Entrepreneur Kartika Carr – a.k.a. “Tee” – refers to her young daughter, Khari, as her CEO. The café that Tee owns and runs, Khari’s Café, is named for her child, whose name is the Swahili word meaning kingly, born to rule, and bringing joy. “This is her café,” Tee says, adding that being a mom and role model inspired her to open this business in 2020.
Coffee lovers, café aficionados, and those yearning for a warming bowl of savory grits, will – and do – receive joy at this business located at the junction of Jersey Street and Fargo Avenue on Buffalo’s West Side.
Khari’s Cafe owner, Kartika Carr a.k.a. “Tee”
Tee dreamed about a commercial space on the West Side with a bank of large windows for the juicing business she had started in early 2020. So, when her realtor brought her to the former Tipico Coffee space she immediately fell in love with it. “This opportunity made its way to me and then the neighborhood was very adamant that they wanted another coffee shop here.”
Greeting Khari’s guests is a foot-high Elegua statue, surrounded at the base by a candle, and offerings of money, a cigar (reportedly, one of his favorite gifts), water, and incense. “He’s an orisha (a helpful spirit) that opens pathways; he protects everyone who crosses our threshold,” Tee says.
In the course of conversation about her business, Tee mentions her community activism, spirituality, and the influences of her family. Her Alabama-born great-grandmother, Lillie-Belle Haynes, served all the family children grits and coffee each morning: her grits recipe is on the menu.
The Elegua statue at Khari’s Cafe
Tee, a Niagara Falls native and happy West Side neighbor, has a menu of coffee drinks fueled by beans roasted by two other local purveyors: Undergrounds Coffeehouse and Roastery, and Bean Bastard Coffee. Khari’s coffee menu hits all the traditional favorites; golden tea latte (made with a rich blend of turmeric and frothed oat milk), and herbal teas are also on the menu.
Specialties of the house are fresh juices and wellness shots, some named for the seven African Powers (another name for the orisha). Oshosi, the hunter, gives his name to the eponymous wellness shot made of tart cherry juice and fresh ginger. The Oya is a blend of oranges, apple, beets, and ginger, named after the goddess of lightning, storms, and rebirth.
On the food side, Khari’s serves bagels (schmears include vegan options), bagel sandwiches, salads, and wraps (again, there are vegan choices). The menu’s Soul Bowls are all based on Lillie-Belle’s savory cheese grits with an over-easy egg atop – proteins (smoked salmon, bacon or vegan sausage) are extra.
The business is thriving and is reportedly busy all weekend, with Sunday brunches being especially popular. Khari’s Café, open daily and with closing time being 4 p.m., is also rented out fairly regularly for private events. “We get to know our community that way,” Tee says.
Long-term plans include the café roasting their own beans, with Tee partnering with coffee growers from different continents, “to learn their culture and why they roast. There’s such a history to coffee, different races and ethnicities all love coffee. There’s something around it that is so sacred. One of my goals is to become a nationally-known coffee roasting company, and to open other Khari’s Café locations.”
And how does Tee take her coffee? “I’m a latte girl. I love a strong Italian espresso with some really good oat milk. That or a red eye.”