Obamamania hits the Danforth

The idea began in a living room in Ethiopia.

Emmanuel Debass and his new bride were watching Barack Obama make election speeches on television and the Toronto resident felt inspired.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute. I gotta open up something about this guy.’”

Debass arrived in Toronto on Christmas Eve and started looking for a location to open a coffee shop with a very special name: Obama Cafe.

Obama Cafe sits at 1226 Danforth Ave, just east of Greenwood Avenue. The windows were covered for about a month during interior renovations, but Debass has been hoping to open any day now. On Jan. 20, however, he was able to get the shop’s exterior sign up — just five minutes before the inauguration.

Debass has already received coverage from major news organizations such as the CBC and Toronto Star. He said as soon as he put the sign up, the phone started ringing.

What is it about the mention of President Barack Obama’s name that creates such a stir? Debass thinks it’s what he brings out in people.

“You see, for a lot of African-Americans, and when I was in Africa during my vacation, his inspiration becomes a real thing,” Debass said. “I haven’t seen many African-Americans holding an American flag, for that matter. And it looked like they felt American again, by holding up that flag.”

That inspiration has influenced the design and menu of the cafe. Along with selling Obama memorabilia such as T-shirts, mugs and key-chains, the specialty will be Obama coffee from Kenya — the homeland of the new president’s father. There will be other East African snacks, but regular cafe fare — including cappuccinos, lattes and bacon and eggs — will also be available.

If his hard work pays off, Debass hopes to someday have Obama Cafes throughout Ontario and the rest of Canada. But for now, he’s focused on the East York location.

“When you start a dream, you start from small and you end up large, just like Obama,” he said. “He started small, and he went large.”

Debass would like to be able to compete with the larger chains, like Starbucks, Tim Horton’s and Second Cup.

“Obama might not be a hockey player like Tim Horton, but he’s president, you know?” he said. “I hope everyone will drink coffee, Obama coffee.”