Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | August 31, 2013

Building Molly’s Cafe from scratch

My secret wish is coming true– to open my café again. As I wrote before, I came back to Istanbul for a visit, but I am staying. When my flat sold just before I arrived, I thought perhaps I could do this again.

I looked at several places in and around Galata. One would have been perfect, with a one-story (unimaginably rare here) building with a large terrace in the back overlooking the old matzo bakery. The current renter, a man who specializes in making beautiful gravestones for Jews, rents it from a Jewish vakif, a foundation, for very little rent. Since it is rented to him, he would have had to be a partner. However, according to the municipality, the building does not really exist and it had been rented to him as an artist. Therefore, for a multitude of reasons, we could not rent it.

Another place I looked at on the same street was very small. I could have put the kitchen in the basement, but managing the place would have been difficult. Yet another place was a lamp shop. The owner was thinking of retiring. He in fact made the beautiful lamps in the Aya Sofia, installed when the scaffolding finally came down after more than fifteen years of gathering dust. That place was also small, but the street, although also small, would have been ok. In fact, I had been a neighbour on that street and when I was looking at it the esnaf (business neighbours) all came out to greet me.

Everyone is talking about Galataport these days, though it has been in the air for more than ten years. Finally someone else has taken it over and hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, etc., will be built in the Tophane area. Bordering it is part of Karakoy, once the haunt of sailors, and more recently of many kinds of metal work, machines and tools. The part closest to Tophane is being developed and already there are galleries, ‘cool’ dress shops, restaurants, and cafés. I looked at a stationery shop that was a little past the cool part, still full of Turkish owners and workers. The interesting thing about the shop was that it had doors on each end, since it spanned the narrow block. However, it was small and needed a lot of work, as well as the ‘devir parasi’, basically move out money. Also, although it is interesting to walk around, I don’t like Karakoy that much and did not want to deal with walking up a sizeable hill after work every day.

Finally the realtor found something that I could afford and that had ‘ruh’, soul. It is the entrance floor and lower floor in a small boutique hotel. There was no one occupying it, so I did not have to pay move-out money. Someone had started renovations (it was a well-known upholstery shop for many decades), but stopped. Some of the walls are more or less bare brick and some of the ceilings are also brick, arched between metal strips. Some channels for electricity had been laid and holes for the toilet outlets, but that was about it. I rented the place (and was given a month free rent as a gesture) and we started to make it into Molly’s Café (or as one clever person said I should call it, Molly’s Back Café).

First we had to get it emptied. Someone had been using it as a depot and finally it was mostly cleared out. Sadly I watched toilets and industrial kitchen equipment being carried away to another depot. I could have used them… There was still a great pile of rubbish from the original renovation, bags of rubble and trash collected from the ‘garden’ (really a space in the area among the buildings). Everyone said ‘it’s not mine’ but we pressed everyone until finally the hotel people took it away– a huge truckload. Finally the plumber could start. He arrived to drill big holes and channels in the walls to pipe water into and out of the kitchen upstairs and the bathrooms downstairs. He even piped into the garden so I can water the flowers. Now there is an Ottoman style faucet there.




a full truckload of junk

a full truckload of junk


















The electrician also came to do some drilling but mostly to install wiring for the plugs and switches. He also put in phone lines for the phone and internet. After all the basic work, he returned to install the plugs, light switches, and lights.


Several demirci (men who make metal things, literally iron man) came to make a quote for the iron that will protect the café at night. One, a nice man (as opposed to the first brown wizened unsavoury man who asked for taxi money from Cevdet), amazingly cut the wide window in front into two that fold in. The whole front is also protected by an iron ‘korkuluk’ which also lets people look in when the café is closed. He also built an iron frame for an island in the kitchen that has a stone top, perfect for kneading bread. There was a gap between the entrance floor and the next step up, so now it has a metal frame for the glass bricks, which allow more light into the lower floor. Before that it was useful for throwing garbage up and sand down.














The owner of the building came, largely out of curiosity. He wants the place to be done up nicely and even offered to pay for half of the floor (which of course did not happen). Ach, the floor. At one point Cevdet suggested wood, but it is not practical for a café. I wanted stone, at least on some parts of the café, but it is also expensive. So instead two men evened out the floors and covered the exposed pipes with cement. A couple of the young Kurdish guys who are working on the three (!) hotels under renovation on this street worked a couple of evenings to move stuff around so they could add the thin sort of cement paint (I don’t know what it is called in English) to smooth out the cement. The floors have a sort of marbled effect, which is actually quite attractive. The final coat was clear epoxy.



