By Margot Thomas
The link between a cozy restaurant with the charm of an “Olde English” tea shop, and a 33 year career in a corporate law environment, may seem a far stretch, but for Marcela Marisel, the link is a dream that has always been in the background.
Dodo (Bon Pan Café) tucked away in a corner of Plaza De Francia in Casco Viejo does not boast the scones and Devonshire cream, of the “Olde” world, but it has arguably the finest selection of teas in Panama and pastries and cakes that are truly “unique”… that means you won’t find them anywhere else. That’s largely because many of them qualify as “vegan” or “vegetarian”, but don’t let that put you off. If I hadn’t told you, you might never have known, because there are some truly delicious offerings.
You can accompany them with tea, served in a teapot with flavors from peppermint-lemon-grass-hibiscus through apple-cranberry to a cinnamon-apple-vanilla blend, with lots more in between, including of course, black tea.
Coffee comes direct from a Panamanian farm and includes the prized geisha, sought by connoisseurs from around the world.
Dodo’s has become a favorite breakfast spot for many locals and visitors, and again, there is a unique touch to the menu. Marcela is an unrepentant meat eater but, nudged by a vegetarian husband and vegan son, indicates on the menu, whether the items listed are “regular”, vegan, vegetarian or gluten free.
Marcela, born in Venezuela, moved with her Panamanian parents to New York when she was nine. Six years later the family moved to Panama, and after graduating she entered a law office and, as she traveled the world for business and pleasure, the dream began to take root. It came to fruition on a visit to Guatemala when pondering abreak from the law and vizualising a hands on business with people interaction ... a rstuarant. Her son, working in an art gallery in Plaza de Francia suggested that the space below might be converted. It took a couple of years, with Marcela doing double duty at the law office and putting the finishing touches to the dream, but now it’s there and, in a few weeks, Marcela will “retire” to make sure that what has become a total family business with husband, son and daughter all involved, stays on the right track.
Drop by, say hello and test the products for yourself or pick up some homemade jams and sauces. If she’s not too busy, ask Marcela to tell you the story of how Dodo, the French bunny who is now the café’s logo got to Panama.
How to get there: Entering Plaza de Francia from Calle Primera you could easily miss it. As you enter it’s immediately on your left, opposite the French embassy and diagonally opposite the building that dominates the square and houses INAC, the Panama's cultural organization.