By JOE JAROSZ
March 5, 2014
Soon, it will be more than just a cafe. It will be a community.
Over the past week and continuing through mid-March, changes have and will continue to be made at Towfiq, 2202 Lexington Ave., with the hope the changes will turn the establishment into a community hotspot.
And this isn’t a project the owners have been planning for months, either. Actually, this all started within the past month with the help of a helpful patron, Northeast resident Kristin Johnson.
The Abdalla brothers – Bakar, Ali, Abbas and Abdifatah – bought the restaurant about a year ago. Since that time, they updated the menu with more Mediterranean cuisine, sambusa and homemade chai tea, but as the menu changed, not much else did. During a recent stop, Johnson began talking to owners, suggesting a change to the color. What transpired from that conversation began the makeover Towfiq is now experiencing.
“I’m extremely pleased,” Johnson said. “It feels serendipitous.”
“We’re trying to do it one step at a time,” Bakar said.
What changed first was the colors. Johnson described the previous color scheme as uninviting and discussed changed with the owners. The group selected talked and soon selected yellow and red, to match the food.
“It looks friendlier,” Johnson said, adding they spent four nights painting the cafe. “I paid for the paint and people from down the street helped. We did it in portions each day and ended up staying later each night.”
When others in the neighborhood learned of Johnson’s volunteering, more started to step up to help the cafe. She said people are coming in a covering all expenses, from benches, signs window security tape and espresso machine lessons.
“It’s turning into an unique community project,” Johnson said. “People are filling in holes where we need help. I want people to be inspired by this.”
Bakar said the goal is to turn this into a cafe for the Northeast community. He said when he and his brothers took over the business, they wanted to eventually turn it into a place for everyone. They offer free wi-fi and similar breakfast, lunch and dinner meals to other area establishments, but people just don’t know about them.
“Once you try it, you’ll know what it is,” Bakar said. “Our prices are low and it’s a fun, friendly place to be.”
With the painting complete, Johnson said the next step is to install benches and new signs. They also plan to remove the security bars and replace it with security tape on the windows. Since they don’t have a printed menu, the plan is to take photos of all the meals offered and place them above the ordering counter.
“The plan is to have the descriptions of the meals worded as if a friend is describing it to you,” Johnson said.
What do the brothers think about all the changes taking place? They love it and know it could not have been possible without the help of Johnson. Bakar said when there are good people in the world, change can be made. The four brothers are seeing that for themselves because, he added, one person has made a tremendous impact on their lives.
“She’s a godsend,” Bakar said. “She went out of her way to help us and now [with all the help we've gotten] we consider this a community cafe.”
At one point during last week’s painting session, Johnson turned to the owners and said the establishment is finally theirs. But, they corrected her.
“They said no, it’s the community’s cafe now,” Johnson said.
After the remodeling is complete, the cafe will host a re-opening to the community from 6 a.m. – 9 p.m. Saturday, March 15. Towfiq is open seven days a week, 6 a.m. – 9 p.m.