Passionate about food and books, Dareen fulfilled a lifelong dream by combining the two and opening BookMunch Café, an eclectic space in Wasl Square that’s become a firm Sassy Mama favourite (read our review here). Mama to Lama, Bassel and Salam, Dareen loves weekend family feasts or a day at the beach with her brood – heavenly.
Name: Dareen Charafeddine
Occupation: Founder of BookMunch Cafe
Children: Lama 8, Bassel 6, Salam 2
How long have you lived in Dubai? 9 years
1) Tell us about your business/businesses and why you started them.
BookMunch is a café that brings together two of life’s greatest pleasures, reading and eating. And the idea, I later discovered, comes from an upbringing where my mother would always in passing talk about starting a similar concept herself. So the plan was already kind of engraved in my mind when I experienced the café/bookshop concepts in Europe and the US.
To add to that, my love for food and books fed into it as well. Even as a child, I was quite the gourmand and spent quite some time of our family vacations inspecting fridge displays at patisseries and street cafes. So, it was only natural for me to join my family’s catering side of the business at some point in my life. Similarly, my story with books started when my aunt gave me my first copy of Anne of Green Gables at the Montreal public library. Twenty years later, I became a publisher and the idea of starting a café with a personal touch kept lingering in my mind. It was just inevitable.
2) What do you feel have been your biggest achievements both in your personal life and career so far?
Although I feel my biggest achievements are still ahead of me, I am proud of bringing life to this world – three times! They’re eight, six and two years old, but already make me proud and make me want to work harder. As far as my career is concerned, I’m very pleased with where BookMunch is at the moment. I’m delighted that it has become an award winning concept in its first year, and has been nominated for so many awards, including Best Café in Dubai. My daily involvement in the operation, alongside a wonderful passionate team, is one of my daily “achievements”.
3) As a child what did you dream of being when you ‘grew up’?
I wanted to start my own supermarket. Anything that involved lots of food, I guess!
4) If you had three wishes, what would they be?
I wish that my children will always love and support each other unconditionally.
I wish that they’ll one day understand why I have to be away sometimes and realise it was because I wanted what was best for them.
I wish that people in general would have more empathy for one another.
5) What does being a Sassy Mama mean to you?
It means a lot to be recognised, but I’m no super Mama of course. All mamas are sassy, one way or the other.
6) What’s a typical day in your life like?
Dropping the kids off at school, then heading to BookMunch – which is luckily only five minutes away from home and school. Once I’m there, I follow up on my emails, checking on all our social media channels, checking our business bank account, informal meetings with manager, chef, accountant, always making sure to interact with customers, while checking on service, food quality, etc.
In the afternoon, it’s time for school pick up, a sit-down lunch with the children spent trying to extract as much information as I can about their day at school, while sharing some of the events from my day. Then it’s time to help them catch up on homework or drive them to their after school activities. After that, I’ll drive the kids back home, pass by BookMunch again briefly to make sure it’s under control before going back home. Finally, my day will end with the kids’ dinner, quick shower and my usual bedtime routine.
7) What’s your guilty pleasure?
Chocolate – in all its forms, shapes and sizes and especially when added to biscuits in nice, big chunks.
8) What do you most enjoy doing as a family in Dubai?
Spending the day at the pool, breakfast at BookMunch, going to the park, catching up with family and friends over lunch at the mall or BBQ in the garden.
9) What is the ‘best-kept’ secret in Dubai, something fellow mamas should know about?
There are some amazing fish restaurants in Dubai! If you’re like me and you don’t cook fish at home, one of our favourite fish restaurants is Sammach. It’s a Lebanese seafood restaurant. I wouldn’t say it’s a secret as they have a location in Souq Al Bahar, overlooking the Dubai fountains. The kids love going there.. They watch the fountain while catching up on their omega-3. Order your mezze, hummos, baba gannouj, fattoush, jumbo shrimps and then end it with fish of your choice, cooked your way.
10) Which three words best describe your personality?
Confident, ambitious, forgiving.
11) What advice would you have for a new mama?
Love your children endlessly and unconditionally, and don’t forget to love yourself a little. Sometimes, you have to put yourself first.
12) What advice would you give to a mama who wants to go back to work or start her own business but is worried about juggling family and career?
I would tell her that she will never feel 100% ready to go back to work and that’s fine. She will know when to take the leap. And once there, try to let go of the guilt. You will have to divide your attention between family and work. In fact, I have never come across a mum, working or not, who is completely happy or not feeling guilty or stressed.
Working mums want more time to spend with their kids, feel they are not involved enough in school and are sometimes judged by the non-working mums. Non-working mums feel they are not doing enough for themselves, are not being productive and are also judged by the working mums. This is a never ending cycle called motherhood.
Do what you feel is best for you and your kids. It is possible to do both jobs if you have quality care at home, if you plan things in advance, manage your time and sort out your priorities. I now accept for example that I cannot be at every parent’s council meeting in school and that torn socks might need to wait for the weekend to be replaced.
13) If you were on an island and could bring only 3 things (family not included) what would they be?
A rope, bottle of water, a pen and a notepad. (Oops, that’s four!)
14) Top three books?
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
15) Describe your style.
Relaxed most of the time – both as a mother and as boss.
16) Tell us something funny that your kids have said or done.
Bassel (at 5) told his dad once: “I wish I could marry you so that you can be my cousin.”
Bassel (at 4): “When I grow up, I want to be a dad.”