Oniria Café / Coffee is the bridge

cyclespeak
More or less?

Jannik and Nora [simultaneously]
Less.

cyclespeak
Does that apply to everything?

Nora
Not love [laughs].

A stone’s throw from Girona’s Plaça de la lndependència, look through the glass doors to the warmly lit interior of Oniria Café and you will recognise all the usual paraphernalia of a city centre coffee shop: countertop, espresso machine, bagged beans on display. On entering, what next becomes immediately evident is the warm welcome served up by co-owners Nora Salvat and Jannik Schäfer with every cup of specialty coffee—a passionate approach to their profession fuelled by indomitable energy and a truly empathetic nature.

In an extended and candid conversation, Nora and Jannik offer up a glimpse into their life together—discussing the origins of Oniria, how they both seek to balance busy lives and why, ultimately, theirs is a love story rooted in a very special locale.

cyclespeak
How was your day?

Jannik
Good. The usual ups and downs.

[Nora laughing]

cyclespeak
Can we start by talking about your individual backgrounds and how they led to Oniria?

Nora
Me?

Jannik
You first [laughs].

Nora
Since I was very young, I’ve always seen myself as an artist. But I could never stick to just that one discipline so I decided to broaden my horizons and visit Australia when I was 19—the farthest place I could go without heading back home. And while I was there, I worked in hospitality and that was the first time I really understood what a barista was and what specialty coffee meant.

cyclespeak
That obviously had an impact?

Nora
It was like a mental click. And when I returned home to Girona, I started working at Espresso Mafia.

cyclespeak
Beginning your own coffee journey?

Nora
At that time, the Espresso Mafia concept was really difficult for some Catalan people to understand—they thought it was very expensive. But I’ve always liked things that are new and different and I loved working there. I practised my latte art – doing it nice – and I also valued the everyday contact I had with our customers.

cyclespeak
And Jannik?

Jannik
I’ll do the short version.

[Nora laughs]

Jannik
I’ve been interested in coffee for seven and a half years now. Alongside my normal work, I helped a friend build his own shop and did a few coffee events. 

cyclespeak
Just out of curiosity, what was your normal work?

Jannik
That’s an interesting question.

[Nora laughs]

Jannik
After studying international business and enterprise at university, I would say I’ve specialised in entrepreneurship. So when people ask how I ended up making coffee in Girona, I explain that the city is very international and our shop is a business [smiles].

cyclespeak
You’re partners in both life and work, so can I ask how you met? Those first impressions that led to your story as a couple?

Nora
While I was still working at Espresso Mafia, this new shop – Eat, Sleep, Cycle – was having an opening party. I was having fun and then went outside to get some air and saw this man. He was looking very nice and elegant—different from your average Catalan guy. And because I’m very impulsive, I just walked up to him and started talking. Straight away, I saw something in him that I really liked but at the end of the evening we just went our separate ways.

cyclespeak
That’s a nice memory.

Nora
He stayed here for three months – taking some time off from Germany – and I kept seeing him at Espresso Mafia. He wasn’t available at that particular moment but I knew we had a connection. It just wasn’t the right time.

cyclespeak
So what happened to change that?

Nora
The day we spoke the most was the day he returned to Germany. He came back a year later but over all that time I had him in my mind. And the first person he saw when he did come back was me. It was a very beautiful moment and this time he was available. And we smiled because we both knew something might happen.

cyclespeak
Jannik, that was quite an impression you made?

Jannik
It does sound that way [laughs].

cyclespeak
So what’s your take on first seeing Nora?

Jannik
I’d temporarily left behind life in Germany and just fell in love with Girona’s energy, culture and surroundings. But because this was a contemplative time for myself, I kept changing my mind whether I should attend the opening party at Eat, Sleep, Cycle. In the end I didn’t stay long but I stayed long enough [smiles].

cyclespeak
That’s a nice way of putting it.

Jannik
It was a difficult time for me. I was struggling with depression so wasn’t really available for friends – new or old – or even for myself. But Girona proved the catalyst for the internal development I needed and when I returned a year later, I was walking over the stone bridge in the centre of town when I bumped into Nora.

cyclespeak
You were fated to meet again [smiles].

Nora
Yes, just like that.

cyclespeak
You both grew up in quite different cultures and I was wondering whether, at that time, your friends and family were surprised at your mutual attraction?

Jannik
I was recently talking about this to my family and it turns out they weren’t surprised at all. They knew I wouldn’t make a life for myself in Germany.

cyclespeak
In England we say a square peg in a round hole. And just because you grow up with certain cultural values doesn’t necessarily mean you have a sense of belonging. And it can take a geographical or emotional removal to find this.

Jannik
I feel more connected to Girona than where I grew up. Like I belong.

Nora
I hope [laughs].

cyclespeak
So what language do you speak at home?

Nora
Spanish.

Jannik
The first week was English but it just didn’t feel like the right connection.

cyclespeak
You appear to have moved towards Nora in terms of locality, culture, language?

Jannik
We did both move to Germany to see how it felt living there. But we knew pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to work.

Nora
It was really difficult living in Germany. So I’m happy that Jannik enjoys living in Girona—that he feels free to be his true self.

cyclespeak
And now you have Oniria but I’ve been struggling to find out what it means. I even tried Google Translate but with no luck. So can you tell me the story?

Jannik
I have a quick description before Nora explains it better than me.

[Nora laughs]

Jannik
It comes from the word oneiric which I interpret as the world behind closed eyes. That moment between a waking and dreaming state.

Nora
It represents what I like to paint—the surrealist landscapes that I portray. A world of dreams but also a place where anything is possible. It might not make sense – it doesn’t have to reflect real life – but it can offer a different way of living and being.

cyclespeak
Were these concepts and visions always going to be rooted in a coffee shop?

