A cosy new café has opened for business in 101 Reykjavík. This is by no means an unusual event, and we normally wouldn’t pay it much attention to it, except for the fact that it is run by a Polish couple Agnieszka Sokolowska and Stanislaw Zawada. While this certainly isn’t the first Polish-run business in town, it is quite likely the first Polish-run café in downtown Reykjavík. So we checked it out.
From the sidewalk at Týsgata 8, you step into a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere, ideal for having an early lunch with a friend or spending a lazy afternoon over chocolate cake. It isn’t decidedly ‘Reykjavík’—in fact when looking around the place, one can hardly tell which city it is located in; it could be Paris, Lisbon, Dubrovnik or Reykjavík. Taking a lead from the internationally recognised ideal of what a quiet and calm coffeeshop should be, the coffeeshop also sports an Icelandic twist. It is called C is for Cookie, in tribute to everyone’s favourite Cookie Monster, and it is good.
Agnieszka and Stanislaw are both in their thirties and hold degrees in library science from the University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland. Stanislaw has been living in Iceland for four years now. When he first came to Reykjavik, he worked in the harbour unloading trawlers, and then later in a brewery. Agnieszka came to Iceland a year later and worked in various coffee shops in downtown Reykjavík. I asked them why they decided to open a new café when there are already so many around.
“The idea was to set up our own business and go independent,” Agnieszka tells me. “When Stanislaw lost his job in the brewery, we decided that it was the time to do it. I had the idea of opening my own café for quite some time since I adore baking cakes. I always baked cakes and liked to invite friends over to eat them with me. Why not make a living out of that? I bake all cakes here myself. I am partly inspired by Polish tradition, especially when it comes to a cheesecake, but also by British ideas.”
Both Agnieszka and Stanislaw speak Icelandic. Agnieszka calls it “coffeeshop Icelandic”—enough to chat at the counter, but insufficient if you need to talk to a government official. They used to take a course in Icelandic that was half-paid for by their former employers. After a year or so they grew disappointed with their progress and decided to learn the language their own way through contact with locals, watching TV and studying English language Icelandic textbooks. They find the language very difficult and demanding. Nevertheless, they made a vow to learn it.
“Why Iceland you ask? It is the best place for me to live,” Stanislaw remarks. “No violence, no crime. I was travelling around many countries and by chance came here. I think I will stay for a long time. Agnieszka and I have bought a flat in a 100-year-old house with a huge garden. We can play badminton there! Many of my former friends left Poland as well. Most of them live in UK or Ireland now. There is nothing for me to go back to.”
Agnieszka echoes her partner’s sentiment: “I appreciate the feeling of security I have here, both economically and physically. People here trust one other and that it makes life much more pleasant and less stressful. I didn’t leave Poland to earn more money. I also left with the idea of not going back.”
Already making history
The plan for the future is to make “C is for Cookie” a popular place with local people. It is not meant to be a place only for Poles or tourists. Tourists come and go. There are local people who have already supported Agnieszka and Stanislaw during the construction work; people who just dropped by and asked how it was going.
C is for Cookie has also earned a place in history already. Talks between The Best Party and The Social Democratic Alliance had just commenced when Jón Gnarr and Dagur B. Eggertsson met for breakfast there. Pictures from this event were published in local newspapers the next day.
All in all, C is for Cookie seems to be a super-Icelandic café if not entirely Icelandic in origin, just like the super-Icelandic necklaces made of colourful balls of wool that are actually imported from New Zealand.