For those who have lived in North Hill for more than a decade, the accelerated cultural transformation of that community over the last few years has been, at the very least, interesting.
For some, it’s an immersive cultural experience. For others, honestly, it’s been a bit uncomfortable. The influx of immigrants and refugees from South Asia and Africa combined with the established mix of Italians, Poles and African-Americans has made it one of the most culturally diverse communities in the state.
Connecting the diverse populations has been a challenge. But now North Hill has a space that can bring people together like no other – a neighborhood café.
The new NoHi Café, run by the North Akron Community Development Corporation, occupies the same space as the popular NoHi popup carryout in Temple Square at North Main Street and Cuyahoga Falls Avenue. Since opening in mid-April, locals have been slowly discovering the coffee house and adjacent shopping boutique NoTique.
“It’s really about connection,” says Zoe Reese, NoHi’s manager.
Reese, who was a history major in college, spoke about the historical significance cafés have within a community.
“It’s really like the epicenter where everything happens in a city. It’s such a key to a tight-knit community,” says Reese. She added that there is no similar coffee shop in the area for gathering and relaxing.
A bartender before the pandemic, Reese is one of those people who’ll remember your name and your drink. After losing her job due to COVID-19 shutdowns, a friend got her a job at the NoHi popup and she began taking on more and more responsibility.
She was a natural for the job of café manager, greeter and head barista. “I had lost all of my ‘regulars’ when I lost my bartending job. That was my favorite thing about the service industry, making friends. So, I’m really excited about this new job,” she says.
The café and its next-door neighbor, the NoTique boutique, are the latest ventures of the North Akron Community Development Corporation. Their aim in Temple Square is to create a walkable shopping experience, promote local makers and vendors and celebrate the area’s diversity.
The café has a welcoming feel. Bright and airy with plenty of seating including a long bar and spacious patio, the walls display colorful artwork by area artists. Locally roasted coffee is supplied by Bereka Coffee and Yada Yada Roasters of Akron. A variety of specialty teas are made by Mani Kitchen in Kenmore.
NoTique, which started as an occasional pop-up but opened permanently in April, is connected for a seamless walk-through experience so customers can shop while they sip. The shop’s vendors are local makers or locally-based importers. Unique gifts include leather jewelry, soaps, candles, hand-sewn gifts, clothing and more.
The NACDC introduced the two new storefronts to the community at their Envision Temple Square event in June, during which the café hosted an Ethiopian coffee ceremony by Bereka Coffee. Tickets were sold out, and the crowd brought over 200 visitors through NoTique as well.
The NACDC’s Development Associate, Anuj Gurung, says that the Envision event as well as their Juneteenth Celebration and World Refugee Day (also held in June) are opportunities to connect the diverse communities. “The idea is we have all the resources here, the manpower… We just need to connect the right people with the right resources.”
The café has one of the right resources in Reese. On a recent Saturday, she handily juggled coffee customers with carryout orders for the busy NoHi popup,which is operating out of the same space.
“I’ve been in the service industry forever, and you always think of the service industry as something you do for a while and then you get a ‘real job’,” says Reese. “But I got to make the service industry my ‘real job’. This is what I like to do. I like talking to people, learning about people and serving. I love this place.”
NoHi Café hours are Monday – Thursday 7 a.m. – 3 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
NoTique hours are Thursday Noon – 3 p.m., Friday and Saturday Noon – 8 p.m., and Sunday Noon – 6 p.m.
Diane Kilivris is a freelance writer, podcaster and native Akronite. When not working, she can be found on the tennis court or obsessively knitting in a cozy chair.
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