Forget Starbucks. A South Korean couple has built a cafe that looks like a classic Rolleiflex twin-lens camera, and they would love to hear your story as you sip down a cup of coffee.
Park Sung-hwan dreamed of becoming a military pilot ever since he was a boy in elementary school. When he informed his family of this ambition, they told him that serving in the armed forces wasn't worth pursuing. Park persevered, joining the army in 2000 and eventually becoming a helicopter pilot. But now he has another, more unusual passion; the Dreamy Camera Cafe that he runs with his wife Kwak Myung-hee, herself a retired army pilot, in Yangpyeong county — about 40 miles outside of Seoul.
"In Korea, it's likely that you'll face a problem in realizing and shaping your own path," said Park. "My wife and I wanted to build a place where anyone could share their stories and help out those who are struggling to discover or achieve their dreams. The idea for a camera-themed cafe came later."
The Rolleiflex 2.8F camera that inspired the cafe's design.
Park first got into photography 12 years ago and his interest in collecting cameras naturally progressed over the years. The couple initially pictured a building shaped like a Leica rangefinder, but subsequently opted for a Rolleiflex design due to technical challenges. In 2009, Kwak sketched a concept for the cafe on a piece of cardboard. It was just a matter of time until the pair could turn their dream into a reality.
"We sent out a picture of the Rolleiflex to several contractors and two companies replied back saying they could build it," said Kwak. Construction began in 2012 and the cafe finally opened last year. "We were excited to learn other people's dreams, and hopefully inspire them to execute their plans by sharing our experience of planning the cafe."
Influenced by several Korean artists who create visualizations of people's dreams, the couple realized that their love for photography could play an integral role in achieving their goal. The cafe's current method of visualization is as simple as taking a photo of visitors, printing it out on instant film, and encouraging them to record their dreams in a few words on the picture's border.
"It's not meant to function like an average cafe."
Kwak and her husband are both committed to the "dream visualization" route they've taken — Park takes a photography class after work, and they are actively looking for new ways to motivate the customers to join the movement while managing the day-to-day operations.
But they admit that the majority of customers were only interested in the camera theme. "Roughly 10 percent understand our intention and openly share their stories. We would be thrilled if more people could see the cafe the way we see it — a space for dreamers," said Kwak. "We occasionally worry that we've done something wrong whenever someone stays for 30 minutes or less just for a quick look at the cameras or a quick drink of coffee. It's not meant to function like an average cafe."
After a picture of the cafe went viral, the couple found themselves in an unfamiliar situation. Their Facebook page went from 150 to more than 3,000 likes within two weeks, and they were bombarded with messages from multinational news sites. The couple said they were surprised, but added that they're not making a big deal out of the attention — they have already turned down local TV networks' requests for interviews.
The cafe owners made it clear that they weren't after money or fame. "The recent spike in interest is only temporary. Besides, the number of Facebook likes probably represents the number of people who would like to visit, but can't in reality," said Park. "Our success isn't defined by how much money we make. If someone walks through the door and talks about their dream, that would make our day. That's what the Dreamy Camera Cafe is for."
Sam Byford contributed to this report.
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The cafe is two stories high and 30 feet tall.
A customer looks at the cameras the owner has collected over the years.
The Kodak Retina I, from 1948, is one of the vintage cameras on display.
“We made each little interior design decision by ourselves," says Kwak. "I’m pleased with the outcome.”
On each table is a set of color pencils, a menu inside a photo album, and a film roll-style paper towel dispenser.
A customer writes down a few words on her family photo.
Cafe customers record their memories for all to see.
The stairs to the second floor.
Photographs line the walls.
A family takes smartphone photos on the second floor.