It’s the secret everyone in Dartmouth knows.

It’s about making it right.

For Tara MacDonald and Zane Kelsall, Two If By Sea is not just café, it’s an expression of what they do, and how they do it. Started in November of 2009, Two If By Sea has become one of the most respected and revered cafés in the HRM, with a highly loyal and devotional following. Drop in at any time, on any day, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a place to sit, but soon enough, someone will be gracious enough to move on, because they want you to experience what they just did.

And what they experienced is perfectly pulled espresso-based drinks and superb coffee, alongside wonderful croissants. Beside those two things, there is really little else on the menu at this little corner joint. And that’s the point – to do the simplest things, and to do them well. Zane Kelsall is an award winning barista (both by popular demand and critical acclaim) and Tara MacDonald’s croissants are legendary among Halifoodie cognoscenti. One year later, the popular spot is still busy, often with Zane manning the espresso machine and Tara pounding butter into batter for croissants.

The cafe is also proud of its Dartmouth pedigree. You’ll find little (and free!) ” I (heart) Dartmouth” buttons by the cash, and the staff (and even the patrons) are often seen wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the same logo on their chests. It’s been one of their big selling points, and is often discussed in interviews.

Tara sat down with Passable for one of our Passable Interviews.

Why open the cafe in Dartmouth? Do you think it helped or hindered the cafe being where it is?

I had a table at the Dartmouth Farmer’s Market for close to a year before we opened the permanent location… I knew people from the market would frequent and wanted a cafe. I also own a home and have only lived in Dartmouth in the two years I’ve been in Nova Scotia. It has always felt like an untapped resource being on this side of the water. It just made sense.

Do you think your cafe has helped feed into this so-called “Dartmouth Renaissance”?

Feed not being a pun, right? There are a handful of great business who have been going strong in Dartmouth for some time now – Interlude Spa, Nectar Restro, Jamieson’s in Cole Harbour, Celtic Corner, etc. I know Zane and I would be thrilled to be included in this grouping of movers and shakers when it comes to any kind of renaissance in Dartmouth.

What was it like those first few weeks when you were open?

Crazy, exhausting, awesome, emotional … and it’s still like that every day!

Does that make it worth it?

It’s a culmination of many things that make working so hard worth it. Seeing people in our café enjoying themselves, seeing people meet and make new friends at the café, seeing kids and moms come in for a treat and a rest, seeing people so happy while they are in our space…It’s a pretty incredible feeling to watch all of this go down and know you had something to do in helping make it happen.

Why keep the menu and offerings small?

Zane and I always only wanted to focus on two things – coffee and croissants. We feel that if we focus our energies on these two things and do them as best we can, we can’t fail. When menus get too large, details can get lost or watered down.

So will the cafe ever expand?

We are adding a second bathroom and some more seating to our current location, but other than that, there are no plans to go elsewhere.

What do you think makes TIBS so distinctive?

Our personalities are in everything we do. We care about the product and our customers and I think that shows. We know people by name, we know there stories and it really makes a difference.

When did you know you had a good thing going on with TIBS?

Honestly, day one. It felt good and warm and people started coming in right away and those same people still come in every day. It felt like it was meant to be.

You can check out Two If By Sea’s lovely foodstuffs at 66 Ochterloney Street in Dartmouth. It’s just a hop, skip and a boat ride on the Alderney Ferry. You can also follow follow them on Twitter.

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