Hello, My Friend
By Emma Comery
By: Emma Comery Photo by: Lillian Reitz
In the beginning, it was the early ’90s and Cafe Calypso was a two-by-five coffee cart in a bookstore. Husband-and-wife team Erdal and Marcy worked side-by-side amid the shelves of Half Price Books, roasting, brewing, and serving coffee seven days a week, well before coffee shops were part of Corpus culture.
These days, Cafe Calypso is a charming brick-and-mortar enjoying a space of its own, adjacent to the bookstore but still connected by a set of French doors that open into the store. The aromas of 26 international roasts diffuse into the air, wrapping around your skin with cozy nostalgia. At one table, a new mom feeds her baby while chatting with a friend. At another, two gentlemen share a book, deep in discussion. Over by the doors, a teen or two escapes into the pages of a graphic novel. And in the corner, a handful of professionals tap away on their laptops. In the midst of the various grinds and whistles of the barista’s studio, the quick click and clank of an oatmeal cookie jar opening and closing, owner Marcy Okumus takes a break to join me at a small table.
Were this interview ten months earlier, Marcy would have had her teammate by her side. “I met Erdal by accident in the lobby of a Turkish B&B,” she tells me. “I was travelling alone, and he offered to show me around. I ended up staying in Turkey longer than I thought.” Long enough for friendship to grow into love; long enough to get married. After a few years, they decided to move back to Corpus with the goal of opening a coffee shop. Erdal had been roasting coffee for years, and they dreamed of having a coffee shop in a bookstore. Cafe Calypso is that dream come true.
Over time they developed their business to feature authentic Turkish coffee and roasts from around the world, plus delicious pastries inspired by European desserts and recipes from Erdal’s mother. “We wanted our shop to be a sort of United Nations where we brought different cultures together,” Marcy explains. “It was definitely unique for Corpus at the time. Plus, Erdal brought Turkish business customs, always greeting everyone who walked in, ‘Hello, my friend.’”
That strength of welcoming spirit not only is integral to who Marcy and Erdal are as people, but has come to define Cafe Calypso. “The people who came here as kids when we first opened now bring their own kids here,” she says. “It made us feel really lucky.” Cafe Calypso has even hosted three (three!) weddings for couples who first met over coffee or a book there.
For Marcy and Erdal, it’s always been about people. Throughout the trajectory of Cafe Calypso, the couple naturally experienced those inevitable moments of craving expansion, asking what if and why not. They bought warehouses for roasting, opened an additional location in Dallas … but every time they worked toward more, it meant less time with each other. So they’d pull back. Erdal would tell a story: There was a great fisherman, and everyone would tell him to get a bigger boat so he could catch more fish and sell the extra fish. “Why?” the fisherman would ask. “So you can do what you want to do,” they would say. And the fisherman said, “I am doing what I want to do.”
And they were happy.
Then, while Erdal was on a solo trip to tend to the couple’s property in Turkey, everything changed. “I could hear it in his voice,” Marcy remembers. “He had a cough, and something was just not right.” Stage Four cancer. All of a sudden, Erdal was 53 years old and terminal.
Marcy doesn’t talk much about those final months, but she smiles as she remembers Erdal’s strong opinions about what she should do once he was gone. “He would tell me, ‘I just want you to travel and enjoy yourself.’ He was cremated, and he said, ‘Please travel and take me with you, because I want to see it, too. Leave a part of me everywhere we go.’”
Marcy is looking forward to traveling in the future, but for now she is still reconfiguring her reality, finding her new normal. “I can’t really work with anyone else the same way,” she admits. “I’m so used to working right alongside him, bumping elbows, scooting around each other behind the counter. We had a rhythm.”
She shares one of Erdal’s favorite Turkish sayings: Nereden nereye. Roughly, “from where to where.” She thinks about this phrase often, about the journey from Corpus to Turkey and back again, how easily she and Erdal could have lived entire lives without ever meeting, without opening this little coffee shop that, for so many of us, has become a place of communion.
As we talk, I keep looking back at the wall beside me. Marcy has pinned 30 years worth of photos of Erdal and herself onto the wall, creating a collage that tells this love story far more beautifully and personally than this writer ever could. So, I urge you, go see for yourself. With a cup of Turkish coffee in your hands and a loving feeling in your heart – just as Erdal would.
5425 S Padre Island Dr #185