Career Interview: Cafe Maestro

At what point should Sandeep start paying rent for his office in Istanbul? Every morning he parks himself at Mavra, an inviting cafe down our street. He jumps on conference calls and even hosts the occasional meeting out of a table that has informally been designated as his. The attendant is a very animated and friendly Istanbullu. He greats us with an opera voice booming “Good Morning!”

Mavra opened over three years ago on Serdar-I Ekrem, a small winding street with a colorful mix of boutiques and cafes, a mosque and a church, as well as old buildings undergoing various states of restoration. It’s an ideal place to watch young Istanbullus, particularly the artist crowd. Murat Nergiz has been serving Mavra’ss patrons for a year and a half. While Sandeep worked I interviewed Murat, with the conversation translated by another willing Mavra regular.

What types of people come to Mavra and does that change through the day?

We get all types here – students, travelers, artists, photographer, designers, architects. The owner’s husband is an architect. It is quieter in the mornings and at night we tend to have parties. People like to come here to celebrate their birthdays. We get a lot of regulars as well, like you.

I’m flattered to be called a regular, but what do you think about people who spend half the day here and just drink coffee?

(Murat turns to look at Sandeep, who is engrossed in his screen and doesn’t even notice us) Does he feel good when he is here?

He looks comfortable.

Then that is all that matters. It doesn’t matter if you just get one coffee or eat a meal. Be happy here, that is all that matters.

What is your signature dish?

Our pasta and meatballs. Our chocolate cake is also good, it’s a Turkish cake, very moist.

What is unique about your job?

The owner of this cafe is more of a friend, not a boss in the serious sense. There are no restrictive rules here. I am working here but I don’t feel as though I am a waiter. I am just part of the cafe.

What is behind the singing?

I just like to sing, especially in the morning. I am a writer also. I write poetry about women. Actually, I am just writing about one woman.

Does she know that you write about her?

She knows. She is a mixture of flowers and chocolate. When I see flowers and chocolate together I think of her.

Back home we never had the luxury of spending hours at a coffee shop. If I had to envision an ideal setting, it would have everything Marva offers. The music, a mix of sultry female jazz and oldies, is familiar. Mismatched furniture makes us feel as though it is an extension of our living room. The open doors leading out to the street is ideal for people watching. Most of all, Murat welcomes us as old friends and keeps us coming back every day. Luckily he’s not asking for rent.

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