Jojo Corväiá

by Sean Frazier | February 16, 2014


Anyone who has ever spent time at Arabica Lounge will tell you that it's more than just a cafe. It's an experience. And one that is very rarely encountered. It's somewhat difficult to put into words, consisely, all the elements that fill the senses creating this wonderful experience but perhaps just these two would suffice: Jojo Corvaia. He is the heart and soul of Arabica Lounge. The conductor of its energy and curator of this unique experience. Jojo opened Arabica in 2009 with the hope to create a cafe that was unlike any other in Seattle. To say that he was successful in doing so would be a drastic understatement. Yes, his cafe offers the standards done exceptionally- espresso, tea et al but what really makes the biggest statement is his beautifully executed and eclectic variety of pastries and brunch dishes inspired from regions all over the world. Jojo is also a multi-media artist and has the utmost taste in just about everything; so its only fitting that his cafe is filled with striking artwork (some his own, many from local artists) and beautiful furnishings that invite you to sit and stay as much as they challenge you to examine and take note. I have personally never visited Arabica Lounge without having learned, tasted or seen something that I hadn't before. Perhaps that is what sets his cafe apart from the rest. It's a consistent inspiration. I spent the day with Jojo at his home on Capitol Hill where we talked about the concept behind Arabica Lounge, the connection between his home and his cafe as well as his own inspirations. 

"My concept for Arabica Lounge has been the same from the very beginning: putting together all the things I like in one place. Art, music, food, human interaction, research, learning and creating new things everyday. The Arabica space, its aesthetic, is an extension of my home and of the way I live; the way I see things. When I go to far-away places, I always bring something from there- not necessarily an object but an experience and I try to recreate that in Arabica. I do that through the food mostly. Looking through my baking list, there are probably 5 continents covered. Not every country, of course, though I would love to. Recently I made Palachinke which is a Serbian crepe-like pancake. I layered it with chocolate, orange marmalade and vanilla. A customer walked into Arabica and saw it there, tried it and told me that it brought him back to his childhood in Serbia. He had a great experience and for me, bringing a memory back to someone through food is an irreplaceable moment. "

"I was born in Venezula. There is a French and Italian lineage on my father's side and my mother is from Venezula though her family is from Spain. And I also have family from Lebanon. So I'm familiar with food from all of these regions. The food in Lebanon is extrordinary. There are a lot ingredients that you wouldn't see here. And there are a lot of ways to prepare more familiar ingredients that are rarely seen here; candied eggplants, for instance. My Aunt Violet is from Lebanon, she was very immersed in the kitchen. And there was a sophistication about her cooking. She would serve hot orange blossom water to clean the palate. Anytime I would visit my Aunt for an afternoon meal there would be a vichyssoise on the table to start the meal. She would have pigeons flown in from Egypt for meals during Christmas. Her labneh and ricotta cheese was always made in-house. She was serious about cooking. I am this way in my own home now; making my own yogurt and cheeses."

"I come from an art background; I'm a multimedia artist. Though Arabica lounge is a very different project than anything I've done before, I still consider it art. Only my art is edible now. My creative energy is now focused toward the way I prepare and plate every one of my dishes. The design of the Arabica space, the music selection and the art that I curate for the space are all part of the creative process. The last project I did before opening Arabica was a performance art project, incorporating visual and sound elements, for the opening of the Miami Arts Center. I did a lot of photography and interview-based documentation throughout my career because a lot of my work back then was focused on social psychology. So I think Arabica Lounge fits very well in my line of projects that I've done because of its impact, socially, in the community."

Photos by Bryan Anton



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Posted in Food