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International Cafe in Colombia closes after more than 30 years

International Cafe, a delicious favorite among new and old customers, plans to close its doors for good this week after 32 years of service.

Regardless of the time of day, Venezuelan-Libyan couple Elizabeth Hernandez-Gumati and Mohamed Gumati have welcomed customers to their restaurant for over three decades with the savory scent of their famous gyros and falafels permeating the air.

The classic, stripped-down look lets people know at first glance: the emphasis is on the food.

As the co-owners cook and clean between orders, they look up to see who comes in, asking for the order before either party makes it to the register.

They have worked hard to make the coffee the best it can be.

Now they will enter the long awaited chapter of retirement.

“It’s bittersweet,” Elizabeth said. “We had no idea that so many people cared.”

Mohamed Gumati, left, jokes as he serves longtime Columbia customer Tim Hawks over lunch at the International Cafe, which will close this week.

Elizabeth and Mohamed have owned and operated International Cafe since 1989, serving Middle Eastern cuisine to a wide range of customers.

“People have come from all over to say goodbye,” Mohamed said.

Since the December 8 announcement of the restaurant’s closure at 26 S. Ninth St. by the end of 2021, individuals and families in central Missouri and outside Kansas City and Chicago came one last time. meal.

One moment that stood out was a couple who walked in, both with tears in their eyes.

“They had their first date here,” Elizabeth said.

This couple has since married and had children. They decided they had to take their kids to the restaurant that started their relationship.

Mohamed Gumati slices gyroscopic meat for an international cafe lunch order.

“We don’t have to say what makes this place special,” said guest Carol Greenspan, who dined at the cafe on Tuesday. “Our smiles say it all.”

Greenspan and his longtime friend Jeff Vrotemarkle have been coming to the restaurant roughly every two weeks since it opened.

The two usually stick to the same order, a chicken gyro and a lentil soup.

“If they don’t have lentils, any soup will do,” said Greenspan. “I don’t eat lima beans, but I will eat their lima bean soup.”

Melissa Alpers-Springer and Mark Kelty have been coming to the cafe for at least 20 years, they said. Both are teachers – one in Fulton and the other in Fayette – but try to cross paths at least once a month over their favorite meal and Turkish coffee.

“It makes us sad, but we understand that they want to retire,” Alpers-Springer said.

Kelty’s usual order is a falafel sandwich with lentil soup, in memory of Alpers-Springer’s late husband. When her husband was undergoing chemotherapy, he always wanted the lentil soup from the cafe after his treatments.

International Cafe co-owner Elizabeth Hernandez-Gumati heats up tortillas to make chicken gyros.

Although the co-owners said they don’t have a set date for their last day of activity, they said it will be in the last week of the year.

The two plan to relax, exercise and travel in their new retirement days, and they will be visiting their families, Elizabeth said. Taking vacations together has been difficult during their years of operating the restaurant.

“It was either me with the kids or him with them,” she said. “One of us must always be there.”

They look forward to spending time with family and friends without rushing, they said.

“It was exhausting but beautiful,” Elizabeth said of running the cafe.

The couple have continually expressed that they weren’t aware of the impact they were having on so many people until they made their closing announcement.

Mohamed Gumati prepares to serve two orders of tabbouleh salad during lunch at Café International.

Since then, they have received overwhelming words of support.

“People said to me, ‘Give me your address so I can come and eat at your place,'” she said with a smile.

During their free time in 2022 and beyond, Elizabeth said they plan to continue cooking, but for loved ones and without the stress of daily restaurant operations.

Since the announcement, they have been busier than ever, she said.

The two agreed that their favorite part of their trip with International Cafe was the longtime friendships made and the chance to serve food to all kinds of people.

While Mohamed has yet to cry over the coming end of an era, tears will flow the day the restaurant closes for good, he said.

“We appreciate everyone for all these years,” Elizabeth said. “It was very moving.”

Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement