When restaurant meets library

CNC reporting from Brussels
Added On April 24, 2013

April 23rd marks the World Book Day established by UNESCO in 1995. While in the city of Brussels, a Belgian community bookstore has been ever known as a place which charms at first sight.

A wide selection of books, good food and predominantly unique design makes Cook & Book ranked as one of the top 20 most beautiful bookshops around the world.

Lifestyle takes you there.

Isabelle and her family come from a small village in Belgium. They found Cook & Book in Brussels coincidentally by visiting the hospital close by. Now every trip to Brussels means visiting the bookshop.

SOUNDBITE (French) CHLOE, Client
"I've chosen the books "A heartache" and "Zo's parents are divorcing". And there is one more: “Sarah comes to rescue”.

"There are books for parents, for children, and additionally we can eat here, so it is excellent. This is mostly the reason why we visit the place.

The same is for Benedicte who comes here with her children 4-5 times a year.

"It is convivial, and often we mix the dinner with the pleasure to look at books. The children are allowed to select a book, and we like to stroll and spend some time by looking around everything."

The bookshop is located in one of rather new cultural centers of the city. The owner of Cook & Book rent the two blocs six years ago when the community decided to build a culture center.

In an area of 1500 square meters, the bookstore is divided into nine themed mini-shops with dining areas surrounded by bookshelves. Each bookshop carries a central theme, including arts, music, literature, traveling, lifestyle, etc. But each of the theme rooms goes beyond the norm, which is also the most surprising and attractive for the venue - interior design measured for every section.

SOUNDBITE (French) DEBORAH ARION, Cook and Book General Manager
"We applied with our idea which was eating and reading. Finally, we took all this space. We broke the walls and we join them together. However, we adapted each space differently with different interior design related to different subject. Here we have the English section, so it is very British, with the English lamps and carpets and obviously with books in English. Another section close by is the cooking corner with all books about cooking. The design bases on the Italian style."

Well stocked selection of books with original British lamps, chairs and particular lighting make the English section the most cozy and quiet place at the bookshop. In the traveling section, an Airstream caravan – the mythical US company – stands as a full-blown invitation to travel, which actually is converted into a dining table for eight people. In the Literature room, if you look up you will be surprised by no less than 800 flying books hanging above your head, which idea came from the contemporary art Centre in Istanbul.

SOUNDBITE (French) DEBORAH ARION, Cook and Book General Manager
"The basic idea was to attract people by interesting design. The most simple, most economic way was obviously going to the Ikea or Brico, but we have decided to work with some design stores from Brussels to have the designed lamps by famous Ingo Maurer. For example, Ingo Maurer did the lamps “Campari light”, “Canned light”, and the lamp with the small papers that are hanged up. We also wanted to have furniture from designers. We did a lot of made-to-measure furniture to surprise people."

The interior design of the bookstore deserves a special mention as it is nothing short of unique. The greenhouse for Lifestyle room and the extensive comics collection are surprising as well. Quite particular is however the music section.

SOUNDBITE (French) DEBORAH ARION, Cook and Book General Manager
"In the music section there is the piano and the ceiling that has been painted by darkened corks by Belgian artists:John Gillis and Aline Bouvy.
These artists are quite famous. They had their exposition here in Belgium at the Bazar, but also at the Moma at New-York a few years ago. So we have seen their exhibition in Brussels and so we asked them to improvise something on our ceiling. They were totally free to do what they wanted. And so during one week, they were darkening the ceiling, using more than one hundred lighters."

Bookstores and cafes have become a rather fashionable concept in the recent past, while the combination of a bookstore with a regular restaurant is quite unusual. So don't let yourself be fooled by the name – Cook & Book is not a bookstore specialized in books on cooking, it's a very innovative and original concept which joins book with food. 

The appearance of the shop, its stock and atmosphere however significant, are not the only reasons why people like to come here. The others are often events organized here as: lectures for children, anniversaries, books' presentations,  reading salons, concerts or brunches on Sunday. What counts most is the possibility of eating around books.

STANDUP (English) MAGDALENA WALCZAK, CNC correspondent
"This marketing idea of bringing together restaurant and library has far-reaching meaning. There is not only food for our body needed, the decent nutrition for our brain and soul is also necessary."

Nevertheless, book market around the world is shrinking, because people both read less and more and more they tend to reach for numeric books.

SOUNDBITE (French) DEBORAH ARION, Cook and Book General Manager
"We have noticed the trend that people like to come and ask for the references, for some advice, but they end up buying numeric versions, so we are all aware that online shops are our biggest competitors. Moreover we have crisis in Europe, so we don't know the future."

Apparently the marketing idea of the bookshop and restaurant was quite innovative. Even if less people are interested in paper books, everyone has to eat, so the demand for food is not diminishing and the place works well.