The men doing the stairs came to even out the height of the treads and to cover them with marble. I do not like the stairs (or any stairs, even though this is the city of stairs, in buildings, on streets). However, there they are. They turn narrowly into the lower floor. They look much better than the basic cement they were. However, anyone going down the stairs has to duck as they go down. They also did a sort of decorative edge along the top of the stairs and the first step up towards the kitchen. They also built two more steps for the areas that used to be quite a big step up.

original stairs

original stairs




marble stairs

marble stairs


The painter and his young helper came to deal with the walls. The boy brushed the brick walls and later painted them with a sealer. The usta plastered walls and filled holes, borrowing metal pieces from the hurdaci (metal junk seller) next door to make a somewhat portable scaffolding. Everything looked so much better.

The plumber came back to install the toilets, one with a corner tank, which I had never seen before. He came back yet again to hook up the kitchen sink, the dishwasher, and the hot water heater. And he came back yet again to fix the toilets, which had been leaking.

All of these men were fasting for Ramazan, so they were working shorter days. No food, no water..

Here I want to make some observations on workmanship in Turkey, or as some people call it, ‘Turkmanship.’ Often the worker will arrive and ask if I have a screwdriver, extension cord, whatever. I am often tempted to ask why they have not brought their own. Then the man does the work and leaves a mess, assuming that the woman will clean it up. Often the man will have to return to repair or finish the work he was supposed to have done (for example, the toilets). A Turkish friend once said to me, ‘Molly, you in the West think twice and do once. We Turks think once and do twice.’ This is so true and I know the people living in Turkey are nodding their heads in agreement.

I also have some observations on being a foreign woman in business here. I got really cranky about this. For example, the man who wants to do my business cards came to talk to me. Cevdet happened to be here, so instead of talking to me, he talked to Cevdet. I remarked (complained, really) to Cevdet about this and he made a joke of it– ‘are you jealous?’ No, not jealous, but annoyed when I allow myself to be. Another example is the guy across the street who made the Molly’s Café stickers for the door and window. I wanted him to get going on it, but he said he would wait for Cevdet. I got on his case about it. Whose café is it? Who is the boss? You, Molly Hanim. Right. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. One is that Cevdet is the man and men talk to men more comfortably in a business situation, at least at this level. The other is that many Turks can’t believe that this foreigner is actually speaking their language. I more or less understand the dynamics and I more or less accept them, but when I am cranky, I have little patience for it. In general, I feel there is respect for me, but not always comprehension. At the same time, I often rely on Cevdet and sometimes other friends to get things done when my Turkish seems inadequate, so I suppose I want it both ways.

As always, I am grateful for my friends. One friend gave me her stove, some carpets, and some furniture. Another emptied her storage unit of furniture someone had left here and is looking for other things for me, dishes and table cloths. Some friends who closed their café sold me as much as I could take at a very friendly price. Another friend is trying to empty her stuffed flat and has a constant supply of things for me. Another artist friend will provide the decorations with her drawings of Istanbul, of course with the possibility of selling them. And yet another artist friend will graffiti paint the wall in the garden.

And then? Collecting pots and baking pan and dishes. Stocking the kitchen. Finding more furniture. I have shopped in Tahtakale three times already and made a trip out to Topkapi (an area, not the palace) to buy chairs and a few other things. I’ve been to Koctas a few times and of course I am at the manav (vegetable and fruit seller) or the market just about every day. It is often kind of fun but it is also stressful as I watch my limited resources dwindle. However, I think it is worth it and I am happy when people come in and enjoy the café that Molly built from scratch.

welcome to molly's cafe!

welcome to molly’s cafe!



  1. Molly,

    Thanks for this great information and best of luck with your new cafe.

    I’m in California taking care of my parents.  Dad is in the hospital and has been here 2 weeks.  Mom has macular degeneration but is getting treatments that are bringing her eyesight back.  I hope to get back to Oregon some time this month, Sept.  Luckily they are both getting better but ever so slowly.

    I’ll write more when I have time.



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