Geometry and baking come together at Jonquils Cafe and Bakery on Newbury Street, a self-proclaimed “cosmopolitan cafe” whose main attraction is the playfully shaped layer cakes.
Jonquils has an artistic atmosphere with geometric mirrors and walls covered with artificial flowers and foliage. There is a rare espresso boiler machine from Kees van der Westen Espressonistic Works B.V., pour-over coffee using PourSteady technology, and a wide range of loose leaf tea from Rishi Tea & Botanicals and Flora Tea.
Ukranian pastry chef Dinara Kasko collaborates with Jonquils to create artistic desserts, which are the highlight of the cafe experience.
“We wanted to ensure that there is an art embedded into the cafe in every form and shape,” company director Khalid Al-Ahbabi said. “From the environment all the way to the dessert to the coffee that gets served to the machines, the whole idea of the experience is that customers should really feel the art in the cafe.”
Al-Ahbabi said that mixing art with food and creating a product that was visually appealing to consumers were the two main tasks when opening the Newbury Street storefront in 2019.
Kasko’s eccentric 3D, layer cakes were the perfect element to attract customers and draw them to the Jonquils experience. Kasko, a former architect from Ukraine, transferred the skills she learned as a 3D visualizer to the pastry world to create beautiful, geometric molds.
Al-Ahbabi said that creating the cakes is a long process. Each individual layer needs to be completed and set into shape before they can all be combined in the mold. The cakes have a minimum of four layers. The process for completing a single cake can take anywhere from 18 to 30 hours, yet customers often finish the cake in five to ten minutes.
“We wanted to have, I would say, an international taste,” Al-Ahbabi said. “ … We would say it’s less sweet as well as light, you don’t feel heavy after you eat it.”
One of the most striking cakes, called the caramel apple, is molded in a prismatic version of its namesake and colorfully dusted to look like a semi-ripe, futuristic fruit. The cream cheese shell with layers of chocolate sponge, soft caramel, apple confit, and caramel cream add a different flavor element with each bite. And the light, low-sugar element makes these cakes the perfect treat for a weekend trip to the city without overindulging.
“As you look into each piece of cake, each one of them has a unique shape,” Al-Ahbabi said. “It’s eye catching. The first time you see it, you fall in love with it.”
Al-Ahbabi was a long-time follower of Kasko on Instagram, and when opening the cafe he knew what an important role the visuals would play in gaining a loyal following and standing out in the oversaturated Boston coffee shop scene.
Al-Ahbabi never expected the desserts to become the main attraction of the cafe.
“We actually thought this is going to be purely specialty coffee with a secondary option of having the dessert, but then the desert became, really, the fast-moving item within the business itself,” Al-Ahbabi said.
Co-director Hamad Al-Mansoori compared Jonquils method to the bait-and-switch of the fast food industry.
“They show you a picture of a nice product, but then when you go and order it, you will be shocked that the product is different than how it looks in the picture. That’s unfortunately how it is in much of the fast food industry,” Al-Mansoori said. “While what we do is attracting the customer, once they are in [the cafe] ordering that piece of cake, [they saw] on Instagram or any social media channel, it looks, if not the same, even better when they see it in real life.”
Al-Mansoori said that the Jonquils business method is twofold. First, it builds an impression with the customers visually, then once they taste it, the customers fall in love and want to come back.
“So three things that we are focused on: our production, the quality of each piece, and how it looks,” Al-Mansoori said. “It’s not a normal dessert or a normal piece of cake that you see anywhere else. It is a piece of art. And, then when you eat it also, it’s the taste difference.”
The lightness of the cakes and the fact that they’re not too sweet allow you to feel like you could eat multiple in one sitting, according to Al-Mansoori.
Al-Mansoori also said that Jonquils was the brainchild of Al-Ahbabi and Al-Mansoori who saw a demand in Boston for a specialty coffee shop with an international flair.
“I would say it’s a niche market, but there is a good amount of coffee lovers within Boston that love this type of product, and we are actually addressing that need,” Al-Ahbabi said.
There are three major pillars of having a “great character” of coffee, according to Al-Ahbabi: the right machines, the right baristas, and the right coffee beans. Jonquils achieves this great character by sourcing its ingredients from other Boston companies such as Gracenote Coffee and Flora Tea.
Jonquils is a local business first and foremost, and when creating the coffee shop, Al-Ahbabi and Al-Mansoori wanted to ensure that connecting with other members of the community was central to the customer experience.
“When you talk about coffee shops, you think of social places, yeah?” Al-Ahbabi said. “So first of all, we wanted people to talk to each other [and] have a good space.”
The spaced-out tables and lack of Wi-Fi are purposeful in the cafe to ensure that customers are able to sit in groups and socialize without being glued to their phones, computers, or other electronic devices, Al-Ahbabi said.
Al-Ahbabi and Al-Mansoori have created a unique gallery-like experience at Jonquils, where customers are able to sit, socialize, and enjoy themselves as well as the art.
“Everybody’s welcome,” Al-Ahbabi said. “We wanted everybody to come and feel the social experience that goes within the coffee shop itself.”
Jonquils closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and reopened in July. The four months of closure delayed many of the plans Al-Ahbabi and Al-Mansoori had for the cafe, but thanks to the video-sharing app TikTok, the cafe has actually seen an increase in customers. The owners said that customers have travelled from places like New York specifically for the cafe.
Al-Mansoori credits the cafe’s quick rise in popularity to its “Instagrammable” desserts. Despite only being open for 18 months, including pandemic closure time, Jonquils has already amassed almost 16,000 followers on Instagram.
“That was the advantage for us to be known by many, many people,” Al-Mansoori said. “I think we have a product and items, a service, where it makes people feel they have to share it with the globe and with their friends and family, and that’s also helping us a lot on TikTok and Instagram.”
Al-Ahbabi said that the number of customers and sales since November are reminiscent of pre-pandemic times.
“People are tired of sitting at home, they want to go out, they want to meet people, drink their coffee, [and] have their own dessert,” Al-Ahbabi said. “So that was the sense that we felt from people, they really want to feel that experience … again.”
In terms of the future, Al-Mansoori said that Jonquils is looking to expand within the Boston area by opening three or four more locations in 2021. Al-Ahbabi and Al-Mansoori also want to build a central kitchen that would produce and distribute to its multiple storefronts. This would allow them to increase production of the desserts that often sell out and have become the driving force of the cafe.
These new cafes would continue to feature the Jonquils specialty coffee, tea, and espresso drinks. Al-Ahbabi and Al-Mansoori are looking to collaborate with more chefs from around the world to bring different forms of food art into each location.
Jonquils is located at 125 Newbury St., Boston and is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Featured Image by Francesca Giangiulio / Heights Staff