In these days of chains and franchises, finding an independent proprietor of any variety is most refreshing, but that is only one of the reasons I loved getting my coffee at Khartoum’s. The place itself was a marvel of soaring ceilings with lazily spinning fans twirling above carved wooden tables, dusty brocade sofas and a crush of bentwood chairs. And the owner, Mr. Khartoum (“You must call me Farouk. I insist upon it!”) was clearly a collector of specific passions and unimpeachable tastes. Beautiful antique cut crystal decanters lined the vintage pastry cases and counters, which housed velvet trays of unusual estate jewellry nestled alongside artful boxes of exotic hand soap. All this and homemade pastries and cookies that lounged seductively on pedestals under curvy glass domes. “Recipe is from Zanzibar, you must try it – on the house for the lovely lady!” Well, no one needed to offer me free pastry twice! And the coffee – redolent of darkest chocolate, scalding hot and crowned with real whipped cream – was enough to make even an introvert like me a bit chatty.
Among the hundreds of framed pictures and canvasses climbing up and down the walls, the one here caught my eye. Mr. Khartoum (“Farouk, please, Farouk!”) explained that it was his grandfather, Mustapha, a coffee impresario in their native Zanzibar who fled to the US as an old man with the then 20 year old Farouk in tow after the 1964 Revolution (“Not so good for the Zoroastrians, my dear”). “He was handsome, no? We all are until we aren’t!” he continued with a cackle, “but he was also a bit mad, I’m afraid.” He explained that his grandfather was a collector as well, and desperately lonely after the death of Farouk’s grandmother. He began secretly constructing robot companions out of his espresso machines and naming them after his favorite coffees – Arabica, Sumatra, Kona. Villagers spied Mustapha strolling around town in one of his coffee grinder hats with a giant teaspoon for a walking stick and that was bad enough, but when an entire family of espresso robots began clattering down the street after him on their way to services, well, that was just too much.
“Eh, we pretended it was the Muslims but no one in town would buy so much as a bean from him anymore” Farouk sighed “What happened to the robots, then?” I inquired, dusting powdered sugar off my sweater. Farouk’s eye twinkled, and I followed his gaze behind the counter. “They still made coffee, you see, and my grandfather, he would not leave Zanzibar without them.” And indeed, behind the stately counters gleamed two gorgeous vintage espresso machines, looking very much like the robots you see here, and a smaller samovar as well. “They survived the trip quite well, as you can see. Grandpapa, sadly, did not.” I realized Mr. Khartoum had not only given me free pastry and a fabulous story, but the secret to his magnificent coffee drinks as well.
This 8” x 10” x 3/4” original collage depicting Mustapha Khartoum and his fantastic espresso robots is constructed upon a handpainted stretched gallery canvas of meticulously handcut vintage images and is accented with handmade paper, black grosgrain ribbon, brass corners and label plate and small watch gears.