Near the beginning of the 20th century, Egypt witnessed a wave of middle-class coffee shops opening primarily in big cities like Cairo and Alexandria. These cafes didn t just offer drinks, food and entertainment; they evolved into a gathering spot for intellectuals, artists and politicians of different generations, backgrounds and social strata.
Café Riche, the famous coffee shop located in Downtown Cairo, is the most famous among this perishing breed; a place that saw a young Oum Kalthoum making her breakthrough debut performance in 1923 and a once favorite location for Egypt s greatest writers like the late Youssef Idris and Tawfiq El-Hakim.
Nowadays, Café Riche has become a vacant tourist site that rarely hosts any customers similar to the ilk of its former devotees.
Meanwhile, a young broadcasting student named Shereen El Rayes was lost in the endless cultural alleys that open up for young college students via books, specialized media, art and films. A few years ago, she realized that her vocation will be related to one of the art fields; she wasn t certain which type though or what channel she should select to point her to her unidentified course.
After spending months contemplating her future, the idea of a cultural coffee-shop popped in her head. After all, she loved cooking and always came up with different food recipes and she thought it would be interesting if she could combine her two beloved passions – cooking and art – and made a living out of them.
Her idea was put on hold after graduation when she became interested in documentary filmmaking. The minute market for this non-commercial brand of filmmaking, that offers very little opportunities for even the most gifted of all filmmakers, lead her to temporally peruse a career in marketing; a field she was not zealous about.
It wasn t until last year when she quit her job, took a loan from the bank, borrowed money from friends and started to construct her dream project. Three weeks ago, on Easter Sunday, El Rayes unveiled her little baby to Egypt when she inaugurated her very own coffee shop, Ethos.
The 25 years old El Rayes told The Daily Star Egypt that the word ethos is a Latin word that originally referred to the common traditions and basic needs all humans share.
El Rayes believed that her shop embodies that particular concept. I wanted ethos to be a place where different people from different races, cultures and religions, to gather, learn about one another and communicate the universal language of art; where people would sit and talk without judging one another she said.
Situated in a quiet residential area of an old Maadi neighborhood, the choice of Ethos location wasn t haphazard.
Community is one of main ideas of Ethos, El Rayes commented. Egypt used to be a huge cosmopolitan place and there s sno other place in Egypt now that symbolize the idea of a community more than Maadi.
When you regard Ethos for the first time, you might find it difficult to distinguish it from the hundreds of modern coffee shops that cram every proper area in Egypt.
Looking closely though, you ll spot two big drawing tables near the entrance accompanied by some painting equipments, a library filled with classic and modern celebrated novels that ranges from Charles Dickens Great Expectations to Nick Hornby s High Fidelity and Michael Cunningham s The Hours along with several art and history books, a multitude of board games such as Monopoly and Scrabbles and a nice, small board filled with rough sketches by El Rayes husband who happens to be a ardent aficionado of Japanese animations.
El Rayes explained that ethos provides facilities for painting fans that are more interested in more than just a cup of coffee. The library will expand to include about 500 books of different fields (along with various print publications) and will offer clients the opportunity to borrow her books for a small membership fee.
Furthermore, a section entitled Cultural Trading will feature a collection of books and music albums representing different cultures and Ethos visitors are welcomed to add any material that speak for their own cultures.
The background music is also miles apart from the conventional soft tunes most coffee shops carry. Trip-hop, neo-acoustic British wave and alternative Egyptian music are examples of the untraditional genres the café presents.
El Rayes adds that Ethos will highlight the works of different musicians by dedicating an entire day to their works. New world and local albums will also be played and celebrated the day they are released.
The biggest attraction Ethos will boast with soon are the events El Rayes organizing every Friday and Saturday. El Rayes is reaching a deal with culture centers and other cultural and art organization to have a writer, poet, painter, musician or any kind of artist to discuss and showcase his/her works every week.
The most valuable service Ethos offers though is for young artists of diverse field to have their works displayed in the coffee shop that will present them to the artistic institutes who can later help and fund these young talents.
It s palpable that El Rayes wants Ethos to be the next Café Riche, and she doesn t deny it.
I want Ethos to be the new Café Riche in terms of becoming the cultural center of all artists in Egypt, El Rayes enthusiastically stated. But I don t want to become a mere monument and stop there.
Her expectations are high and she s quite confident of Ethos success.
There s no reason why it wouldn t succeed, she pauses for a second before smiling. I ve put nearly my whole life at stake and I just trust my intentions and instinct.
As for profit, El Rayes admits that adequate revenues are definitely crucial in order for Ethos to continue existing; it s not a priority nevertheless.
I don t want to become a millionaire. I just want to have a good quality of life, she said. I m doing something I really love and if it involves profit, then that would be great.
Ethos coffee shop23, Rd 205, off Degla square, Maadi. Tele: 010 005 3612, 010 005 3613Open from 7 am to 11 pm.