Elif Ekin likes to think outside the box. Has always.
So when the COVID-19 pandemic decimated revenue from her wholesale baklava business and shook the 49-year-old life coach out of her comfort zone, it was only natural that her next venture would go against the grain.
Ekin opened Kahve Cafe, 57 S. 600 East, in June 2021 — and it’s not like most cafes.
“It’s a house,” she said between sips of tea. “It’s a family.”
On the first floor of a Victorian house, employees brew coffee in front of you, swirling small pots in hot sand – just like Turkish coffee has been made for centuries.
Many products – teas, spices, towels and others – are imported from Turkey.
Family photos and artwork line the walls. Customers are invited to sit down, either on the floor or on the vintage furniture that dots the interior, and enjoy their cups of coffee. Maybe, Ekin hopes, they’ll even strike up a conversation with a stranger.
“I need you to sit down for a minute. You have to learn to stop,” she says. “Please take a minute to stop. Nobody does that anymore. They just rush into the drive-thru.
And if entering Kahve Cafe means joining a family, sometimes family has to help. If Ekin is busy, chances are she’ll ask a regular to brew a new teapot.
A place where creative types can grow
While Kahve’s nooks and crannies may be enough to set it apart from other stores in Utah’s capital, the cafe is only part of the story behind the home it occupies on 600 East.
Ekin’s coffee and baklava business anchors the house she calls The Wise Dragonfly. The house hosts a collective of creative types and healing arts specialists, making it more than just a place to grab a coffee. It is a place to start a business.
Climb the wooden steps to the second floor and guests find doors that open to artist studios, a Thai massage specialist, a crystal healer, and a jewelry store. Startups looking for meeting space can rent space by the hour or through monthly subscriptions, giving them an inexpensive place to brainstorm new projects.
It’s a concept that Ekin says came to him in a dream.
“I remember four or five years ago I woke up and just had these words… ‘You’re going to create a community for wandering spirits looking for a place to call home. ‘”
Ekin also considers the artists and healers who rent these rooms as part of the family. Members of the collective watch over and care for each other, she says, and many of them work in the cafe downstairs.
“That’s what’s missing is that community,” Ekin says. “We don’t just rent rooms. »
One of those cafe tenants and employees is Lyra Zoe Smith, an artist who started working at Kahve Cafe about nine months ago.
Found at street fairs and summer markets, Smith began renting space in The Wise Dragonfly over the summer to give the public a place to find her between market appearances.
Home is sort of “a magical place,” she says, that provides a space to let go of the stresses of the outside world.
“The city has become really sterile in its construction of new venues and new businesses,” Smith says. “Everything is a bit cold and hard when you go somewhere to sit and enjoy, and it’s really nice to be able to walk into a cozy and comfortable place to sit and draw or read a book or do your homework for the day. “
A story of helping others
Smith was drawn to Ekin’s eccentric, creative, and generous personality.
“She’s very generous and she has a lot of amazing, great ideas that she just wants to share with people,” Smith says, “and she wants to create space for people and make it really inclusive and fun.”
Ekin was born in Turkey on a US Air Force base to an American mother and a Turkish father. Her family later moved to Rhode Island, where she lived until she moved to Utah on Pioneer Day in 2001 with her then-husband.
After getting divorced, she became a life coach and started a nonprofit called the Divorcee Cafe, a group that offered regular meetings to provide professional and peer support to Utahns whose relationships had fallen apart.
The pandemic has complicated those meetings, Ekin says, forcing her to focus more on coffee.
Salt Lake City Council member Victoria Petro-Eschler says Ekin has an internal calling to nurture those around her and has a gift for welcoming people into her culture.
Helping others, says Petro-Eschler, is exactly what Ekin does.
“She is proof that [by] by valuing others and staying true to your calling,” says Petro-Eschler, “it is possible to build a life that way.”
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