I have had lots of time to think about selling the past four years of my life and to contemplate what it has meant for me and for others.
Molly’s Cafe had three locations, all on Camekan Sokak: the first, opened in Sept 2008, was beside the mosque, a location that had been empty for four years. At the time, I lived across the street from it. My cafe was in that location for a little over a year. In 2009 I moved Molly’s Cafe across the street to what had been called ‘Timarhane’, which Turks found funny, because it was a euphemism for crazy house. The people who made it really wanted a ‘relaxation place’, which is what it really means. However, it closed very quickly. Molly’s Cafe occupied it for about a year and a half. Finally, in June 2011, the cafe moved to what had been a nasty dirty place for making plexiglass and neon signs. It was my cafe for a little over a year. In total, Molly’s Cafe existed with Molly for almost 4 years.
molly in the kitchen
First of all, I am very proud of what I have done with Molly’s Café. Its niche was offering non Turkish homemade food to those who were homesick and to those who were sick of kebabs all the time. For vegetarians it was an opportunity for them to eat something that was really vegetarian, as many Turks think that if there are not chunks of meat floating around in it, it is vegetarian. For vegans there were some options too. Mostly people were happy to have something familiar to choose from. It wasn’t fancy, but it filled one’s belly at a reasonable price.
back salon in the 3rd cafe
The comfortable atmosphere was also something that attracted many regular customers. The several sofas and several armchairs invited conversation, reading, or cuddling in the back corner with a sweetheart (with some checking in by me). People came to write, to work, to visit. Tourists asked many questions– one being where is a non touristy place to go. For that I sent them to Pierre Loti, but mostly the places tourists visit are tourist places for a reason– why else have people been visiting Aya Sofia for 1500 years? I could send them to the concrete suburbs, where they can see how people live and work– Ikitelli, Sirinevler, whatever. Tourists don’t go there for a reason. A few people even asked where the Galata Tower was! In the third cafe, many people (not only tourists) asked if there was a hammam there. A lot asked where to find a good hammam. Often once people sat down for a while, they got comfortable and stayed for quite a while. Occasionally someone would fall asleep.
Since Molly’s Café has been hosting poetry readings for the past four years, it has become known as a place that welcomes readings. Several people emailed me asking to read in the café, and in fact some famous writers read their work there, including Jerome Rothenberg, Bill Berkson, and well known locals Mel Kenne and John Ash. Book talks were also very interesting, with Barbara Nadel’s mystery followers and particularly Hugh Pope’s perspectives on past and current events. One local poet told me that they used to have readings in a tiny place around the corner (now no longer there), which held about 6 people, so if they had a full house, they were ecstatic. At Molly’s Café there were usually 20 to 30 people who came to listen to their peers, as well as to read at group readings.
last christmas dinner
The special dinners were great. The greatest thing for me was that they were cooked by someone else! Except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, which were my job– the whole non family dinner for 30 or 40 people. The special dinners included Sri Lankan curry, Chinese, Iranian, Greek, Brazilian, Russian, Uzbek, and American, among others. Since curry is now a British staple, those dinners were well attended by Brits especially. Everyone enjoyed the taste of something different and usually had interesting conversations with new or old friends.
a couple of zimmerman customers
The interaction among people who came to the cafe was very interesting. A young Turkish-British man met an Austrian girl in the café a few months back and now they are dating. People got into conversations with each other easily. A Canadian man got into a conversation with a Moroccan friend of mine and it turned out they had common friends there. I had some very interesting conversations with people who wandered in. I was always very glad when I could correct some misperceptions (among them the belief that all Turkish fathers make their wives and daughters wear head scarves) about Turkey and Turks. One man proposed to his sweetheart in my first cafe. In the same cafe a young imam (!) broke up with the woman he was dating, a blonde who did not wear a headscarf.
There were a variety of interviews in my cafe. Some were with me, of course, but others included a young man from Iceland interviewing a young Turkish actress. There was a rather unsuccessful interview with John Ash and a much more successful one with Mel Kenne. I was interviewed for a TRT special on food and by some obscure program about the young people who had been kicked out of the square.
My cafe was written up in big and small ways in many places, including Timeout Istanbul, Marie Claire, Harpers, and Today’s Zaman. It was even in the Chinese version of Travel and Leisure magazine and a spa magazine in Bali.
I had a high learning curve doing the cafe. I had to learn how to manage the money in and out, which included finding suppliers and shopping at Tahtakale, near the Spice Bazaar. I also literally hauled groceries almost every day from the supermarket, bakkal, or manav. I kept a tally of what I bought every day and what I sold, so at the end of the month I could see if I made any money or not. I sure didn’t get rich but at least I knew where the money went and where it came from. However, still I have to deal with the final bureaucratic odds and ends of my company.
One interesting question that prospective buyers asked is if I could pay the rent. Duh! If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t have still been there. The rent was high, but the location is great.
And oh those prospective buyers! The most unrealistic, imho, were the Turkish men who did not like the café the way it was and who wanted to gut it and start from scratch. Most of these wanted to move the kitchen into the back salon, in spite of the fact that the water is on the end of the café where the current kitchen and bathrooms are. The back salon is lower, which is fine for getting water there, but to get it to where it exits the building, they would have to dig pretty deep. And of course they wanted completely new furniture. I was talking to a man who owns a restaurant in another part of Istanbul and his jaw dropped when I told him that I had opened my original café with an investment of 10,000 lira. I could see him doing the math in his head. I am sure he paid out at least 100,000, but then his place is quite different. I know how to make do with what I have and as I have written before, many of my friends have been very generous in giving me furniture and kitchen things. Turks generally do not like second hand things and if it is not new and modern it is not ‘nice’, so especially the men have problems understanding my ‘concept’.
Going through the selling process has been kind of like dating. Is this the one? Will this one accept me/my café? Will this person pay me enough? I have had some insultingly low offers and I have had men who were shown the café by a realtor and then came on their own, trying to get around him. In this case the realtor was a very nice young man, and it annoyed me that these guys were so duplicitous– and made me see how they would try to screw me over too. One guy told me getting a permit (a whole other topic!) would be really difficult and that he would have to spend 100,000 lira, so he made me an offer even lower than his last low offer. It’s not my problem if he is so stupid to pay that much money. I want what I want, as this is my returning to Canada money. I changed this place from a nasty dirty sign shop into a charming café that people come to, basically putting it on the map (thanks google), so I wanted money for that.
Did I get it? Not enough, but the time came and I liked the guy better than the other ones. He is willing to keep the café as is for a few months, until he sorts out the permit. Already he is making changes and soon he will begin renovating. But Molly’s Café is not the same without Molly!
last day in the cafe, on the way out
Meanwhile, I am sorting out my own head. I was trying to sell the café for a few months and had gotten kind of used to being in limbo. Now I am both sad and relieved. An occasional customer that I have known for over 10 years told me that I was an institution here. I told him it was largely a case of taking a fist out of a pail of water. Perhaps so, but I think I have made an impact, fleeting as it may be in this ancient city and this ancient part of the city. It is weird not to be getting up and going to the café to bake and cook. I don’t have to think about stocking the café anymore or about how to pay the rent.
At the same time I wonder what I will do with my time. I’m not very good at sitting around. I have things to pull together to make the big move and there are some places I want to go. There are some farther places I was hoping to get to before I leave, but I think I will just have to come back to do that. I have had some very nice feedback on my café and I will certainly miss being there. My friends always knew where to find me! Now they have to try and catch me as I sort through my stuff or stroll around saying goodbye to this fabulous city.