Many talks about this new bookstore cafe have circulated social media from folks in Bahrain. This bookstore cafe, namely, Neo Books and Coffee, is the product of true love. Love for the magic that is the written word coupled with the love of the aroma and taste of a perfectly roasted cup of coffee. We’ve asked for them to chat with us about their business objectives and more!
NQD: We’re so honored to have you here with us! Please do talk to us about the idea behind this bookstore cafe and why you opened it.
Meg: Thank you for having me! My name is Meg and I am the manager of Neo Books and Coffee. Our Owner, Haya Al Khalifa came to me early on with an idea to open a bookshop that highlighted two essential areas: a love for coffee and books. Although there were other book shops around the island, there was nothing in Riffa. We knew that we wanted to be different too in terms of the experience we provide to our customers and how we wanted our space to be used.
NQD: What makes Neo Books and Coffee the bookstore cafe that it is? What makes it special?
Meg: We pride ourselves on four key things; A space that people love being in and coming back to, an experience of choosing and selecting books with the help of our well read staff, the best coffee on the market, and a carefully, thought-out and curated selection of books. You can walk into any shop and buy a book, but we aim to give you the full sense experience. The smell of good coffee, delicious food, our curated books, and our warm and helpful team.
NQD: Your bookstore is filled with adorable journals, washi-tapes, mugs, and so much more. What businesses have you collaborated with in terms of selling their merch? Why is that important for you?
Meg: Thank you! We are so glad that you like our merchandise. We knew early on that we wanted to support new and start-up designers and brands. Giving back to the local community is very important, and it is not easy for designers, artists and writers. A few local brands that we work with and stock in our shop are Paper Hill, Stickeraati, My Now planners, Calibre, Qaallaam and Aysha’s art studio. We feel it is very important to showcase local talent and allow them the platform to launch themselves, and have been pleased to see how customers are committed to supporting local artists.
NQD: We think Neo is an interesting name for a brand. What was the idea behind the bookstore’s name?
Meg: Neo is the Latin prefix for new and reflects our concept of a bookshop and specialty coffee bar as well as a community space that aims to foster a community of readers, writers and creators.
NQD: On Instagram, you’ve posted about local authors. Why is it important to the bookshop to host local authors’ books?
Meg: Haya herself is a local author, and she knew first hand how difficult it was to get a book into a bookshop to be sold. We really support local authors as we know for most self-published or unknown writers, their first books are hard to sell. I think it is important as independent bookstores to nurture local talent, in whatever form. Our authors happen to be a huge part of our community and we are proud to stock their books.
We recently hosted a local authors panel discussion at Neo which was very well attended. The authors who spoke were Fatema Salem, author of ‘Words for Bullets’, Mohammed Al Qassimi, author of ‘Letters from the Lost’, Tanzeel Jabbar-Khadir, author of 100 Bahrain Stories, and M.G Darwish, author of Titan Lords and many other books. The main premise of this was, so aspiring writers and illustrators could hear first hand from these local authors about their writing processes, the route of publishing they took, their experience with publishers, the publishing processes as well as things they wished they had known before they started. The crowd that attended was great and asked a lot of very pertinent questions. I think in order to support local authors more within Bahrain, we as a community need to foster and nurture their talents and provide events such as this to spotlight their artistic gifts.
NQD: Neo Books and Coffee has been open for 10 months now. Congratulations! Did you have any reservations or fears prior to opening your doors to the public? If so, we’d love to hear about your journey and the lessons that you’ve collected so far.
Meg: Thank you! I don’t think we had fears, but of course many people questioned us along the way asking, “Does anyone even read books anymore?”. Needless to say we have proved them wrong. I think we have been astounded by the number of children’s books, Arabic books, classics and contemporary fiction that continues to fly off our shelves. I think reading has a cycle, and people always return to it eventually. We have learned many lessons along the way which have helped us grow. Many of the books we initially stocked were trial and error. We now have a much better knowledge of what people want, what sells well and what is not available anywhere else.
NQD: How do you feel now that you have over 8000 followers?
Meg: It is wonderful, but what we value most is the community we have built. Our regular customers that visit on a daily basis, the children that attend storytime each week, our regular customers who call to ask for book recommendations and suggestions, and mostly the people who continue to value and support what we are doing. There is no amount of followers that is greater than that sense of community.
NQD: We’ve perused your Instagram and we’ve seen the crowds! What kind of events do you host at the bookstore and can anyone propose an idea or two for an event? If so, what’s the planning process like?
Meg: We love receiving suggestions for events. A few events we have hosted are a poetry book launch, book signings, a charity cookbook launch, a classics afternoon tea, a bullet journaling course, a creative journaling course, a Kon Mari method course and recently the local authors' panel discussion. At the moment all events for the future are on hold, but we plan to continue to host these as soon as it is safe to do so.
NQD: With the current COVID-19 Pandemic, the bookstore cafe started a new delivery system for not just books, but stationary and such. What is your take on reading during this time of self-isolation?
Meg: Yes, we are all navigating new waters together. We decided to launch a delivery service to keep both our staff and customers safe. We are also now on Talabat so our customers can have their favorite coffee and desserts delivered.
I think reading has always been the greatest form of escape and now, more than ever, people are in search for escape. Reading requires no company, no technology and provides us with a million opportunities to escape into different worlds, and fill our minds with knowledge. There is no greater time to work through your ‘to be read list’ or find books to nourish your mind.
NQD: Tell us, will there be any exciting new branches opening up in the future?
Meg: At the moment we are focused on growing our business. We firmly believe that expanding too soon would be a mistake as we want to ensure that our ethos remains strong – provide readers and coffee lovers and experience that keeps them coming back for more!