A Gaza entrepreneur launched a stylish new coffee shop only days before Israel and Hamas began fighting. He’s still adamant about making a go of it.
Although Starbucks does not have a location in Gaza, it serves as a model for one local coffee shop owner. He just relocated to a new facility in Gaza City, which is at a good position. Six days later, the battle between Israel and Hamas came on his doorstep, almost literally. Daniel Estrin of NPR paid a visit to the Black Coffee Cafe.
DANIEL ESTRIN: We were walking down the street, evaluating damage from Israeli bombings a few days after the conflict between Hamas and Israel concluded, when we noticed this sleek, new coffee shop. It’s referred to as “Black Coffee.” We made the decision to enter.
We have a Marilyn Monroe picture on one of the walls. A “Star Wars” figure and a miniature spacecraft are among our possessions.
The proprietor enters sporting a fashionable purple shirt and pants. He has a basic command of the English language.
MAHMOUD KATBA: I’m a coffee aficionado.
Mahmoud Katba is 24 years old. Through an interpreter, he informs us that he studied business and wanted to sell something else other than typical Turkish coffee.
KATBA: (Through interpreter) It’s well-known all across the world. Who wouldn’t want to visit a Starbucks in Gaza?
ESTRIN: Because Israel and Egypt strictly regulate Gaza’s borders and travel is difficult, he’s never experienced Starbucks lattes and Frappuccinos. He’s never travelled outside of Gaza, save for a four-hour journey to the US consulate in Jerusalem, where he, like many Gazans, was denied a tourist visa. So he went online and looked up a Starbucks menu, then imported blackberry, hazelnut, and vanilla syrups to make intricate concoctions. He even prepares iced coffee.
KATBA: (Through interpreter) Even if it stinks – it’s not exactly like Starbucks, but it’s close.
ESTRIN: Although there are many coffee shops in Gaza, he claims he was looking for something unique. He searched Pinterest for ideas for the décor. He claims to have put $11,000 into the store. It’s directly across the street from his family’s house. On Instagram, he announced the opening. Israeli rockets tore through the street outside six days later. Israel said it was pursuing militant tunnels underneath the earth.
Did you ever picture a fight breaking out outside your dream business only days after it opened?
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no (Speaking Arabic).
ESTRIN: During the strikes, he was at home, and the elevator’s power went out. He assisted his grandma in down 11 flights of stairs. Only a few fractures appeared in his coffee business next door. Neighbors would gather there during the battle. After 11 days of fighting, a cease-fire was called in the middle of the night. By midday, he had reopened.
SIMON: (Through interpreter) People were simply arriving and exclaiming, “Good luck that you just survived on this wall,” until they saw the shop’s exterior. Thank God, too, that this location has survived.
ESTRIN: Business was slow when we came. Sami Sawafiri, a lawyer, sipped his coffee. He said that during the fighting, his windows were damaged. Outside, an automobile had turned on its side.