster Coutume.
The duo’s Kees van der Westen espresso machine visible from the sidewalk is not a statement piece; it’s just one element of Beebo and Manu’s carefully crafted space where comfort is imagined as a series of cared-for details. “We went to Holland and visited the workshop,” says Basbous. “We were particularly impressed with this machine because of how precise it is at every level: temperature, pressure, everything.” Precision is a leitmotif at Radiodays: from the reverse osmosis water filter to the color-coordinated plates to the dusting of nutmeg on a home-steeped chai latte. “That harmony of color and detail is what puts people at ease,” says Basbous.
A visit to Radiodays is a little like being invited over to a friend’s house for coffee—a friend that happens to have really good taste in music and a slight obsession with color-coordinated tableware. Yes, there’s a turntable and those dogeared books are comics, but they aren’t just for show. Customers are welcome to thumb through a copy of their favorite graphic novel over a filter coffee.
While the pair didn’t start out in the coffee world, they seem to have found an outlet for their seemingly unrelated skills in opening Radiodays: Ibraham Basbous left a job in marketing and communications that took him around the world; now he channels his experience into cultivating relationships with customers who tend to be regulars from the neighborhood. Emmanuel Arzoumanian hasn’t quit his day job as an astrophysicist yet, but the cafe gives him a chance to escape the solitude of his laboratory. “Coffee and baking are actually very scientific. They go really well together,” says Basbous. Many cafes in Paris rely on outside bakers for their sweets, but Manu spends his evenings baking banana bread, carrot cake, and cheesecake, and thinking up seasonal soups and open-face sandwiches.
When Beebo says he and Manu “take homemade all the way,” he’s not kidding. Even the chai latte, which is often a bland sugary concession to the caffeine-averse, is made from scratch. “We tested many different combinations of spices before hitting on one we liked,” says Basbous. The final result is gently spicy, vanilla-infused, and not overly sweet. “We blend it with milk that’s been heated to the temperature of a flat white, so not too hot, which preserves the flavors.”
As I snap a few parting shots, Basbous dons a white apron and pulls a few plastic containers out of the fridge. “I’m going to make a cheesecake,” he says. Hold the eye-roll: this is no slice of industrial cream cheese slathered in pseudo-strawberry coulis. “The cheesecake takes a long time because we have to bake the graham crackers that go into the crust,” he explains, weighing out a bowl of thick cream cheese, also prepared in-house, from scratch. “You can make anything, if you want to, it’s so exciting,” says Beebo. Soon he and Manu will keep the cafe open on baking nights so people can drop by and hang out with them. “It’s so nice to be in here and smell the cakes baking.”
This is Kate Robinson’s first feature for Sprudge.