“She’s not your typical teen — Charlotte is my 14-year-old granddaughter,” says Lynn Harmonay. She and her husband, Gholam Farrokhpour, opened Charlotte’s Café in August last year in the Hidenwood area in hopes of adding to the neighborhood they love.
Harmonay says that when opening their restaurant, she and her husband knew they wanted to name it after her granddaughter. “She’s beyond her years,” she says, mentioning Charlotte’s unique interests such as filmmaking and production. Charlotte is an extraordinary teen, and Harmonay wanted to celebrate that.
One of the first things you will notice in Charlotte’s Café is that time moves slowly inside its walls. There is a piano anyone can play, and the walls are covered with oil paintings by Farrokhpour. It is comfortable and homey, with the interior inspired by Farrokhpour’s time in Europe and the Middle East, as well as his years of operating a restaurant on Capitol Hill.
Students from local high schools entertain with live music on Friday and Saturday nights, which Harmonay says brings in many people from the community. “We want to be the neighborhood spot where families feel happy coming. We recognize customers and want to provide food our customers enjoy,” she says. In this way, she and Farrokhpour hope they can give something back to the city they love calling home.
“Our food is healthy,” Harmonay says, explaining that everything is made “from scratch.” Unlike most places, Farrokhpour prepares each individual meal, not only providing superior flavor but also recognizing customers’ food allergies or preferences. “We have lots of vegan customers, even though nothing on our menu indicates vegan. Gholam listens to our customers’ desires and creates a custom meal based on their specific needs,” Harmonay says.
Harmonay’s favorite meal is the grilled fish with fresh pita, although she admits that everything offered is delicious. Often customers will recommend dishes that are not on the menu, and Farrokhpour enjoys creating these suggestions.
Harmonay says that Farrokhpour is the true heart of Charlotte’s Café, having always loved the restaurant business. “He’s happy. He is here from open to close and he prepares every meal,” she says. Farrokhpour loves being creative, trying new recipes, while Harmonay uses her love of baking to prepare tempting desserts, such as her lemon curd cake.
Charlotte’s Café is a break from reality and a reminder of simpler times. “You see people at different tables talking with each other. I love that we are connecting with people in a very special way,” Harmonay says. She notes that it is not unusual to find someone sitting at a table for hours reading a book, and seldom are customers using their cell phones. In fact, she says, people will come in after having dinner in their own homes just to have a slow evening and eat dessert, while others come in to chat and have tea. Inside, it feels like everyone knows everyone, like a spot lost in time.
Harmonay and Farrokhpour are happy that they can bring pleasure and good dining experiences to the lives of those who stop by. “We want to give people a break, a chance to relax from the world and just breathe,” Harmonay says.
TO THE POINT:
Address: 12454 Warwick Blvd., Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Lynn Harmonay, owner