Cafe to exude Moroccan flavor

Lahcen Alouah has always wanted to start a coffee shop for Yale students and New Haven residents. In the next few weeks, his dream will be realized with the opening of his Moroccan-themed Kasbah Garden Cafe at 105 Howe St., between Elm Street and Edgewood Avenue.

As a member of Chapel West, a group of local businessmen aiming to renovate the area around Chapel Street, Alouah already owns the Casablanca Boutique, a clothing store near the intersection of Chapel and York streets. He said he hopes he and his partners can revamp the area to attract more students to live and shop there. Chapel West President Brian McGrath said his group encourages new restaurants to move into the district to enliven it.

“[Kasbah Garden] fits in exactly with what we’d like to see more of,” he said. “It’s opening up in a place where we don’t have enough commerce, and it’s using wasted space.”

McGrath said new restaurants will contribute to the establishment of a greater tax base for Chapel West.

“We’re looking for more people to build more things to raise more taxes,” he said. “We want to give land to responsible developers.”

Before Alouah decided to start a cafe, the lot had been unused since a flower shop went out of business. The flower shop left a garden area open for development, and Alouah decided to incorporate it into his cafe.

Alouah said he is waiting for the weather to improve before opening the cafe, as he wants his customers to sit in the garden and enjoy the atmosphere. He promises grape vines, a pond and a fountain in the front, and said he hopes to cultivate a pleasant setting for students to appreciate over a cup of coffee or a Moroccan dessert.

“It’s a good environment, a very good environment,” Alouah said. “You don’t feel like you’re in a coffee shop. You feel like you’re in a garden.”

Dean Sakamoto, a critic at the School of Architecture and an architectural consultant who serves on the Chapel West Special Services Advisory Board, said he is currently presenting Chapel West with options for the area’s future layout. He said that with St. Raphael’s Hospital nearby, the district is developing a diverse character.

Among the district’s various development possibilities, Sakamoto said, businesses like the Kasbah Garden Cafe indicate that the area’s greatest potential is to develop into a commercial and residential zone. Sakamoto said he and his colleagues will make efforts to incorporate the Chapel area into the Yale Arts District.

“[Alouah] is creating the kind of business we are looking for,” Sakamoto said.

Alouah also said his plans fit into Chapel West’s larger vision for the area. He said he will ask local artists to hang their paintings on the cafe’s walls and local poets to give readings in order to establish Kasbah Garden as a place where people can come together and share their ideas.

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