For those who frequently haunt coffee shops, looking for a good place to grab coffee and get some work done, certain hurdles are prone to popping up: There isn’t enough room to spread out. You feel guilty taking up a table for hours. They don’t have substantial food to eat.
Phat Nguyen, who opened Ineffable Ca Phe on Penn Avenue in Lawrenceville last week, confronted these issues head-on when designing his new cafe.
What was once a motorcycle auto body is now a hip and spacious cafe, serving up authentic chicory coffee, sweet bubble tea, and a limited menu of Vietnamese dishes and bánh mì sandwiches.
Adding to the cafe’s comfortable ambiance are large garage doors, plush sofas, cushy circle booths, and rows of tables made from vintage Singer sewing machines.
Guests of Ineffable Ca Phe should not worry about sacrificing comfort or space when trying to find a place to hang out for a few hours.
“I had a vision of what my coffee shop would be,” says Nguyen. “Some places are so small. People feel like they don’t have enough space, or that they need to leave to make room for someone else. I love the idea someone at Ineffable having a big booth to themselves.”
All of the cafe’s details – from USB outlets at each table, to individual light dimmers for the booths – were designed to help everyone to feel comfortable and welcome at Ineffable Ca Phe, Nguyen says.
Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam, says that one of the goals for the space was to provide others with a new cultural experience. For example, Nguyen hopes guests will give the Vietnamese coffee a try. Ineffable Ca Phe buys a dark roast coffee beans, which they grind in-house and mix with chicory, truly trying to emulate authentic Vietnamese coffee.
The bánh mì sandwiches on the menu, with varieties like marinated pork shoulder, grilled chicken, and fried tofu, are inspired by different interpretations of this much-loved Vietnamese street food. The breakfast bánh mì, served with butter and sugar, is a meal Nguyen himself ate many times in Vietnam.
Another unique aspect of the cafe is the “demonstration bar.” In the center of the restaurant is a stone table, perfectly positioned so all guests have a clear view of it. In the future, Ineffable Ca Phe plans to host classes on how to make espresso, Vietnamese coffee, bánh mì sandwiches, or whatever everyone is interested in.
There is a front patio for guests to relax outside, and a children’s corner with toys. As a former auto body, there is also a large parking lot in the front that can be used for private parties.
“I get excited when people love the space and the food. When I see people taking pictures it is so rewarding,” Nguyen says. “I worked so hard to create something, and then people actually like it. Everything is a personal touch, so it doesn’t mean everyone would like it. It means a lot when I see they do.”
Ineffable CaPhe is open every day from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Ineffable Ca Phe (3920 Penn Avenue)