Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 January 2020

California dreaming: meet the Emirati siblings bringing a taste of Malibu to Abu Dhabi

We have a chat and a passion fruit mocktail with Eisa and Athra Alsubousi at Little Malibu Cafe

Tucked away among the restaurants and shops on Muroor Road is Little Malibu Cafe. The inconspicuous space is hidden in an area that predominantly features beauty salons, utilitarian pharmacies and hole-in-the-wall cafeterias. However, once your eyes stumble upon its bright yellow signage and stark white walls, it’s hard to miss.

Walking up to the entrance, you are greeted by a small sign on the door that simply reads, “push for Malibu”.

Warm colours, potted plants and natural light fill the interior; a cosy contrast to the bustling street outside. Once inside the cafe, it feels as though you’ve been transported to a completely different world – or to California, at least, which is exactly the vibe the founders, Emirati siblings Eisa and Athra Alsubousi, were aiming for.

The duo opened the cafe in May 2018 and, due to popular demand, have recently expanded it, after the shop next door closed down. The Al Subousis had realised their customers preferred to go in and sit down, enjoying the homely atmosphere as opposed to simply ordering from their cars or taking away, so they created a larger seating area.

The food and drinks are a major draw: the menu features mocktails, coffees and small bites such as Nutella waffle pops and croissant sandwiches. There’s also a dessert menu that features all gluten-free items, including a pistachio mini cake, chocolate chip cookies and salted caramel brownies.

As for the space, it was inspired by the relaxing ambience of the American beach city it’s named after. “We went to California where we really fell in love with the laid-back attitude and wanted to bring a piece of that back [to Abu Dhabi],” says Eisa. “Also, the inspiration came from Los Angeles, as well. We fell in love with the coffee culture and small boutique coffee shops. It sort of became an obsession.”

While the food and beverage industry isn’t something either sibling specialises in, they are happy to have taken on the responsibility. Both have other jobs, with Athra working as a training unit head for a government entity and Eisa working in communications, also for the government. He’s the founder of high-end product design studio Tharb, too. As I sip on the Tropical Passion mocktail – a refreshing drink that features mango, passion fruit, lemon and red chilli – the pair explain how the cafe came to be.

Eisa and Athra have four other siblings, but have always had a close relationship, describing themselves as “best friends”. So it seems that, through their special bond, a collaborative project was always on the cards. The duo have tried in the past to put something together, but it never worked out. They think part of the reason for that was because they brought other people in to help. With Little Malibu Cafe, it was all them.

The partnership has taught them a big lesson. “Everyone says ‘don’t work with family’ and I was nervous about launching something like this and sticking with it,” Eisa admits. “So that was a big concern. But I couldn’t have imagined it going any better.” From the lights to the carpets and the chairs to the plants, they picked out every little detail together. “That’s the honest truth,” says Eisa with a laugh. “We really run everything by each other.”

They’ve done an impressive job, too; while the cafe wasn’t created with Instagram in mind, it’s hard not to take a few snaps on your smartphone once you’re settled in. It’s that cute, with its colourful lattes, wall plants, eye-catching artworks and quirky drinking mugs sporting motivational slogans.

The little touches around the cafe are particuarly personal. For instance, the books laid out on the tables, such as Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, a collection of works from Rumi and The Power of Positive Living by Norman Vincent Peale, are from Athra’s own collection. This reflects one of the decisions the pair made at the start: they wouldn’t add anything in the space they wouldn’t put in their own house.

“Our number one goal was for people to feel like this place is cosy and to feel at home,” says Athra. Well, I certainly do.

Updated: August 8, 2019 02:38 PM