Kahve Cafe: Feels Like Coming Home
Navigating the holidays can be disorienting, especially if you’re alone. The creeping feeling of homesickness once the days become shorter isn’t something everyone can simply alleviate by plane, train or automobile. Inside a victorian in the Avenues, Kahve Cafe has packed the feeling of coming home into a dense cup of coffee by preserving centuries-old traditions with rich flavor. From the cozy, worn-in rooms to a history full of snags and stitches, Kahve Cafe resembles an heirloom, hand-me-down sweater that warms and comforts the soul.
A lifelong baklava baker, Elif Ekin’s “pandemic pivot” pushed her to seek out a brick-and-mortar location and jump right in. “It had to be a house,” she says. “A Turkish cafe belongs in the home because Turkish hospitality begins in the home.” She hands me a cup of locally sourced herbal tea to soothe my head cold as we settle in the Fairy Room in the corner of the first floor. Ekin named the three-storied house built in 1905 The Wise Dragonfly as an ode to transformative ancient wisdom. The different rooms above the first floor house tenants such as healers, tattoo artists, painters and even the supernatural (Elkin assures me that any malicious spirits that previously occupied the halls have since moved on).
“A Turkish cafe belongs in the home because Turkish hospitality begins in the home.”
Kahve’s walls are adorned with photographs of Ekin’s family and ornate, handwoven rugs overlap on the hardwood floor—personal touches of another world. Her family fled to her mother’s home of Rhode Island as refugees in the early ’70s to avoid being imprisoned once political strife began. Her Turkish father was a professor, one of the professions that was deemed dangerous by the government. Ekin relays that coffee houses themselves originated as safe spaces to discuss taboo things like art, politics and philosophy in ancient Turkish markets. The buildings sprouted up as a refuge for expression and connection between people from different walks of life. “That’s why a Turkish proverb says, ‘A cup of coffee creates 40 years of friendship,’ because people continue gathering together and create community through connection,” Ekin says.
Her efforts to give back to the community aren’t contained to Kahve’s walls. Ekin implemented a giveback program with the purchase of Kahve‘s Turkish coffee bags, coordinating with the International Rescue Committee of Salt Lake City and their Spice Kitchen Incubator—for every bag purchase, 15% of the proceeds go to the IRC. “It’s been really important to help people get back on their feet. Not having anyone you know in another country is scary,” she says. Ekin has a goal to spread into the wholesale and retail business for her bagged coffee, with the aid from the sales going back into the community of immigrants and refugees like herself.
“It’s been really important to help people get back on their feet. Not having anyone you know in another country is scary.”
Kahve is one of only a handful of businesses in the entire country where Turkish coffee is ground, roasted, prepared and served in the traditional way. “There’s a lot of the old world in one tiny cup of coffee,” Ekin says. “We still use the same grinders, the same pots, cups and everything that we have been using for the last 500 years,” Ekin says. She takes more liberty with her baklava and baked goods, incorporating beers from local breweries such as Roha Brewing Project and Uinta Brewing Co. and candy. The three-textured bites aren’t sticky, or too large that they’re intimidating—or as Ekin puts it, “So you don’t get it on your beard or your boobs.” Fair enough.
As the year dwindles to an end, many of us will be inventing new traditions in unfamiliar places. As for me, I know that I can walk into Kahve Cafe and Ekin will be there with tea, comfort food and a genuine care for every life that walks across her threshold. Be sure to check out Kahve Cafe’s events such as their bi-monthly Sufi sound bath meditations, monthly open mic poetry night and traditional belly dancing performances. Tickets to these events and coffee bags are available on their website kahvecafeslc.com.