A new cafe with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flare will be opening on campus.
Café Renata will have its grand opening Friday at 43rd and Locust streets, where Café Clave used to be. The new cafe had a soft opening Thursday.
Yasser Aiq and Kate Steenstra, co-owners of Café Renata, have worked in the restaurant business for years, yet this is their first time running a restaurant on their own. Aiq has worked at Philadelphia restaurants such as Parc and Barbuzzo and is excited for this next step in his career. He will run the kitchen while Steenstra will run the front of the house.
“[Starting my own restaurant] was a dream that grew from working in the industry,” Aiq said. “I realized I should develop my own ideas and take [a restaurant] to where I want to take it.”
Café Renata’s concept will be similar to Café Clave’s as it will focus on cafe-style cuisine such as coffee and baked goods, but Aiq will add a special flare to the menu.
“My influence on the cuisine is Mediterranean,” said Aiq, who grew up in Israel and was influenced by Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. “I will try to adapt those flavors and reach a flavor palette that will satisfy a lot of people.”
“We’re going to keep some of the things that were great about Clave and add our interests,” Steenstra said.
Café Clave, a Cuban-themed coffee shop, closed in December after its owner, Armen Terzian, was charged with a variety of crimes due to an incident with a man who was cleaning the street outside the cafe. His trial for the charges of ethnic intimidation, possession of an instrument of crime, terroristic threats and simple assault began earlier this month.
Aiq and Steenstra hope to put a unique twist on the classic cafe concept.
“We are trying to take this cafe to the next level,” Aiq said. “We will have food to fill the stomach and sink your teeth into with some nice surprises every now and then.”
The owners are also committed to using as many local ingredients as they can.
After the restaurant is opened, Aiq will include daily specials on the menu that will consist of “something [he] feel[s] like serving that day.” The owners also hope to add an American brunch to the menu in the future as well.
Aiq and Steenstra hope to attract both West Philadelphia residents and Penn students.
While 43rd and Locust is a bit removed from campus, students expressed interest in trying out the new cafe.
“It’s nice to have it as another option in University City and [it’s probably] worth exploring at some point,” College sophomore Jacqueline Heinrich said.
For both Aiq and Steenstra, the opening of Café Renata symbolizes an exciting new beginning, and they fittingly chose the name Renata, which means rebirth in Latin.
Renata was also the name of one of Aiq’s students when he worked as a chef at the Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia.
“She was my biggest food critic,” he said. “I was always worried what she would say when she came in in the morning.”
This time around, Aiq and Steenstra are confident that customers will love their new approach to the classic cafe and they are excited to be opening in the area.
“We love University City and West Philadelphia and we want to give back to the neighborhood,” Steenstra said. “It’s been good to us and we want to be good to it.”
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