Often have we wondered, what makes people go out on a limb, stake their financial stability (not much of that in Iceland anyway) and even more so, their sanity and ideals. Few things are in face of it as frightening as the thought of living out your dream, that precious bubble that you have so fare inhabited in the safety of your mind only to find out that it’s not at all what you had made it out to be. Evoking the age-old tenet of whether it is better to have loved and lost or not loved at all. Why so bleak! When for every story of failure there is the equal and much more interesting story of success. Related to this and as a working experiment, we took a drive out to Eyrarbakki which is an hour’s drive outside of Reykjavík to meet up with David and Arna, activist and organic café entrepreneurs.
Why a coffee house and why this location?
On our travels we have sorely missed some alternative to the petrol station hamburger food culture that prevails in this country. We had intended to open a café in another location but that fell trough due to the eruption and mitigating circumstances but so much work had already been done that we decided to open up in Eyrarbakki. There is another small coffee house in town but we felt that there should be a greater connection with the sea and the dock as well as the seafaring history of the area. So we set up here.
Arna and David opted for the later moving to the rural countryside of Iceland in the small village of Eyrarbakki on the south cost.
David: At first people didn’t really talk to us much, until we started building the café then suddenly people’s curiosity was aroused and they started wandering over and asking us what we where doing and so on.
There David has hit upon the crux of the Icelandic condition closed but not caring the populace is often ambivalent to new people unless they perceive them to be of some substance, subjecting alien body’s to rigours examination from afar and not willing to accept them until their requirements are met. Afterwards they’ll adopt you as their own and it will always have been so.
How has it been with advertising and promoting yourselves?
David: We had this nice idea that people would just start coming and that they would tell their friends and so forth, that it would just grow and we could just focus on cultivating the building and our service.
Juggling serving customers and working on site and family, is that even possible?
Arna: haha, well that’s a good question, one that I can’t really answer as I’m also in another job but when you have a passion for something and when it’s your own thing your working on you just make it happen and you get it done. I also want my children to see that you can make your dreams happen, that you can achieve your goals.
This is your second summer, does it get any easier?
David: We were open half of last summer and a bit unorganized, we still are a bit unorganized but now at least we know what we’re getting into.
The house has a very distinct look, there is nothing sleek about it, you could say that it is the antithesis of corporate black and white.
Arna: We have certain principles that we adhere to, like not using plastics in the building as well as using the goods that are given to us, we find or are cheap. It’s been an organic process so far. We like to get dressed up and go out for a fancy dinner, just like anyone else but that would be out of sorts here by the sea and we sense that with our customers, they are into the relaxed and homey atmosphere.
Where is this going?
Arna: Well, we don’t want it to expand into something that will outgrow its original purpose and charm but that it should be self sustaining. Our dream is to invite and provide activities for people to come here and enjoy the local scenery, be it bird watching or walking on this tremendous beach. Also to be able to do some cultural events such as photography exhibition on the fisheries that were here.
You’ve set yourself a high standard and it must demand going to great lengths in order to get the materials you need?
David: Everything here is organic, that requires us going to Reykjavík once a week to get the raw goods that aren’t available in the near locale or isn’t caught by us.
Is it just tourists that drop in?
Arna: No it’s a mixture of both, we’ve built up a customer base in the area but we do get the tourists as well. What we’d like to see is people seeing us as a better alternative to the burger stops that litter the countryside.
When we were about to leave David took us out on the old dock to show us his crab net
David: This is going into the soup tonight and the long term idea though is to get or build a tank outside to keep some of the wildlife from the sea in it, so that our guests can see our amazing nature and a sample of the fresh produce we use.
In the end the dream of sustainability and positive change in one’s environment (be it local, glocal or global) by the so called idealists can only be attained through generating self income and sound financial policy, hence the dramatic rise of social entrepreneurship. The ideas that will win out in the end will be those that have a solid grounding in boring old comers. Don’t rally against the system in vain, guerilla warfare states that you use any and every tool available to you to win the battle. We are thoroughly convinced that what Arna and David are doing is the right model, slowly building up something of value, not just in financial terms but also in terms of heart and soul. Theirs is a labour of love and you can’t help but feel it when you’re there.
Interview: Guðni Rúnar
Photographs: Nanna Dís