KINGSWAY EAST – If you drive down Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in north St. Louis, you can’t help but notice one abandoned building after another.
Faded signs and decrepit properties are the only things reminiscent of what was once a thriving African-American neighborhood.
Standing alone with little to no other sign of development nearby is Cafe 7even at 4729 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.
The owner of the coffee shop and restaurant, Fahime Mohammad, is an immigrant from Afghanistan who fled to the U.S. almost 30 years ago in search of a better life.
“During the time when I was born and raised in Afghanistan, we were run by communists [and] Russia, so everything was Russia. We didn’t know anything about America. Everything about America was bad,” he reflected.
Mohammad recalls what it was like at the age of 17, roaming the streets of north St. Louis, unable to speak English.
“When I first moved to St. Louis it was 1991,” Mohammad said. “My uncle lived in the north side, so I hung out in this neighborhood.”
The time in north St. Louis would prove to be well spent, because now Mohammad has made it his mission to invest in a community that gave so much to him.
“The family who gave me sanctuary from war in Afghanistan, they all live around here,” he explained. “There’s some amazing people that live here.”
“No matter where I am, whenever I have the ability, I want to come back and invest in this neighborhood.”
Cafe 7even opened on Sept. 10. Its name comes from Mohammad’s obsession with the number seven.
“I’ve always been really fascinated by it because it revolves around a lot of things; seven days a week, 7-Eleven, seven heavens, seven layers of the OSI model, seven layers of the Mendeleev puzzle, seven colors of the rainbow, seven continents,” he said, laughing.
Fahime said his goal was to create a space with healthy eating options, with food from all seven continents.
Customers can expect vegetarian and vegan options among other cuisines like lamb, goat, curry dishes, chicken biryani with rice, chick pea stew or mango curry meatballs.
Mohammad said he planned to prove to the area’s residents that Cafe 7even wasn’t “just another brown person’s business.”
“Everybody doesn’t have the same mindset, but I want to prove it to those people [that] it’s not just any typical brown business [that will] just come, make the money and take it out of here,” he said.
“I’ve invested here. I’ll generate the revenue and I’ll spend it back here [to] create jobs,” Mohammad said.
“A lot of people have this negative connotation about this neighborhood. It’s crime-laced, it’s a poor neighborhood, you know. But this has not always been the case, because I did research. About 100 years ago this was one of the most busiest and thriving neighborhoods in America,” he noted.
Mohammad hopes that the cafe will serve as a business hub in north city where a constant exchange of ideas, innovation and strategy can flow among like-minded individuals.
St. Louis artist and musician William “Billy” Neal, 70, works alongside Mohammad at Cafe 7even, making sure things are in order and providing live entertainment on Friday and Saturday afternoons beginning at 4 p.m.
Neal said: “I came here because he seems like a good person that’s concerned about the community, concerned about brothers and sisters coming together, concerned about the drugs, concerned about the onslaught that black people are putting on their own selves through the drugs and that type of music, not understanding that this is a genocide.”
Both Neal and Mohammad reiterated that no liquor would be served. Instead, they hope to offer a great atmosphere with good music, good food and even a few rounds of chess if that interests you.
Cafe 7even is open from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.