It might look fairly basic at first, but Kaffe Bloom's simple appearance belies the sheer level of attention to detail that has gone into its creation. You'll need to go up the stairs of Onyx Tower in The Greens, Dubai, then walk down a rather nondescript hallway, and through a speciality Asian supermarket to get to the rather simple cafe. It's here that we meet Chang Sup Shin, the entrepreneur and chief executive of 1004 Gourmet, who was born in Korea but raised in Dubai.
It's a Saturday and shoppers are milling in and out of 1004 Gourmet, wheeling around full trolleys. Families have come to do their weekly shop. The store stocks all sorts of Asian products, from a wide selection of instant noodles to all sorts of soy bean pastes and plenty of hot sauce (the company is the official distributor for Sriracha in the UAE). It also sells the essentials, from high-quality meats and fish to milk, fruits and vegetables. What started as a supermarket catering to the Asian diaspora looking for a taste of home, has become a store with perennial appeal to all nationalities.
A decade long journey
Sup Shin started the business 10 years ago, with a small shop in Barsha. "I grew up in Dubai, and went to live in the US," he explains. But then he found himself working in the New York property sector in 2008, just as Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, and the financial crash took hold. So he moved back to the UAE.
"My dad said, 'We have Korean supermarkets, so why not bring in Japanese food?'" So Sup Shin spent a few months living in Japan, learning more about the country's cuisine and the kinds of ingredients they use, and when he returned to Dubai, they started supplying restaurants with Japanese ingredients. Their first client was Tomo at Raffles Dubai, which at the time was called Kisaku.
Today, the company provides top-quality imports to about 350 restaurants, including some of the city's fanciest hotspots, such as Nobu and Zuma. It also has a number of shops, a warehouse in Dubai Industrial Park, plus an e-commerce site and delivery service that gets at least 100 orders a day. Kaffe Bloom, the no-frills, in-store eatery is the latest addition to Sup Shin's growing empire, alongside his wife's Korean cosmetics store, Lamise. Both sit next to each other at the back of the supermarket.
A handful of Korea-made tables and chairs are clustered in front of a marble deli counter that shows off a small selection of breads, croissants and desserts. Next to it, there's a dedicated hand-drip coffee station; the baristas use limited-edition drippers from Japan, a top-notch Mahlkonig coffee grinder and a reverse osmosis filtration system. Even the ice and the free water it's served with have been filtered.
So what's next?
It's clear there's an attention to detail here that's not commonly seen in other coffee shops. It might be because Sup Shin loves a good roasted brew. It's why he has hand-selected the coffee beans served from two international roasteries – The Barn in Berlin and Fritz from Seoul.
"We're Asian, so we're mostly trying to support Asian products," he says. But, at the same time, he's looking for the best quality, while also trying to support local businesses. So the sourdough bread served is sourced from a specialist baker in Al Quoz; the Japanese-style cookies and cheesecake he has found from a speciality trading company in Ras Al Khaimah; and the croissants come from Sarang Bakery in JLT.
Sup Shin hasn’t let the level of detail complicate matters, however. The food menu is small and succinct; perfect for hungry shoppers looking for a quick bite. We try the edamame hummus with some of that aforementioned sourdough. Edamame replaces the chickpeas and these are whizzed up with a dash of tahini and covered with shoyu olive oil. It’s a revelation.
We also bite into the kimchi tuna melt, which uses canned tuna imported from Korea (“not the cheap stuff,” Sup Shin says). It’s also delicious. Even the vegan mushroom toast is a delight – it mixes three types of mushroom (enoki, shimeji and button) on top of a soy butter spread with pickled onions. The newest addition to the menu is the shaved ice dessert, bingsoo or kakigori, in flavours of mango yuzu, green tea, and milk and strawberry. It’s light but sweet; the perfect guilt-free (ish) treat. The best part is none of this will set you back more than Dh35 – and, considering the quality, that’s downright reasonable.
In the long term, Sup Shin wants to franchise out the supermarket, butchery, cafe and cosmetics shop. For now, though, he's looking at setting up more across the country, including in Abu Dhabi. Until then, "it's just about getting the word out", he says. For that, we'll happily oblige.
Open Sunday-Thursday 7am-9pm; Friday 11am-9pm. 1004 Gourmet, Onyx Tower, The Greens, 04 394 3973