Cafe Namaste

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Apparently, Café Namasté has been around for a while. Their signs tell potentially disappointed returning customers that they've moved; they're now "located just as few steps away." (Don't worry!) I suppose do remember people relaxing under red umbrellas where the signs are now posted. In fact that's why I came here--to be one of those people at tables shaded from the heat. But I never knew it was called anything. Has it been here for long enough to establish the reputation its relocation notices refer to ("you can enjoy all the same menu choices")? So far as I know it has moved in just this summer, the same as every other eatery that's ever been here. There has almost always been something here, across the street from the park, and every year it's something different, something basically the same, but owned by someone new. Just last summer my father and I were having coffee from some other failing business in this same spot.

If this is at first glance such an ideal location--closer to Lithia Park, where tourists and locals stroll, picnic, and play, than any other cafe, even Percolate, looming over the tall trees of the park--why is every cafe that takes up here doomed? (And why do minor entrepreneurs continue to try to succeed here?) Some possible causes for financial failure can be supposed. For one, this is more or less a dead spot for half the year. The off season is a problem for every restaurant and coffee shop in Ashland, but here the off season really is off, and not just slow, because who visits the park in the winter? Well, ice skaters, when the rink opens in the same place as Café Namasté. This means that anything setup inside the little room which serves cafe customers in the summer can only be temporary, because the rink stores their skates there in the winter. Additionally, as we learned from the woman who ran last summer's stand, the building has no plumbing and can't legally have a kitchen with a stove or an oven. It can only be what amounts of a concession stand. Somehow, each cafe finds a way to heat water for coffee and tea.

It's for all these reasons, I imagine, that Café Namasté has moved next door, inside, to where hot food can actually be prepared (I think). No other business here has been able to do this. What has changed to make their move possible, I don't know, but it seems possible that Café Namasté, unlike its predecessors, is here to stay. (Of course, the outside seating is gone. Something may be here to stay, but it's not the concessions that rotate every year.)

To a grumpy, nostalgic local like me, this is a troubling possibility. It's like when Lithia Springs Hotel moved into and renovated the tallest building in town, the Mark Anthony. Several hotels moved into those nine floors and went bankrupt throughout my childhood, and for a long period of my adolescence the beige tower stood abandoned. Somehow, this seemed right. There it was, rotting away, iconic. My brother and his friends used to hang out on the top floor. Then Lithia Springs Hotel came in, steeled themselves against failure with the renovations that large sums of cash made possible, and put themselves on interstate exit signs.

I know that money flows into Ashland from the outside through the clean, shiny Lithia Springs Hotel, and that I can still use their elevator to sit watching downtown from the 9th floor, but I miss the dead end that it once was. I reveled in how the enormous old building thwarted. Or rather I revel now in how I imagine it once thwarted.

Café Namasté, as I'm sure you've guessed from the name, is full of paintings and statues of Hindu gods and goddesses. It's also full of couches. The interior looks comfortable, soothing. There's even a small wood stove in one corner. I can only say what it looks like through the windows because despite its exuberant relocation notices, it remains closed. I've come back every day for the past three days and it's been closed each time.

There's something about the notices that seems translated, or written by an outsider to English. They've relocated to "the more comfortable restaurant right next store," which, if you say it out loud, sounds right. One of my friends parents has a story of similar verbal confusion: One day when she was small she asked her dad for a "boycheese sandwich." When asked what she meant, she explained that she didn't want a "girlcheese sandwich," which was cooked, but a boycheese sandwich, which wasn't.

The notice goes on to say that "you can enjoy all the same menu choices at right and so many more." "At right" isn't wrong (the restaurant is indeed to the right of the signs), but it sure sounds strange. It's as if the "more comfortable restaurant" is on the opposite page. So it is: Café Namasté hasn't overcome the challenges of running a business in the place they used to be; they have turned the page. (Showers of rotten tomatoes for this last metaphor.) Will the live ruin of the shack on the previous page go on impaling itself on reality? Or will this new restaurant replace any future optimistic readings of what preceded it?