Feature Stories

La Reunion Isn’t a Coffee Shop, Restaurant or Bar, Yet It’s All of Those Things

Taylor Adams
The trio behind La Reunion: general manager and lead of the coffee program Ali Abderrahman, chef Matt Smith and owner Mike Mettendorf
In a traditional kitchen, it’s not uncommon to see an executive chef and pastry chef working together. At the very least, the kitchen lead is usually the one making ingredient orders, so they have to discuss that.

But there’s another kind of collaboration going on in Bishop Arts, one among individuals who have devoted their careers to coffee, cooking and cocktails, respectively. And through a culture Mike Mettendorf is creating, there’s a collaboration going on among the three of them to do their craft differently.

Mettendorf is the owner of La Reunion, a spot that opened Oct. 25 in “the new part” of Bishop Arts — yeah, with all of the construction going on, it all feels new, but we’re talking that southern area of Bishop, over by Azucar and Salaryman.

There’s a bar to order coffee, a bar to get an adult beverage and seating to have a meal. Mettendorf is reluctant to call it a “coffee shop,” “bar” or “restaurant,” which makes sense when you’re there. It tries to encompass all three.

“It’s not new, but unique,” he says. “Every person who enters these doors, they interpret it differently.”

click to enlarge The mussels have a rich sauce, not your basic white wine, with a lovely kick of spice on the finish. - TAYLOR ADAMS
The mussels have a rich sauce, not your basic white wine, with a lovely kick of spice on the finish.
Taylor Adams
There aren’t servers here, but chefs, baristas and bartenders — and those folks are really invested, Mettendorf says.

He was the general contractor for the space; if you sit down on one of the couches, you can know he and his team went through leather straps for three hours to get the right type. His own background is completely in coffee, having worked with Pearl Cup and Ascension. He credits his work history, which includes consulting in the industry, with making him confident in having the whole-picture approach to La Reunion.

His approach includes Ali Abderrahman, director of coffee and general manager, and chef Matt Smith. Level 2 sommelier Ian Montgomery designed the wine program, and Justin Gilbert has helped with the cocktail component.

La Reunion might be in the shinier part of the neighborhood that has brought residents countless hours of construction noise, though this space isn’t new to the 30-year-old Mettendorf.

“I’ve wanted to be in Bishop Arts for a decade … There’s a real community here,” the Bryan Place resident says. “I liked that it’s eclectic, for its independence ... There’s no Starbucks. There’s no Walmart.”

Abderrahman lives in the Bishop Arts neighborhood where he pours drinks using Novel Coffee Roasters beans. When you walk up to his bar, you won’t see a menu of drink items — Mettendorf says that makes the barista disappear, and he may have a point — instead, you talk to the barista, who frequently could be Abderrahman, and discuss what you like. The experience isn’t unlike one you’d have at a cocktail bar, no?

And just like you wouldn’t buy a bottle of Maker’s Mark with your Manhattan, you won’t buy a bag of coffee beans with your cup of drip coffee.

“It’s a bar for coffee, not a coffee shop,” Mettendorf says. “So a latte I make for you could look different than the one I make for someone else, because drinks are for the individual.”

“Everyone kind of follows a trend. I want to be off-trend,” Abderrahman says.

So, sure, Abderrahman makes his own flavors in syrups, but he’s not doing standard ones. And as far as methods, he’s learning from the kitchen: For example, he’s worked the sous vide into his process for coffee.

“A lot of coffee bars don’t have an expert chef in the back of house to help them,” he says.

On the food side is something exciting: You can find some staples of a French bistro here, something Dallas could use more of.

click to enlarge Yes, please, bring on the bistro food. - TAYLOR ADAMS
Yes, please, bring on the bistro food.
Taylor Adams
Chef Smith has worked his way through restaurants for 15 years, acquiring enough experience to lead a kitchen. Now, he’s making everything from scratch. Get him talking about the focaccia, and you’ll learn how it’s the first thing he works on when he arrives in the morning and the last thing he works on before leaving at night.

Mettendorf says he sees this as a community spot: The weekends bring in people checking out the neighborhood, but mostly it’s locals who seem to keep coming back.

“We built it for the neighborhood,” he says. “There are outlets everywhere, we have the fastest Wi-Fi, it’s comfortable. ... We built this place to hang out, not to turn tables.”

La Reunion, 229 N. Bishop Ave. (Bishop Arts District)