Obama Cafe: Four years later, Danforth coffee shop owner hopes for another win
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On January 20, 2009, one man embarked on a historic journey.
Television crews were there. Cameras flashed, and reporters lined up for interviews. He basked in the glow of media attention.
Then, about a year later, that excitement burned out. He faced unforeseen obstacles; some wondered if he would continue.
Emmanuel Debass has had a tough four years.
The founder of the Obama Cafe, a tiny coffee shop at 1226 Danforth Ave., has seen as many ups and downs as the president he named his café after.
“The excitement, the inspiration was really high at first,” he said. “But that can’t last. People get used to an idea and it isn’t as exciting anymore.”
Debass, who was born in Ethiopia and immigrated to Canada more than 30 years ago, was swept up in the thrill of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.
He recalls Obama’s first debate with John McCain as the moment he became enthralled.
“He was talking about bringing America together. He seemed to be this great role model for young black people,” he said.
He was so inspired that he decided to open the Obama Cafe — and after throwing open his doors the same day the president was inaugurated, he fielded calls from reporters and enjoyed a steady stream of customers, who giddily posed for photos and bought key chains and hats.
These days, business is slower. On Sunday evening, a group of men smoke tobacco-free shisha from a hookah pipe while watching CNN. As Obama addresses a crowd in Florida, they murmur words of agreement at the screen.
“Of course Obama is going to win,” Debass said. “I think he’s a much, much better candidate. Mitt Romney’s a millionaire … When it comes to the struggles of the average American person, Obama has lived them.”
Debass said business slowed around Jan. 2010, coincidentally as the president’s opinion polls began to sink. At that time, Debass was in a car accident that temporarily limited his ability to work.
But since Obama’s re-election campaign kicked off, business has picked up, Debass said. “More people are stopping, snapping photos. It feels a little like old times.”
The cafe’s specialties remain Obama coffee, a blend of Kenyan and Ethiopian beans, and an Obama vegetarian platter, with split peas, lentils and salad.
Debass has high hopes for his own “second term.” He hopes to turn Obama Cafe into a franchise across Ontario.
He’s confident Obama will win on Tuesday — but even if he doesn’t, you will never see a “Romney Café” on the Danforth.
“He’s still the first black man to become president, which is an amazing achievement,” he said. “History has already been made.”