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Gaza Coffee Shop Owner Determined To Run His Business After Conflict In His Home

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Starbucks doesn't have a branch in the Gaza Strip, but it is a model for one coffee shop owner there. He recently moved to a new location, a prime spot in Gaza City. Six days later, the conflict between Israel and Hamas landed almost literally on his doorstep. NPR's Daniel Estrin visited the Black Coffee Cafe.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: We were on a street surveying damage from Israeli airstrikes a couple of days after fighting ended between Hamas and Israel, and we saw that this sleek, new coffee shop was open. It's called Black Coffee. We decided to go in.

We have - on the walls, we have a portrait of Marilyn Monroe. We have a "Star Wars" figurine and a little ship.

The owner walks in wearing a trendy purple shirt and jeans. He knows a little English.

MAHMOUD KATBA: I love coffee.

ESTRIN: Mahmoud Katba, 24 years old. He studied business and wanted to sell something different than traditional Turkish coffee, he tells us through an interpreter.

KATBA: (Through interpreter) It's worldwide and well-known. Who doesn't want to try Starbucks here in Gaza?

ESTRIN: He's never tried Starbucks lattes and Frappuccinos because Israel and Egypt tightly control Gaza's borders, and travel is hard. Like many Gazans, he's never been abroad except for a four-hour trip to the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, where, like many Gazans, he was rejected for a U.S. tourist visa. So he found a Starbucks menu online, and he imported blackberry, hazelnut and vanilla syrups for complicated mixes. He even makes a cold brew.

KATBA: (Through interpreter) Even if it sucks - maybe it's not just like Starbucks, but it's something like it.

ESTRIN: There are a lot of coffee shops in Gaza, but he says he was going for something different. He looked at Pinterest for inspiration on the decor. He says he invested $11,000 in the shop. It's across the street from his family's apartment. He announced the opening on Instagram. Six days later, Israeli missiles tore up the street outside. Israel said it was targeting underground militant tunnels.

Did you ever imagine that days after you opened your dream business that you'd have a war right outside?

KATBA: Of course, no. (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: He was at home during the strikes, and the electricity went out in the elevator. He helped carry his grandmother down 11 flights of stairs. His coffee shop next door only got a few cracks. During the fighting, neighbors would huddle there. After 11 days of conflict, there was a cease-fire in the middle of the night. He reopened by lunchtime.

SIMON: (Through interpreter) People just was - when they saw the facade of the shop, they're just entering and saying that - good luck that you just survived on this wall. And thank God that this place survived, also.

ESTRIN: When we visited, business was slow. A lawyer, Sami Sawafiri, nursed a coffee. He said his windows were shattered in the war. Outside, a car lay upside down.

What are you feeling?

SAMI SAWAFIRI: I'm not OK.

ESTRIN: I had a final question for Katba, the owner.

Some people after such a war might ask themselves, is there a future in Gaza? And you've invested so much of your money and your soul in this place.

KATBA: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: He said, "I do have hope in the future. It's not making money. I want to improve the decor and the drinks and make a name for my coffee shop." We talked again this week. And he said business is so-so. But he told me that even if it doesn't work out and he loses his investment, he'll be glad he tried. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, the Black Coffee coffee shop in Gaza City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.