There is something wonderfully strange about Jojo Corväiá, the owner/chef/Feng Shui master of Capitol Hill's Arabica Lounge. How else would you describe someone who keeps mostly inedible objects in his fridge?
"My fridge is filled with toys. I'm not kidding. I have a cow, a turtle, a naked guy taking a shower, a scratchboard, legos, and some film. My little figurines with multiple eyes go next to the vegetables."
The concept of Arabica Lounge has grown from Jojo's zen personality, holistic approach to life, and insatiable desire to uphold a sense of community in Seattle. It is where one can go to experience "food, music, nice ambiance, nice people. All the senses must be involved at Arabica."
These must be the reasons he is so revered by his patrons:
"Customers write me postcards when they travel…It's amazing. They give me gifts too! Everything from homemade sausages to a grand piano."
Jojo and I met up last week to get dressed up and discuss family, travel, and the future of Arabica. Check out our interview and photos from the shoot below:
"My first culture shock coming to the USA was going to the supermarket. I stood frozen in the cereal aisle and I asked myself, "why do we need an aisle for cereal?"
"My favorite place to hike? The Himalayas."
"There are things I put in the shop that cannot be found anywhere else. I try to bring culture."
*to see more photos of Jojo, go to Cairo's Tumblr!The Interview:
Where are you from?
I was born in Caracas, Venezuela. My family is Sicilian and French. My father is Baron Corvaia, called "The Baron of the West".
What made you stay in Seattle?
When I visited here I liked it the best out of all the cities in the US. I wanted to change careers. I decided to do something that included all the things I like to do in my life. So I hired a...couch? No, a coach. I always get those words confused. He guided me through my ideas and thats how I created Arabica.
You're a dog person?
I'm a dog person. Kahla is a Scottish Terrier. She's my first ever dog. She is 14 years old. She is the longest relationship I have ever had besides my parents. I gave her a bath this morning. Domenico is my second dog. He's a 7 year old Wire Fox Terrier. They are just my dogs. That's it.
What is one rule you always try to live by?
You are a cook, no? What is your best dish?
In my own life, I make my own yogurt, and eat it with olive oil, salt and paprika and homemade flatbread. It's almost healing. It makes me feel so good. I think it has to do with the fact that it awakens memories of my grandmother.
What do you miss most about home?
I don't go there very often. I miss a couple of friends. Or maybe the simplicity of food there: the food of my grandmother and aunts. Food here is complicated and has so many unknown ingredients. I also miss my farm.
What is something no one knows about you?
Even though I see hundreds of people a day, I am a very lonely person. I go home and I feel very lonely. It doesn't make me sad though; I am kind of a loner. Also, have a learning disability. I am dyslexic and I have a very hard time differentiating left from right. Sometimes I even get lost getting from Arabica to my house.
How would you describe your personal style?
I am very eclectic but very particular in my sense of taste. I don't wear or have things because they are iconic or trendy. Like, I have never owned any Bob Dylan music, for example.
Where is somewhere you have always wanted to travel to?
Every year I travel somewhere far and challenging and interesting. There are so many places I want to go. Ethiopia. The Sahara.
What do you expect for your upcoming trip to Cairo?
I will go there to see the pyramids, to understand the different culture. I travel in order to expand my horizons and remind myself that there is no single way to live your life. I go to learn how to feel comfortable with people that are different to me, and appreciate those differences. There are so many cultural differences that you get to experience when you travel. It changes how you see your own life.
How did you get the name Arabica?
That is the type of coffee bean we serve at the shop. It is from Ethiopia.
What is one thing your grandparents taught you that you will never forget?
I don't know how to translate this. [Goes over to the faucet and turns the tap on slightly] Small stream. Always wash dishes, have a shower, anything, with a small stream. There is no reason to waste water on this planet.
What’s the next step for Arabica?
We have a new dinner menu opening on March 22nd. It is a huge endeavor--platters, pickles, vegetables, pasta. Everything will be handmade, everything is unique. A lot of the food comes from ideas given by friends throughout my life. One of the recipes is based on a conversation I had with a friend about what his grandmother use to make him when he was little. The recipe was in my head for 20 years, and after looking at so many books for recipes, that is what we are going with. Rachel Ravitch will be cooking the dinners. I believe it is very important that we do it. I want to try to make people understand that we are far from a coffee shop. There are so many things going on at Arabica. I want to do so much there.
Want to come to Arabica's opening dinner night? Get more info here.
**Jojo is wearing MuchoDesign jewelry, a Stacey Rozich for Cairo silkscreened tee, and vintage, all found at Cairo!