Located on Commercial Street in downtown Springfield, it’s easy to miss the approximately 400 square foot cinder block building home to Café Dhibs.
Drinks and desserts sweetened with date syrup, a specialty product from the Middle East, bring people to the tiny café located in a former barber shop.
Next door is the Date Lady warehouse – the original business that started it all.
Clarissa Young, project manager of Date Lady, said date syrup is a commodity largely unknown to the United States until the company’s owners, Colleen and Ryan Sundlie, brought it from the Middle East.
According to the company’s website, the couple was living in the United Arab Emirates with their son when they came across the product.
Young said Colleen Sundlie started Date Lady to sell the syrup, called “dhibs,” in 2012. Her husband, Ryan Sundlie, joined the business four years ago.
It all started at a farmer’s market. Young said running the booth at the farmer’s market, developing recipes, making products and shipping goods to retail stores became too much. Date Lady then opened the warehouse.
Café Dhibs is a way to recreate the farmer’s market, Young said.
The café allows Date Lady to do test marketing. Colleen Sundlie is always developing new recipes, which involves trial and error. Young said staff members test potential new recipes first.
Barista Heidi Hansen said the cinnamon roll recipe took about seven tries to perfect. Young said a donut is in the works, but it hasn’t yet been perfected.
After recipes are developed, Date Lady takes them to the public in the café.
“It’s a nice way to use the products we already have,” Young said.
Desserts beckon from a glass case atop a counter covered in yellow floral wallpaper. Young said some of the products the café offers are cookies, cinnamon rolls and scones. Her personal favorite is the caramel dream bar. She said it has a cookie crust, date filling and chocolate on top. The date filling is like caramel.
One of the trademarks of Café Dhibs and Date Lady is that all the products are gluten free and organic. However, Young said they don’t advertise this due to the stigma attached to gluten free foods.
Young said Café Dhibs typically uses a variety of dates called Bahri for its products. They are caramel-like. About four different types of dates are grown in the United States, although there are many more varieties in the Middle East.
Some dates taste good on their own, Young said, while others are best in recipes. She said she would eat Medjool dates on their own or with peanut butter. Deglet Noor dates, on the other hand, don’t taste good alone.
Customers enjoy their desserts with drinks in the small café. Seating options include a bench peppered with throw pillows and a few chairs. The big windows at the front let in plenty of light, along with a few chandeliers. Young said she played a role in designing the layout of the café.
Now that Café Dhibs has taken off, Young has stepped back from it to focus on Date Lady. She said she does organic inspections, kosher certifications, marketing and blogging for the company, among other things.
On a daily basis, the baristas run the café.
Hansen said she likes the small, simple menu at Café Dhibs. This makes it easier to perfect all the drinks.
While Hansen said she has worked at Date Lady in production since November 2017, she has been working at Café Dhibs for less than two weeks. She works part time at both now.
A small table displays packaged Date Lady goods in the café. Hansen said Date Lady products include date syrup, date sugar, chocolate syrup, sweet chili sauce and BBQ sauce. A mint chocolate spread and fruitcake are available during the holidays.
Hansen likes the customer service aspect of being a barista at Café Dhibs the best. She said the café has a “small-town feel.” Since customers at the café are in such close quarters, Hansen said more conversations happen at Café Dhibs than coffee shops she previously worked at.
“Customers will talk to each other,” Hansen said, “which is kind of fun. That’s not very normal.”
Customers Robin Smith and Gail Morris chatted with Hansen from across the room as she made drinks. The two found their way to the café after Morris mentioned she wanted to buy some dates. Smith recommended a trip to Café Dhibs.
Smith was enjoying a drink called golden milk as she explained that she discovered the company in a newspaper. She followed Date Lady on Instagram and eagerly awaited news of when Café Dhibs would open.
Smith said she likes that the company is local and offers a healthier alternative to refined sugar. She has tried many of the products. There are several ways she enjoys eating the dates and date syrup. For example, Smith said she places a date between two pecans to create a date sandwich. She also uses date syrup like caramel sauce for apples or ice cream. Smith combines two local favorites by adding the date syrup to Andy’s frozen custard.
Smith said the date sugar is next on her list of Date Lady products to try. She wants to try the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of the package.
Morris said she knew about Date Lady from the farmer’s market, but it was her first trip to Café Dhibs. Smith and Morris agreed they would be back again.
According to Young, the company has big plans for Café Dhibs, including outdoor seating and a drive-thru.
Date shakes, however, seem to be what the staff is most excited about at the moment. Sweetened with date syrup, Young said they should arrive on the menu in spring. Hansen predicted business will pick up once the shakes are added to the menu, as they are another specialty item that can’t be found anywhere else.
In the summer, Young said the menu will branch out even more by offering salads and charcuterie boards.
The café is open Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Hansen said its busiest day is Saturday. Saturday’s hours are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
At the end of the day, the mission of Café Dhibs is simple. It’s all about providing high quality, specialty products for the people it serves.
“It’s funny how something as simple as coffee can make someone’s day,” Hansen said.