The El Fondouk café, possibly Djerba’s most popular café is perfectly situated in the heart of Houmt Souk medina. There’s more to this famous café than just good coffee.
The Story Behind El Fondouk
The story behind El Fondouk begins with a young man named Fethi Jadaa who once owned a clothing shop in the Houmt Souk medina. Being an avid traveler, Fethi had traveled to many countries such as Turkey and Greece. He became fascinated with historic buildings that had been renovated into successful modern coffee shops in these countries. Back in Houmt Souk, Fethi began to take special notice of the fondouk in the medina which he used to pass by every day.
A fondouk, or caravansary, is a historic hotel established along ancient caravan routes for traveling merchants and their mounts. The merchants used to sleep in rooms located on the upper level, while their camels, horses, and mules rested in the inner courtyard on the ground level. The fondouks were not only a place of rest but also a place for stocking up goods for the road and conversing with other traveling merchants. The island of Djerba used to be a place of trade where merchants would travel through a caravan route connecting to the mainland. Thus, there are many fondouks established on this island. Many of these have since been converted into hotels for modern-day travelers and tourists.
Since then, Fethi convinced the owner of this fondouk in the medina to rent him the property to fulfill his entrepreneurial dream.
El Fondouk – The Perfect Blend of Modernity and Tradition
In 2014, Fethi transformed this caravansary into a contemporary café without changing its 380-year old historic monument. The result is a beautiful renovation using blue and white Djerbian decorations which vibrates a calm and peaceful ambiance. From the moment you step into the El Fondouk café, you will feel captivated by the combined rhythms of modernity and Tunisian traditions. It is no wonder that El Fondouk is popular amongst both foreigners and locals.
During my interview with Fethi, he shared the secret of his business success is to “have a unique touch and charm”. The music, calmness, and architecture of El Fondouk set a mood and unique experience for the customer to want to keep coming back. There are simply no other cafés in Djerba that are similar to its uniqueness and charm.
Since its establishment in 2014, El Fondouk had developed into a cultural café, a restaurant and an art exhibition space. There are currently 7 art shops located on the upper level, but only one shop is currently open to the public as of July 2017. All of these shops showcase and sell handicrafts, artworks and products that are 100% Tunisian.
The Future of El Fondouk
The growing success of El Fondouk is truly commendable and should inspire other cultural initiatives in the country. Fethi hopes to create more partnerships with local artisans and artists to showcase their creative work.
Fethi also envisions El Fondouk to become a must-visit attraction in Djerba for all tourists. His vision is to see tourists who says, “I visited Djerba” to also be saying “I visited El Fondouk”.
Another plan Fethi has is to add a library in El Fondouk to allow customers to enjoy reading a good book in this tranquil atmosphere.