Meet Cathy from Ibrik

Paris | | 19/09/2017

We talk to Cathy Poirson, of Ibrik in Paris, about the art of Oriental coffee making and the challenges of starting a business in France.

What is an ibrik ?

I was born in Bucarest in Romania. For us, an ibrik is a small coffee pot made of copper. It’s got a very peculiar shape which allows you to keep the ground coffee at the bottom, so you avoid having too much of it in your cup when it’s poured. This method was established by the Turks in the 16th to 17th centuries, at the time of the Ottoman empire. The Turks call this little pot a cezve.

Was it always your dream to own a coffee shop? 

The idea was the result of two very important events in my life. First, my love for coffee that I inherited from my grandmother, who was a colourful character. She was the one who taught me how to make ibrik coffee. I remember the long days spent chatting at her home in Bucharest, with the smell of the coffee cooking in her ibrik, which I still keep. It’s my “Proust’s madeleine” (laughs). The second event was when I was first introduced to specialty coffee. I will always remember the first real espresso I drank at Coutume Café. It was such a revelation. Then, when the time was right, I decided to take the plunge and build my own business with Ruba Khoury, the chef. I completely changed lives: I went from working in finance to becoming an entrepreneur. I earn a lot less money now, but I am more fulfilled and much happier.

Could you tell us a bit about the concept behind Ibrik?

The concept came from travelling a lot, living in Greece for more than a year and in Romania for part of my childhood. My meeting with Ruba was decisive. She was born and grew up in Dubai and is of Palestinian origin. Our cultures are very similar, we are Orientals. The resemblance between our cultures, between the countries of the East and the Balkans, is due to the fact that our countries were part of the Ottoman Empire for almost 500 years. We have common roots both in our eating habits and in our world views. This oriental culture that we carry with us is present at Ibrik.

What are your main objectives?

Paris has welcomed us. We are slowly creating a community of  ‘ibriklovers’ as we like to call them. It’s a small family that keeps growing every day. It takes time, but it is a wonderful adventure. We are able to express ourselves; Ruba with her cooking and I with my coffee.

Our goal is to help people rediscover the pleasure of taking time. We live in a strange society where everything goes fast. Sometimes too fast. So our goal is to advocate slowness. Besides, I keep saying that it takes me about ten minutes to prepare an ibrik, and you also need to take some time to taste the coffee. We have only just opened so for now we’re just focusing on the present but, who knows, why not open a second establishment in the future?

Ibrik is situated in a small street in the 9th arrondissement. How does it contribute to the neighbourhood’s character?

Ruba and I were surprised by how well we were welcomed in the neighbourhood. It’s been so positive! The mayor of the 9th arrondissement wrote to congratulate us on our work and on the “crossroads between the West and the East” we have created. People encourage us, they like Ibrik, and that’s priceless. I believe that small businesses have a central role in a neighbourhood. They are full of life and bring people together. They are meeting places that contribute to improving the quality of life in the area. I often see people who don’t know each other start a conversation, and this gives me great pleasure because it was part of what I was looking forward to when I started Ibrik. I live in a neighbourhood with few shops and I can tell you, life isn’t as good there.

What’s the most difficult part of starting your own business and what’s the best?

If you want to start a business, first of all, it’s important to know what you’re good and not so good at, and to admit that you can’t do everything on your own. In my case, I was very well accompanied in the project. I had help from an accountant, a lawyer, a banker, an architect, an artistic director, etc. I delegated everything I couldn’t do myself, which allowed me to save precious time and avoid mistakes that can be very costly. The difficult part for any entrepreneur in France is the different stages you have to go through. You have to do things in a very precise order, which can be quite alarming. You have to find a venue and commit to it before you have the bank credits. It’s frightening to commit to such large sums of money before having the bank’s approval, but that’s how it works in France. There are, of course, legal safeguards protecting you in the case of the bank’s refusal.

The best part for me was the day of the opening, even if I confess that it’s a very stressful moment because you’re worrying about people liking your idea and trusting you.

Why are independent businesses like Ibrik important?

They are important for at least three reasons. Firstly, because they are lively places for meeting and sharing with others. Secondly, because small businesses are the biggest recruiters in France. We create jobs that, in general, are not precarious and guarantee good quality work. And finally, because they create the social fabric of a community.