A new coffee shop opened late last year in Richardson, and compared to the many cafes dotting North Texas, Arwa Yemeni Coffee is a cardamom-scented breath of fresh Arabian air.
Susan Shihab and Nora Soofi are sisters-in-law who longed for a local place where people could gather to taste the flavors of their homeland Yemen.
“This wasn’t something that came to us in a day or a month or a year,” says Soofi. “He’s been in negotiation for years. Everything you see at Arwa has been very well thought out and purposeful. It’s not just there because we wanted it to be there, it’s there because it has meaning and it has relevance.
Arwa is located in the back of a plain brown strip mall on the corner of Greenville Avenue and Centennial Boulevard. As you get closer, you might think you’re in the wrong place. But go back and you will see the sign above the door. As you walk in, the fact that you’re in a small strip mall in Richardson quickly fades. The space feels fresh and immaculate, bathed in warm tones with sandy brown and yellow accents.
As Soofi said, everything in the space has a purpose, and it’s these details that make this shop so amazing. Starting with the name, which honors the 11th and 12th century queen of Yemen, Arwa. During her reign, she founded several mosques, the most famous of which is the Queen Arwa Mosque. Here, inside the café, the large custom-made backlit arches on the wall echo the style of the mosque.
The floor tiles are shaped like honeycombs, a tribute to Yemen’s traditional sidr honey, which is harvested from sidr trees. In the back of the cafe is a jalsa, a traditional communal seating area. The wicker lamps look like madhalla, the usual hats worn by farmers in Yemen. Everything is with intention.
The mosaic wall art above the common seating area is also significant.
“If you look at Yemeni buildings that are depicted in mosaic wall art, those are the famous stones of Yemen. Whether they were built thousands of years ago or a year ago, these buildings all embody the same natural colors and tones. Those muted earth tones are beautiful,” says Soofi.
Cardamom, spices and all that is good
Even the food and drinks are infused with Yemen’s traditional flavors and spices. The coffee beans are imported from Yemen and roasted in-house. Signature drinks include a jubani made with coffee and peels (cascara), cardamom, ginger and cinnamon ($4). Adeni tea is made with premium black tea, milk, sugar, and Arwa spice blend ($5).
Monday through Thursday, shareable pots containing some of the store’s signature drinks ($15) are available. But let’s say go for the signature sampler ($20), which comes with four drinks and four treats.
While there are La Casita Bakeshop pastries in the window, there is also a nice collection of sweets and snacks made in a traditional Yemeni bakery in the United States. Some items are also made in-house.
Honeycomb bread is popular here; Didn’t try it this trip but after reading I’ll be back just to give it a try. Soft mounds of bread are stuffed with cream cheese and sprinkled with sesame seeds and brushed with honey.
But the squares of harissa along with the spiced coffee was unlike anything I’ve had at any other coffee shop. Equally tempting were two chocolate covered dates stuffed with pistachios.
The only downside is that due to the pleasant space, wonderful coffee and snacks, Arwa is often crowded. If you’re lucky to get a seat inside, grab it, but if not, don’t worry and walk out the back door into the courtyard with plenty of seating and heaters for cold weather. There is also a water feature which adds to the serene setting.
Arwa Yemeni Coffee, 888 S. Greenville Ave., Richardson. Sunday – Thursday, 10:00 – 20:00; Friday and Saturday, 10am to 10pm