In July, Halifax’s Humani-T Cafe announced it would be closing its north end location, at 5755 Young Street, in early August. Originally planning to shut down Friday, August 6, owner Nemat Sobhani has extended cafe services until Saturday, August 7 so everyone has a chance to say goodbye.
“The last day is Saturday because it just makes more sense to have one weekend day where people could come in,” says Sobhani. “We’ve had a lot of people coming in just to say their farewell and buying that last pint of gelato.”
This closure comes less than a year after the closure of Humani-T’s downtown location on South Park Street, which was affiliated but separately owned since it opened in 2012.
Sobhani originally opened Humani-T Cafe on Young Street in February 2010, but before that he owned and operated Super Natural Foods, a health food store that began in 1986 and evolved over time to become what Humani-T is today.
The cafe, famous for its Free Gelato Day fundraisers, is unfortunately another small business cut down by the pandemic.
“It has to do with COVID mostly zapping our energy,” says Sobhani. “It’s a good business, and if I was 10 years younger than this I would probably just get back up after getting knocked down, shake the dust off and keep going.”
During the first wave, Humani-T was kept afloat by loyal customers. “That first wave showed us how supportive our core group of customers were, I would say 200 or so core customers who kept on buying so much,” he says. “We didn't even have a shopping cart online, they would checkmark the list and then they’d give them back the price and they would pay it and then we would go and deliver it. These people kept us alive.”
That’s who Sobhani and his brother Kiyan first opened the store for. “We wanted to have a place where our neighborhood people would come here, and it was a place for meeting and connecting with each other, and have a sense of community,” he says. “We’ve made a heart-to-heart connection with so many people here the past 30 years. And it's just very difficult to lose that part.”
But the second and third wave were the final blows. “We have to keep the hours short because we couldn't get enough people to keep open long hours,” Sobhani explains in a phone call. “So that meant that our overhead is the same but our hours of operation are not making the sale numbers that you need to pay all of our basic expenses. It’s a combination of things added together.”
The store will continue stocking items and making more gelato until the end. “We’re trying to keep it full,” Sobhani says. “But that’s the thing about the gelato business, it can go a lot faster than you can make it.”
In the past few weeks, many of Humani-T’s loyal customers have come to bid adieu to the cafe. “People are having that moment. They take pictures and then they cry,” says Sobhani. “We’ve had people coming in and asking like ‘If you’re not going to be making this anymore, can you please give me the recipe? I swear I won’t go into business with it.’” (He’s taken down each customer’s contact info to send out the recipes if they aren’t used in the future.)
After the cafe closes, Humani-T’s market side of the storefront will remain open until September, with a pop-up farmer's market potentially joining the space. “They will sell their products and we will sell our products,” says Sobhani of the pop-ups. “It just won’t be cafe seating anymore, but we’ll be serving baked goods, good coffee as a grab-and-go. And we will be selling gelato in pints.”
The building has been sold to a law firm, something Sobhani says is better than the car dealerships that were trying to purchase the building and turn it into a parking lot.
Beyond the falll, Sobhani says the team will be assessing what the plan is moving forward. “We're going to take a break and just review, refresh and regenerate, and we'll come back to the market in some way, and I have no idea what that will be.”
Sobhani continues, finding some certainty in the uncertainty. “The word retire is a dirty word to me. I’m never retiring, maybe when I’m 90,” he laughs. “It’s just what will I be doing?”