• Abigail Hall

Norman friends open YuYu's Cozy Corner cafe to bring their cultures, favorite Mediterranean meals to

Originally published at OU Daily Feb. 28, 2018

On the corner of Main Street and Park Drive, amid construction and people busily going about their days, lies a haven lingering with the smells of Mediterranean spices and freshly brewed coffee.

YuYu’s Cozy Corner not only is Norman’s newest halal restaurant — serving Egyptian and Lebanese cuisine from the homelands of its owners that is prepared according to Muslim law — but also is a coffee shop and live music venue.

YuYu’s is both an inviting, quiet space for students and locals, as well as an affordable and healthy Mediterranean eatery.

Mashhad Fahes is from Lebanon, while Aya Hamad is originally from Egypt but grew up in Qatar.

In opening YuYu’s, both of them wanted to offer a different line of Mediterranean and Arabic food to Norman.

When Fahes first walked into the space that previously existed as The Screen Door, a local coffee shop and hangout space, she instantly felt like she had walked into her dream living room. She loved the parlor-style room to the right of the entrance, full of colorful rugs, antique-looking chairs and couches, old books lining wooden cases and plentiful windows that filled the room with cascading light.

“I felt that I belonged — that I was highly welcomed, and I was comfortable sitting here all day,” Fahes said.

Fahes, a petroleum engineering assistant professor at OU, said the environment allowed her to feel like she was at home, but it also allowed her to focus on grading papers and getting work done. She quickly became a regular customer and spent hours grading papers in the comfort of a unique, cushioned chair with a cup of coffee nearby.

When she found out The Screen Door was closing, Fahes knew she couldn’t let a place that was so refreshing and important to her disappear.

Fahes pitched the idea of business partnership to Hamad, whom she had become friends with after meeting her six years ago when Fahes was a customer at Qatar National Bank, where Hamad worked.

Starting a cafe made sense to Fahes and Hamad, who said they enjoyed the mixed grill options that Norman offered, such as Saffron Cafe and Shawarma Vite, they missed the homemade food they grew up eating and often found themselves driving to Oklahoma City.

While in OKC, they would visit restaurants that offered the home-cooked halal foods not offered at mixed grill places. One of these options was zaatar, a Lebanese flat bread with akawi cheese, a soft Lebanese cheese spread across the flatbread with fig jam, a dish Fahes grew up eating every morning for breakfast.

Fahes and Hamad realized that, by taking over the lease, there was an opportunity to expand halal options in Norman and cater healthy food rather than just snacks and coffee.

Hamad and Fahes took over the lease from the owners of The Screen Door, who were renting the building from a third party. The Screen Door owners bought all of the furniture that currently remains in YuYu’s, keeping the atmosphere that Fahes had loved so much alive.

Their unique name — YuYu’s — comes from Egyptian culture, where children are given a specific nickname depending on their chosen name. Hamad’s first name, Aya, is always given the nickname “YuYu,” which she is known as to this day.

Fahes is still an active faculty member at OU, so in order for YuYu’s to exist, Hamad’s full-time job is making sure everything runs smoothly. Hamad is the heart of YuYu’s, so when it came time to name their business, they agreed that it should be known as Hamad’s place. They never second-guessed calling it her place: "YuYu’s."

“I’ve put a lot of hope in this place, trying to make it cozy,” Hamad said.

People who walk into YuYu’s will find a large, open room to the left and a corner filled with couches and cushioned chairs to the right. Both short and long tables fill up the rest of the space, with plentiful outlets lining the walls. In addition, there is outdoor patio seating.

“People love to come here and sit all day — grading papers, reading books, having meetings, working on their thesis,” Fahes said.

YuYu’s serves a variety of Lebanese and Egyptian homestyle dishes, with an American twist on specific items such as the English muffin sandwich to become a Lebanese dish of zaatar, egg and cream cheese on an English muffin.

“We’re not trying to compete with those places, what we offer is completely different,” Fahes said.

YuYu’s food is made by hand in the eatery's kitchen without heavy oils or deep fryers. The way the food is made takes time — from the time customers order, it may be a 7- to 15-minute wait for their food to be ready.

Emilie Giustozzi went to YuYu’s the first day it was open, and her experience was so good she returned every day for the next four days. It was the relationship and community found in YuYu’s through Hamad and her staff that kept Giustozzi coming back.

“It was very welcoming and very excited to share — not just the food that was on the menu, but why it was on the menu,” Giustozzi said.

When Giustozzi entered YuYu’s that first day, Hamad told her the stories of the dishes: the zaatar that Fahes grew up eating and the Egyptian eggplant dishes that Hamad’s grandmother made.

While she enjoyed the food and atmosphere, it was the stories Hamad told her about the food selected for the menu that brought an “extra depth to the food rather than just being something that tastes good,” Giustozzi said.

Today, Giustozzi considers YuYu’s employees and Hamad friends. She goes in two to three times a week. For a period of time, YuYu’s even sold a dish called “Emilie’s chili,” which was inspired by a recipe Emilie told her about that uses Greek spices.

“It’s such a comfortable place. Everyone who I’ve encountered there has gone out of their way to make sure you feel welcome and comfortable,” Giustozzi said.

In addition to being a coffee shop and restaurant, YuYu's also offers live entertainment.

Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday afternoon, YuYu’s provides a live music experience during lunch, and jazz band “Diminishing Returns” performs most Tuesday evenings. Fahes and Hamad’s hope is to eventually have a live music experience every day.

YuYu’s Cozy Corner is located at 408 W. Main St. in Norman. It is open 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with availability for special events on the weekends.

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