With Seattle at the forefront of the resistance to Trump’s travel ban, Ali and Laila Ghambari’s first cafe explicitly featuring flavors and traditions of their Persian heritage seems a well-timed rebuke to the President. In fact, it’s a coincidence. Opening day comes at the end of a two-year road for Cherry Street Public House, a bigger, more elaborate branch of their coffee chain, Cherry Street Coffee House.
Two decades after Ali Ghambari opened his first coffee shop, he and his daughter are opening this all-day cafe and restaurant, serving high-quality coffee, and Persian-inspired breakfast, lunch, and, soon, dinner from the center of Seattle’s Pioneer Square. The cafe anchors the new Weyerhaeuser building and fronts onto Occidental Park.
“It’s my vision, made possible by my father,” says Laila Ghambari, of how Cherry Street Public House evolved. The space came to them through Ali Ghambari’s partner in Cherry Street Coffee House, Greg Smith, who developed the building. Laila Ghambari, a 2014 US Barista Champion who previously had worked for Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Caffe Ladro, took over as director of coffee for Cherry Street Coffee House and upgraded their coffee program in 2014. When this space showed up as an opportunity, Cherry Street already had coffee shops two blocks away in two directions: she knew this was their chance to fulfill a dream by doing something new.
“My dad always wanted to serve Persian food,” Laila Ghambari says. Even at the coffee shops, serving freshly made food was always a priority for Cherry Street, but it was prepared by their baristas. Here, she could build-out a first-rate coffee shop, as well as a full restaurant kitchen with dedicated chefs.
The high-ceilinged, cool-colored space is long and narrow, with big windows running the length of the cafe. The blue and white tiled coffee counter, brewing Counter Culture Coffee on a La Marzocco Strada AV and Marco SP9s, faces the main door at the north end. To the left is a small coffee shop area: small tables for a quick seat. The counter stretches out to the right, transitioning into an open kitchen with bar seating in front of round marble-top tables, set up for more of a real meal. At the far end, up a few steps, the laptop bar looks over the rest of the room—perfect for settling in to do some work.
At the coffee counter, patrons will find a noticeable absence from the usual set up: there’s no condiment bar. “Why would we give you coffee not served as you want it?” Laila Ghambari asks. Instead, each style of coffee is listed on the menu and brewed with a bean that fits the desired flavor—a single-origin Burundi for black, for example, and a custom-blend for cups with cream and sugar. In addition to the espresso and coffee options, they’ll serve drinking vinegars, and have both kombucha and nitro cold brew on tap.
While the direction of the coffee menu came from Laila Ghambari’s deep expertise and research, that of the food menu comes from the heart. There aren't many Iranian restaurants in Seattle, she explains, and the local Persian community missed the flavors of home. Her dad “wanted to serve his people the tastes they love.” At breakfast, avocado toast shares the menu with a waffle topped with tahini butter and pistachios, the breakfast sandwich comes with pickled fennel, and there’s a scone served with maitake mushroom gravy. Lunch features khoreshes—Persian stews—served over saffron rice; the vegetarian version features butternut squash, pomegranate, and walnuts. “They’re hearty, filling, and a good lunch,” Laila Ghambari says, excited to introduce them to people less familiar with the cuisine. Persian flavors sneak into other parts of the cafe as well, like in pomegranate-infused drinks and the chai made with a Persian spice mix.
It’s a departure from the sandwiches and salads menu their previous shops serve—which were so devoid of signs of the Ghambari’s Persian heritage that when someone on Twitter announced he would boycott Starbucks for hiring immigrants, he suggested people “Drink Cherry Street” coffee instead. Laila Ghambari laughed at the irony, but also points out that while there hasn’t been Persian food in the shops, they’ve long been a part of the local Persian community, with Ali Ghambari having been a founder of the local Iranian American Community Alliance and its annual Iranian Festival.
“We don’t need to stand up or give a statement,” says Laila Ghambari about their feelings regarding Trump and his travel ban. “We fight every day.” As pillars in the local community, people call them when translators are needed at the airport or elsewhere. And they plan to continue to do so—now with Persian flavors on the menu. “We make an impact by continuing to serve the community.” By which she means us all.