The Date Lady Colleen Sundlie

The Date Lady herself: founder Colleen Sundlie.

Late last year, Date Lady Founder Colleen Sundlie transformed a 1950s-era Commercial Street barber shop into a tiny piece of paradise in Springfield, Missouri. Today, the 400-square-foot space is home to Café Dhibs, Date Lady’s first customer-facing endeavor. “We first started Date Lady out of Farmers Market of the Ozarks,” Sundlie says. “As the business grew, we found that we really missed that one-on-one contact with our customers. We would get phone calls from Date Lady fans who were traveling to the Springfield area, and we didn’t really have a customer-facing facility they could visit.”

Now, Café Dhibs is another way for Sundlie to spread the good word of the humble date, which she discovered while spending several years in the United Arab Emirates for her husband's job. “When you walk into a health club in the U.A.E., they have a platter of dates; when you visit someone’s house, they serve you dates and coffee,” she says. “Imagine if everywhere you went in the U.S., somebody served you apples. It’s like that. Dates are just a part of the culture.”

Sundlie’s family moved back to the States in 2008; four years later, she channeled her passion for dates’ natural sweetness into Date Lady, the first nationwide date syrup company in the United States. The company’s flagship syrup is organic and GMO-free, and the rest of the products are equally health-conscious. “We do everything without cane sugar, and it’s all gluten-free,” Sundlie says. “It’s about using really simple ingredients, and that’s the same approach we take at the cafe.”

The cafe menu features several espresso drinks, including the namesake beverage, the Café Dhibs, which Sundlie first encountered in the U.A.E. The drink includes espresso, date syrup, steamed milk and whipped topping, all of which is sourced as locally as possible. The concept is also vegan-friendly – all of the drinks can be made vegan, and about 30 percent of the bakery items are vegan as well. “Everything is totally natural, real food,” Sundlie says. “We buy organic when possible, try not to use gum or additives – basically, if it’s not really a food, we don’t use it.”

What’s your perfect day of eating in Springfield? I really love the feel of coffee shops – The Coffee Ethic, for example. They don’t have a full breakfast, but I still love the atmosphere and the coffee. If I’m going out for a full breakfast or brunch, I’d probably go to The Order. They have a great, creative menu with lots of local choices, and the atmosphere is good. For lunch, my family goes for simple, consistent food. We have kids, so of course we love Black Sheep when we need something quick and tasty. For dinner, Farmers Gastropub is the real deal. They are so creative with a constantly changing menu that’s centered around what’s available locally. After dinner, I love Golden Girl Rum Club. It’s so fun, the cocktails are super creative and I like to support anything downtown or on Commercial Street.

How has the local food scene evolved over the past year? It seems like everywhere you go, there are more and more vegan or gluten-free options. Overall, I see more people trying to use high-quality, local ingredients. It’s truly so different than it was when we moved back to Missouri nine years ago.

What do you like to cook at home or on your day off? We keep it simple. We have a garden, so we make a lot of pizza with fresh basil and whatever we have access to in the garden. We’ll also do a lot of great hamburgers – we raised our own cow on my brother-in-law’s land this year, which was really exciting. Overall, we’ll do a lot of simple foods that we can dress up a little – fish tacos, stuff like that.

What’s your favorite comfort food? I tend to crave a really good charcuterie board. I’ll get some fantastic meats and cheeses with a good wine, usually from MaMa Jean’s or the Brown Derby International Wine Center.

What is your first food memory? This isn’t my first food memory, but it’s an influential one: We lived in the United Arab Emirates when I was in my early thirties, and there is a really strong Lebanese influence there. I remember amazing hummus and baba ganoush, and there was meat roasting on a spit all day long in our town. Of course, the dates were also really influential. They’re everywhere.

What’s the most intriguing dish or drink you’ve made recently, and why? We’re into real food, but we’re also major foodies, so our scones are made with high-quality butter. The most intriguing drink is probably our namesake, the Café Dhibs. It’s this aesthetically beautiful drink we had in the Middle East with layers of date syrup, milk, espresso or strong coffee and fresh whipped cream. Another drink we’re excited about is our Golden Milk. We make all the spices ourselves, so we’re not going out and buying a mix. We make it with steamed milk, and it’s sweetened with date syrup instead of sugar.

What are your future plans? The demand for dates and date products has really risen. We were the first U.S.-based brand of date syrup on the market, and now have at least seven or eight competitors. If you go on Amazon, you’ll see what’s out there. It’s truly amazing considering that it used to be such a bizarre food product to so many people. It’s been really fun to see the business grow, and our plan is just to handle the growth right now. As far as the cafe goes, we’re super excited about what’s next. It feels like we’re still in our soft opening phase since we opened in the winter. When the weather warms up, we’ll have cafe tables all the way around the building. We’ll also have date shakes starting up, and we’re excited to bring those to Springfield. I’m just thrilled to see what’s next for us.

Café Dhibs, 918 W. Commercial St., Springfield, Missouri,