“Imagine what we could achieve as a community if we all slowed down to have a genuine conversation?”
In 2018, Globe Grantee Melissa Aydogan transformed the Findlay Market Globefront space into a turkish coffee house.
We recently caught up with her to chat about her experience, reflect on learnings from her project, and get an update on where she’s taking Rüya Coffee next.
What made you decide to apply for a PL Globe Grant?
Twenty-six years ago, my parents moved from Istanbul, Turkey to Cincinnati, Ohio. As the classic immigrant story goes, they came with hardly anything to give their children a better life. I remember when I was a kid, Mama decided to get a job at Panera, because the fresh bread reminded her of the small bakeries in Turkey. Baba worked night and day to afford to send Mama, my brother and me back to Turkey for summer vacations in hopes of instilling in his children the values of Turkish culture and traditions.
I grew up watching my parents always seeking a connection to the home they chose to leave behind for me and my brother. This ingrained in me the deep responsibility to somehow give back to my parents for everything they sacrificed, because "thank you" isn't always enough.
With Rüya, my hope was to not only give my parents, but all immigrants, 1st-gens, and locals a home away from home that we so often crave. Stumbling upon People's Liberty by pure chance, I thought the world had given me a sign to do just that with the Globe Grant. So, two hours before the deadline I applied only because I would have regretted not taking advantage of the opportunity that presented itself.
What are your first memories of Turkish coffee? What scents or visuals come up?
We have a special tradition in my family where we gather at the end of meals and read each other’s fortune through the coffee grinds. We listen patiently, discuss our hopes, dreams, and aspirations and reflect on things we want resolved in our lives.
I remember my mom read my fortune on my 14th birthday as I was eating some sweet baklava. Being my mother, she was always a little nosy with her fortune telling as she tried to get something out of me she didn't already know. I remember her saying "a boy with a name that starts with the letter M will reach out to you soon." And I looked at her wide-eyed wondering how she knew about my teenage crush at the time! At Rüya, people have asked my mom and me if we've done background checks on them before reading their fortunes, because some of the things we say is just too accurate. I guess it's not all hocus-pocus after all :).
Was there any other PL grant that spoke to you or inspired you?
I originally stumbled upon People's Liberty while The Green Store was having their launch party, so seeing the space transform into the grantee's dream before I had even applied was my initial inspiration. Fast forward a few weeks later, Brad Cooper, a former People’s Liberty Grantee, sat next to me on a bus back from Chicago. That was serendipity at its finest. His story about figuring out his project along the way made me believe I could do so as well... Even though I had no idea how I was going to build a coffeehouse. I am extremely grateful for the entire PL team and former grantees that lent a helping hand along the way. It really could not have had happened without all of their support.
Any interesting stories you can share from Rüya's time in the Globefront?
People from all walks of life would come in and the conversations we had over the fortune-telling piece of Turkish coffee allowed the community to connect about a range of topics -- from happy to sad, from happily-ever-after love stories to breakup stories, from celebration to rejection. I think the space being designed as a living room and the fortune-telling aspect gave visitors the freedom to share parts of their life with strangers that they normally would keep private. These conversations made me realize how similar our worries were and the root being an absence of human connection. We are more connected than we ever have been with social media, but loneliness and absence of emotional well-being is at an all time high. I'm not talking about the well-being that is branded through luxury experiences, like wellness retreats. I'm talking about the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of needs - that sense of inner well-being that is necessary for our survival as humans. Meaningful social connection, even if it is with a stranger like me or my mom over Turkish coffee fortune-telling, can not only help tackle loneliness, but help us become more resilient to stress and better manage our emotions. Imagine what we could achieve as a community if we all slowed down to have a genuine conversation?
What is the greatest lesson and/or takeaway you have from bringing your project to life?
EMPATHY. I’ve heard the raw stories of hundreds in the community from all walks-of-life through fortune telling. We are all going through something and that’s ok, because suffering is part of life and we are stronger because of it. Talking about it helps. There are also little things in life that we may be proud of or looking forward to & just want a platform to share that. Fortune telling allowed people to share it face-to-face and it brought me so much joy to celebrate the little things in life with everyone I got to connect with. From hearing all these stories, I’ve set an intention to slow down, always seek to understand & help in any way that I can before jumping to any conclusions or just trying to get along with my day.
How do you hope to pass this lesson along?
I hope to pass a lesson like empathy along by simply continuing to brew Turkish coffee, telling the fortunes of whoever is interested, and providing a platform for people to listen and connect. This is what we stand for. We aim to foster a human experience that forces people to look up from their phones, pause, and have a real conversation. In effect, cup by cup, conversation by conversation, we rewrite the narrative for middle-easterners marginalized by the media.
What differences do you hope Ruya makes in Cincinnati?
Cultural diversity and connection. I want to represent my culture in the most authentic way possible and help others do the same.
Where can we find Rüya and/or Melissa next?
I am working on some exciting new collaborations, will be popping-up at various locations around the city, and am securing locations on where you'd be able to support Rüya through an experience and our product line-up.
On Saturday, April 6th from 12:30-2:30pm, we’ll be at HI FI Yoga has invited Rüya Coffee for a slow flow and a cup of jo' afterwards.
More pop-ups to come. Follow us on instagram @ruya_cincy and Facebook @ruyacoffee to get all the updates. Feel free to reach out over social media if you'd like to bring the Turkish coffee experience to your location.