Finding a café in Dublin that makes you feel as welcome as in your own home is rare. David Corscadden talks to Lee Coates of Third Space to see how the café is managing to serve wholesome meals to the masses while connecting the community around it

A common issue that faces people living in apartment complexes and built up areas now-a-days is not knowing any of the people that live around them. This is especially true in built up areas around the city centre. Many people simply do not know the people they may pass each day as they walk out their front door. This is an issue that is at the heart of Third Space Café in Smithfield and one that it hopes to tackle head on. As Third Space Manager, Lee Coates, explains “We hope to be a space where people can come and eat good food, healthy food inexpensively, so that they can come regularly. We want people to feel that Third Space is literally their space. Whether they are coming to have breakfast or a coffee with Friends or meetings or even just using it as a social space after we close.”

From its establishment three years ago this month, Third Space has lived up to this dream and has offered a place away from home that people can come and feel as though they are in their own environment. “We love to see regular customers coming through. We have some people who come two or three times a day. We get to know them and we consider them as our friends and have great craic with them in here” explains Coates. She goes on to explain that their mission to introduce neighbours to each other is one that has worked really well. “We actually had a conversation with two people at an event we did for people living in the apartment block here and we discovered that two people were living on the same landing but had never met in three years but they met and said hello here.”

As a café Third Space offers coffee lovers a very relaxed atmosphere to sit back and pass a few hours. More importantly for the local area it operates as a space for the community to come together and use the space as their own. This works greatly to create a sense of belonging for everyone who walks through the doors of the café. This is strengthened by staff, many of who volunteer in the café, who without fail welcome each customer with a smile and as Coates say ‘has great craic with the customers’.

We love to see regular customers coming through. We have some people who come two or three times a day literally and there is lots of those people

While a warm cosy atmosphere may welcome customers to Third Space each time they vist, it is the reliable high quality, wholesome food at a very competitive price that keeps people coming back day after day. Third Space offers an extensive breakfast and lunch menu, with Coates explaining that for the chefs good quality ingredients and creating healthy food that everyone will embrace is paramount when setting the menu. “Our chef likes to create good, simple food and wholesome food. That is our thing. We don’t want to compete against fine food dining. We enjoy serving the range of healthy food that we do and it has been really well received. People have their favourite salads and their favourite ciabattas.” She also highlights an awareness that dietary requirements are changing and an active move in the café to make more of the food on offer accessible to people with specific dietary needs.

With up to 400 cups of coffees being sold a day in Third Space quality and craft are terms which are not taken lightly. For the baristas in Third Space coffee is an art and one which must be practiced and perfected to ensure the highest quality coffees are served on a daily basis. This fight for quality goes down to reviewing the milk being used to make the coffees. “Many of our coffees would be milk based, like cappuccino or a latte or even flat white, and they are so very important to our business. We want people to love our coffee. The flavour and texture of the milk when it is created by our expert baristas is what people come back for and we felt we just needed to up the quality and we are delighted that we have taken on a new supplier.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the highlights on the Third Space calendar each month is its Square Meal, which has grown in popularity since they started eight months ago. Square Meal was a concept that was introduced by Third Space founder and visionary as Coates calles him, Sean Mullan. “He wanted to create something that was a specific event and an invitation for us to welcome people in and do the connecting and the sharing and the eating in a defined time in Third Space. So the last Friday of every month is our Square Meal event” explains Coates.

Each month the meal takes on a new culinary theme and the events have been growing in popularity each time, with over 60 people attending the most recent one which raised money for the Irish Blue Cross. A rather unusual concept for Ireland, guests are asked to pay what they believe the meal is worth when they are leaving. Following the cost of the meal, which is kept as low as possible, any profit is donated to a local charity or community organisation.

With such a strong base already established in Smithfield, Third Space has its eyes set on bringing its mix of community and food south of the Liffey by opening a second café on Aungier Street. “No it will not be called Fourth Space” Coates is quick to point out with a chuckle. Third Space Aungier Street is set to open around May of this year.