Cafe Nomyen

Saturday, February 12, 2011

In Doctor Who, everyone is always astonished to find that the Doctor’s spaceship, the TARDIS, is bigger inside than out. Cafe Nomyen is actually smaller on the inside. Before I had set foot inside I always tried to peer inside its large windows as I drove past. I imagined a vast, spacious array of tables full of people consuming its mysterious food and drink. The reality of its interior disappoints.

Cafe Nomyen is a business destined for failure. Why? Because it operates upon a conceit that, while a good idea in general, is rife with logistical problems in this town. The idea is to be a teenager hang-out that parents can approve of, while still being genuinely appealing to their children. It has low, comfortable, sofa-style seating. There are games such as Jenga, cards, and Chinese checkers in cute little shelves at the entrance. It’s not a coffee shop. They serve cold bubble tea with enormous, black tapioca pearls. Like the icy turquoise of its logo and the baby blue of the interior, bubble tea seems intended to cool on an oppressively hot summer day. And in summer its large patio could fill with the crowd I had imagined before.

The trouble is that not only is it winter, but even in summer whence would such a crowd flock? The college students are mostly gone in summer, and those few that stick around would rather drink coffee at Starbucks across the street. So really Cafe Nomyen has to derive almost its entire income from high schoolers looking for a place to meet away from their families. Ashland High School has never had an enormous student body, and it has been dwindling for at least the past decade. On top of this, the cafe is not located particularly close to the high school. Who, then, is this cafe for? It is as if it’s trying to promote itself to the universal register.

A group of three boys are playing Jenga. Every few minutes there is a loud clatter as one more piece is removed from the tower and it all comes down. Cafe Nomyen plays a similar game: how many pieces can be removed without collapsing the entire structure?