Nora
We have a lot of ideas – a lot of dreams – and we believe that Oniria is just the beginning. The first thing we built together.

cyclespeak
From the outside looking in, I find it difficult to imagine you ever standing still. That there’s a constant questioning and reimagining of the journey you’re both on.

Nora
Thinking about the future, we might have certain goals but then you meet someone, share ideas, and that can alter your pathway.

cyclespeak
I’m guessing you had to weather some challenges in launching your business?

Jannik
This wasn’t our first location—we started just around the corner in a friend’s shop so we didn’t have rent to pay and could breathe freely and see where this path would take us.

cyclespeak
But you had to contend with a worldwide pandemic?

Jannik
We quickly realised that it was more of an opportunity than a risk. We couldn’t leave the city because of the restrictions but it allowed us to really connect with the people in our immediate neighbourhood. But there are still challenges – the daily routine of running a business – which is why we don’t work on Sunday and Mondays. You need space for yourself.

Nora
We started very small and grew the business organically. And then our current location became empty and we managed to come to an arrangement. Our next step.

cyclespeak
Now that you’re established, can you talk about your customers and the connections you’ve made?

Jannik
We’re both very interested in the psychological aspects of our relationships with our customers. And we’re not so much serving coffee as openness—Oniria being 25 square metres of conversation. That’s naturally what happens here. And because I ask questions and have a talent for remembering names…

[Nora laughs and nods]

…90% of the people that visit frequently, I know something about them. It’s what drives me—that we can provide a space that is free from any kind of judgement. You can be who you are and feel at home. As if Oniria is an extension of our living room.

cyclespeak
And for you, Nora?

Nora
What I’ve discovered is that listening to what people have to say is a very powerful thing. Because people don’t always have that in their lives or maybe they find it difficult to open up emotionally. And Oniria is a space where these things become possibilities.

cyclespeak
Do you think the same environment, the same impact, would be possible if Oniria was a bigger space?

Nora
It would be a lot more difficult. 

Jannik
I think we could but only for limited hours. We both have finite energies and if we had a bigger shop and more customers, something would have to give. It needs to be a slow rather than fast environment.

Nora
And the next step might not be a coffee shop. Maybe something different.

cyclespeak
Sometimes things start small and have that magic ingredient. And that can be lost when you scale it?

Nora
It’s a decision that most businesses face at some point. When you have to choose between making more money or keeping to your original vision. But maybe it’s possible to do both?

Jannik
It’s about finding a sense of equilibrium and questioning whether you want more?

cyclespeak
I can see you’ve got some conversations ahead.

Jannik
Whatever happens, this shop will stay. The size and energy is just too good.

cyclespeak
You mentioned painting, Nora. Is this aspect of your life intertwined with Oniria? Or is it something you purposely keep separate?

Nora
That’s a good question. Because I’ve also been struggling with the same thoughts. 

cyclespeak
Have you found any answers?

Nora
On balance, I think these things should go together. Being an artist is me and Oniria is me. And painting is not something I do all the time. I paint when I feel inspired and everything aligns. But this takes time and, right now, I don’t have that much [laughs].

cyclespeak
Jannik, any hidden talents that I’m not aware of?

Jannik
That’s another very good question [smiles].

Nora
Many talents!!

cyclespeak
If Jannik is too modest, then maybe Nora should list them?

Jannik
It’s difficult to narrow it down because I like so many things. But actual talents? I did have this conversation once with a colleague and he said that my art is the way I approach and interact with people. Which I considered a very big compliment but maybe not a talent?

cyclespeak
Can I respectfully disagree? The ability to make a connection in a matter of seconds is a real gift. A talent that can mean so much to any individual in need of an empathetic ear.

Jannik
Well, for me, that’s good enough.

cyclespeak
Working together, is the line between the café and home blurred?

Jannik
In the beginning, when we’d just started, a little obsession grew that we had to be active on social media. I don’t feel that anymore and I think we’re both pretty aware when it’s time to disconnect.

Nora
We work a lot but we also have our days off and enjoy them as a couple or with friends. Some of these friends we made at Oniria so I suppose that’s a link with work but a nice one.

Jannik
There’s always a little part of life that’s related to work so you need to take control. And I have been guilty of prioritising others and not having enough energy to sustain myself. But this is the real challenge of being self-employed.

cyclespeak
Could Oniria exist elsewhere?

Jannik
It could work in different cities because it’s more about the experience than the physicality of the building. People need spaces where they can speak up, be open and authentic. It’s what we often say—coffee is the bridge.

Cyclespeak
And Girona?

Jannik
The setting is just perfect and both Nora and I feel this sense of connection. Very much our feet on the ground.

Nora
We both know that we have to be here. It’s our place.

cyclespeak
And as your place is a coffee shop, can I ask what you would order?

Nora
I always have a flat white. With oat milk.

Jannik
For me, it depends on the day but I’d rather go filter coffee if I can.

cyclespeak
And after a busy day, is it home cooked food or going out to eat?

Nora
We do both a lot [laughs]. We love cooking – very healthy usually – but we also love to eat out. The environment and energy of somewhere else and having people serve us is a welcome change from Oniria.

cyclespeak
Together as a team, you’ve worked so hard to create this special space. Can you describe each other in three words?

Nora
For me, I would say Jannik is brave. Very brave. And a perfectionist. And very empathetic.

cyclespeak
Jannik?

Jannik [looking at Nora]
Beautiful. Creative. And emotionally intense. Is that three or four? But definitely, always, beautiful.

Oniria Café / Nora

All photography with kind permission of The Service Course

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