CIBI is a lifestyle concept store in Collingwood offering expertly crafted artisanal goods and wholesome Japanese cuisine. We discuss the origins of CIBI, their products and philosophies, and what’s next for the Melbourne store.
Sitting down with co-owner and director, Zenta Tanaka, we’re surrounded by the bustle of late Saturday brunch emitting from the other side of the room; the sounds of coffee machines and the soft clink of metal meeting porcelain bouncing off the elevated ceiling. Scattered around the room are the young and the young at heart.
The store itself embraces charming and unpolished architecture in contrast to the stark whites of the cafe across the room. With exposed wooden structures extending from wall to wall, the store feels like a workshop where the porcelain and woodwork pieces it sells were cured and carved.
With its eclectic charm, the store is a mélange of the open space architecture, slow paced lifestyles and simple philosophies that surrounded Zenta on his travels to Europe and Asia.
Joined by his wife, Meg, together they began to question what they really wanted to do with their lives. Inspired by their shared appreciation for good food, telling stories, and travel, combining artisanal crafts with Japanese inspired cuisine made the most sense.
At its core, Zenta and Meg aspire to imbue an appreciation for the essence of things. Their simple philosophy “Head. Hands. Heart.” focuses on creating a genuine connection with material objects, from the way we physically engage and interact with them to the way we experience and appreciate their intricate stories.
As Zenta explains: “With the products we had to have a concept, a big concept and a big philosophy, that’s what we loved, you know? It’s not about making money; it’s not about just selling things right to left. So when we were talking about the concept we started sourcing products and so all these products or makers had stories behind them and a history. They pride themselves on manufacturing quality products so that’s just where you start”.
Today, this appreciation for quality hand-crafted goods remains at the forefront of their lifestyle concept. Zenta even hopes of one day adding a workshop where they’ll be able to restore furniture, homeware, and other objects that have been discarded.
The cafe itself embraces sustainability and an overarching sense of ‘lagom’, Swedish for a feeling of being ‘just right’. Everything is harvested in season and prepared or cooked in moderation; no more and no less than what is needed for the day. Meg, who also steps in as head chef, works intimately on each recipe. Zenta believes Meg “sees the soul of the food in what she produces”, a skill she inherited growing up amongst the tranquil fields of rural Japan. “We want our store and customers to be 80% full. Then you may have a coffee later and you feel great.” Zenta says, going on to highlight their ongoing initiative with local businesses that collect coffee grounds and mulch to use as fertiliser.
This sense of community also extends to their customers who Zenta and Meg speak of as if they were close friends.
Zenta recalls one customer who instantly fell head over heels with a rustic Danish table. “She just loved the table,” he says, “it was just a small table but she was so excited!” Describing the old wooden table with paint chipping at the corners, Zenta remembers how the customer saw the table as something more than just the sum of its parts.
It is this deeper connection, nurtured by their products and artisans, that continues to strengthen the bonds between Zenta, Meg, and their evolving community of makers.
Zenta sheds light on what’s next for the store by reflecting once more on their beginnings; “We haven’t reached that point where we want to be yet. We can still imagine how CIBI will be in the future, but there is still so much more to do. We are still a work-in-progress, we had no experience, and it has been a slow kind of learning curve.”
But it is this slow but steady growth that not only reflects the integrity of CIBI’s founders, but also the care that Meg and Zenta have infused into the very essence of their concept. Reaching out to represent the best produce and products customers are ensured that everything available at CIBI is made with care and crafted by hand. “That is what makes us so unusual today.” Zenta says with unwavering conviction. “We always know exactly how something has been made.”
45 Keele Street, Collingwood
(o3) 9077 3941