Elif Ekin likes to think outside the box. Always has.
So when the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the income from her wholesale baklava business and shook the 49-year-old life coach from 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 isn’t like most coffee shops.
“This is a home,” she says between sips of tea. “This is a family.”
On the first floor of a Victorian home, employees brew coffee in front of you, swirling small pots through scorching sand — the way Turkish coffee has been made for centuries.
Many of the products — teas, spices, towels and more — are imported from Turkey.
Family photos and art line the walls. Customers are encouraged to take a seat, either on the floor or on the vintage furniture that dots the interior, and savor their cups of coffee. Maybe, Ekin hopes, they’ll even strike up a conversation with a stranger.
“I need you to sit for a minute. You need to learn how to stop,” she says. “Please take a minute to stop. Nobody does that anymore. They’re just rushing through the drive-thru.”
And if stepping into Kahve Cafe means joining a family, sometimes family has to help out. If Ekin gets busy, there’s a good chance she’ll ask a regular to brew a fresh pot of tea.
A place for creative types to grow
While Kahve’s nooks and crannies of quirkiness may be enough to distinguish it from other shops in Utah’s capital, the cafe is only one piece of the story behind the house it occupies on 600 East.
The coffee shop and Ekin’s baklava business anchor the house that she calls The Wise Dragonfly. The home hosts a collective of creative types and healing arts specialists, making it more than a place for coffee. It’s a place to get a business off the ground.
Meander up the wooden steps to the second floor, and customers find doors that open up 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 memberships, giving them a low-cost place to brainstorm new endeavors.
It’s a concept that Ekin says came to her in a dream.
“I remember like four or five years ago waking up and just having these words … ‘You’re going to create a community for wandering spirits looking for a place to call home.’”
Ekin considers artists and healers who rent these rooms part of the family, too. Members of the collective look out for and take care of one another, she says, and many of them work in the cafe downstairs.
“This is what is missing, is this community,” Ekin says. “We’re more than just renting rooms.”
One of those tenants and coffee shop employees is Lyra Zoe Smith, an artist who began working at Kahve Cafe about nine months ago.
A fixture at summer street fairs and markets, Smith began renting space in The Wise Dragonfly over the summer to give the public a place to find her between appearances at markets.
The house is sort of “a magical place,” she says, that offers room to rid yourself of stress from the outside world.
“The city has become really sterile in its building of new places and new businesses,” Smith says. “Everything’s kind of cold and hard when you go into a place to sit and enjoy, and it’s really nice to be able to come into a place that’s comfortable and cozy to sit and draw or read a book or do your homework for the day.”
A history of helping others
Smith was drawn to Ekin’s eccentric, creative and generous personality.
“She’s very giving and she has a lot of amazing, great ideas that she just wants to share with people,” Smith says, “and she wants to create a space for people and have it be really inclusive and fun.”
Ekin was born in Turkey on a U.S. Air Force base to an American mother and 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 divorcing, she became a life coach and started a nonprofit called the Divorcee Cafe, a group that offered regular meetings to provide peer- and professional support to Utahns whose relationships had unraveled.
The pandemic complicated those meetings, Ekin says, forcing her to put more focus on the coffee shop.
Salt Lake City Council member Victoria Petro-Eschler says Ekin has an internal calling to nurture those around her and possesses a gift for welcoming people to her culture.
Helping others, Petro-Eschler says, is just what Ekin does.
“She’s evidence that [by] valuing other people and staying true to your calling,” Petro-Eschler says, “it is possible to build a life that way.”
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