Meeting Cian O’Reilly of Neighbourhood Coffee
One of the newest additions to the Dublin One District, we stopped into Neighbourhood Coffee to chat to owner Cian O’Reilly about all things coffee, cool and learn more about their business.
The best thing about your local coffee shop is the people behind it, and at this Middle Abbey Street store the guys behind the shop have not only been welcomed by their neighbours but encourage customers to really get to know them too. Recently we sat down with Cian O’Reilly, owner of the store, to hear his story and the shop’s ethos, his collaboration with Tasty Threads and what brings Neighbourhood Coffee (NBHD) to life.
Tell us Cian, what does Neighbourhood Coffee mean to you?
To me, Neighbourhood Coffee is more than just a commercial coffee shop and what it might look like. For me, I like when people sit down to read a book with a glass of water, rather than always feeling they have to buy something. We’re trying to set this vibe that people don’t have to spend money in Dublin to hang out somewhere, and that eventually they might want to have a coffee. It’s 50/50 between product and people, we want to be entertaining – where you can bring your friends here or you can make new friends here. But that said, the product must be of a high standard as well, so we try to look at it on both sides.
How did NBHD come about?
We had been liaising and talking to Freddie of Tasty Threads for about a year, and we had always thought about amalgamating the shops. Once the plans fell in to place, and when we found this venue, we just decided to have a run at it. Freddie was in here first doing his development, and as it’s a very long shop we needed something at the front, we needed to split the shop so we decided to put the coffee at the entrance with the tables out there, and now we’ve been on the go just under three months!
But it feels like so much longer. I feel as though NBHD is growing roots now, people are coming without having to look for the shop, they come in with a direction, one that they’re intending on coming in, which is very nice feedback.
Have you always been a coffee lover?
Yeah, I’ve always been interested in food, coffee and the service industry. I worked around coffee for the best part of five years, with one year’s gap when I got into the bar trade and cooking. But I was happy to find my way back this year, though it was hard to get back into the flow of it – I kind of felt like a stranger when I did come back to coffee.
I want to push myself to be adventurous, to travel, taste things and not to be afraid of what I’m unsure of. There’s a bit of an adventurer in me that drives me to that. Now, I might drink four or five cups a day, I don’t even see it happening, coffee just takes its own legs!
What is your current favourite drink on the menu?
I’m really, really liking the iced lattes. They’re really good, and the sun sure helps with that. I had the idea a while ago that cold coffee shouldn’t taste like hot coffee gone cold. It should be made cold, made to emphasise the flavours that are there when it’s cold. We held back on the iced coffee momentarily, as we were running through recipes, testing them and getting feedback from our regulars customers. We didn’t want to improve the product while it was already out there, we wanted to put the best product out first.
Iced lattes are definitely popular. I had the idea a while ago that cold coffee shouldn’t taste like hot coffee gone cold, and now we’re nearly selling as much cold coffees as we are hot coffees!
What made you decide to choose Wall & Keogh as your tea suppliers?
Wall & Keogh have a really good balance of crowd pleasers and more adventurous teas. What people like is a choice of the old reliables like Earl Grey and Rooibos, because they like to be able to go in somewhere and know there’s a tea they like. But they also do the magic ones like the Rooibos Unicorn Tears – that is really surprising people! All you have to do is smell it to love it, you don’t necessarily have to drink it to get the flavour.
Tell us more about your customer ethos.
We’ll do whatever the customer asks us, we try our best; if you want steamed milk for tea like others get from coffee, that’s no problem. A lot of people may get intimated by coffee shops and the menu as though the coffee is already decided for them, we are trying to get rid of that mentality. I would love to not have the menu there so the customer can just decide on what they feel like when they walk in the door, or what they had in their head before walking in. Nothing good comes from giving a limited choice in a customer’s eyes, so if they ask for something there’s about ten different ways I can offer it back to them. “Don’t be afraid to ask!”
How do you cater to dairy-free options?
The alternative milks are much more popular as time goes on. Obviously, we’re Irish and we have it in our blood to be drinking dairy, and to have normal cow’s milk but a lot of people are trying the alternatives just for the fun. It’s not just for people who won’t drink dairy or are lactose intolerant, but people who are testing the waters. Someone recommended almond milk so they went down and got their coffee with almond milk and now they may drink that on a daily. Every week we’re buying more of it too! It used to be just the one carton of each alternative, but now we’re stocking almond milk as much as we are dairy milk.
What would you say is unique about NBHD Coffee in comparison to chain coffee shops?
Our personality and ethos. I’ve noticed the coffee shop industry is quite pretentious, where the coffee might have been great but my experience was tarnished by the way the interaction happened. Specialty coffee is fairly new and some people say the coffee revolution is happening in Ireland. Customers may feel embarrassed or uneducated in coffee, but you don’t need to know everything or anything to be able to enjoy your coffee. In NBHD we try to create that vibe where you don’t have to know about coffee but hopefully when you leave here you might. No customer should be left staring at the menu blankly worried about what they’re going to say, not knowing what a Flat White is or the difference between a Cortado and a Piccolo – there’s no need for that. If they want a coffee, all they have to do is ask and we’ll do it for them.
The way we feel NBHD is more unique, is that we want you to feel like you’re going over to your friend’s house but where there’s a really, really good product that you can’t get at your friend’s house but the vibe is still there. Here you can kill some time, we’ll be very hospitable and always friendly – but if you don’t want to chat we won’t force it on you. There’s no faking politeness, there’s no faking niceness here, we always mean it. It’s quite difficult to be a successful business when you stray from commercialization but for us it’s not about that, the business will come if the vibe is there and the people feel welcome.
Our regular customers know now that they don’t have to buy a coffee when they visit, they don’t have to pay for their stay. They can be here as long as they want, it’s a place to chill out but also a place to buy your favourite coffee.
What do you like about the Dublin One neighbourhood?
That there’s so much personality! Before I worked here, I thought Dublin One lacked spirit, lacked character but I realise it’s the complete opposite. Something is happening in Dublin One! People are trying to break out from the office, clear their mind and get that hour away from the white-collar industry. People who may be shy initially, but after they come in a second or third time, they begin to open up. We love being that person they have the 5-minute chat with, it doesn’t do them any harm.
What kind of characters have you met or have come into the store?
We have this one particular customer named Alex who comes in everyday without fail. And it’s always different with Alex as he tends to bring a different friend from the office every day; we’ve probably met eight different people from his office, he’ll always introduce each one of them to us, and now they’re regulars. He comes in for his morning coffee, in the afternoon he’ll have his lunch meeting here, and at the end of the day he’ll try to catch us before we close for his last coffee. Alex has been very good to us!
Where do you like to go out to eat out in Dublin Town?
I’m a very big Mexican food fan so there’s always a tortilla, burrito or nachos on my mind – my favourite spot is Pablo Picante. I quite like what Pitt Bros are doing, the slow cooker or smokehouse kind of food, that’s where my heart lies at the moment. But I’m trying a lot of new things too, foods which I’ve previously stayed away from. There’s a lot going on in Dublin for people that want something different.
Coming from ‘the sticks’ in Cavan, I was always used to pub grub and Sunday roasts, whereas now in Dublin it’s such a different world, with foods from across the world. I have never ever not recommended Featherblade, that is my number one spot where you can get the best steak in Ireland. And, though I’m a very big advocate of big lumps of meat, I’m really enjoying Govindas. I’m going to keep going there and trying differnt things, and as I’ve a good spice tolerance, I love trying out the curries.
What new plans might you have for NBHD Coffee in the next coming months?
We plan to run more in-store events, similar to our BBQ launch party earlier this summer. We have a little trend going on, that we do parties monthly. Between ourselves and Freddie, we’ll host a monthly party to say thanks to everyone who’s been a good patron, who’s going to be a good patron and to our staff for putting in the graft work – it’s nice to give back. We want NBHD and Tasty Threads to be less like a typical coffee shop or just a clothes shop, but rather a space to be used by people, by the neighbourhood, and the community of Dublin One. There are more businesses doing that kind of thing, be it wine tasting or a board games night. They’re doing events that aren’t necessarily shop-related and I think it’s a great idea!
In-store events or parties give a face and a personality to a shop.
Neighbourhood Coffee is the place to chill, read a book or play a game, have lunch meetings and enjoy a good coffee. They serve breakfast, homebaked pastries & cakes, and watch out for the relaunch of their lunch menu.
If you’d like to practice your latte art, just ask to pour your own latte art. Come in and make NBHD your second hang-out spot. They want people to be happy when they leave their doors, and it’s safe to say that I always do.