Blink and you could easily miss the little kiosk that quietly opened in the foyer of the City West car park on Marcus Clarke Street in January.
Flanked by a construction site on one side and ticket machines for the multi-storey car park that lies beyond a set of glass doors directly behind, it’s not the most salubrious of city locations at first glance.
But for owner Oktay Irmak, this unassuming little spot represented the perfect vantage point for his latest venture and the regular flow of customers traipsing in and out during my visit appears to bear out his thinking.
Oktay will be a familiar face to many who frequented his popular kebab shop, Kismet, which served a loyal crowd for more than a decade on Flinders Way in Manuka. He later reimagined Kismet into On Flinders, a little cafe featuring great coffee and a Mediterranean-inspired menu, which ran for four years.
But the fatigue familiar to many restaurant and cafe owners, and a long-held desire to pursue another passion, saw Oktay and his wife Catalina Almeida sell up a couple of years ago and focus their attentions on the humble coffee bean.
“It was actually 10 years in the making,” says Oktay, whose determination to learn as much as he could about coffee saw him head to South America to see the growing process firsthand, including a fortnight in the Amazon visiting coffee farms and cooperatives, and building the connections that would enable him to begin exporting his own beans to Canberra.
“I’ve been learning as much as I can about coffee beans – the way altitude, earth, even pollination by bees can change the taste. I’m fascinated with coffee beans. Some people feel this way about wine; for me, it’s coffee,” he says.
Since those travels – happily just before COVID-19 restrictions set in – Oktay and Catalina have established their own coffee label – C&O Bean Merchants – which imports specialty Arabica green beans to supply to local roasters and coffee shops. C&O beans are front and centre at Oktay’s new cafe, which kebab lovers will be pleased to know is the return of Kismet.
There was clearly something in the name. While Oktay originally planned to open a simple coffee shop in Civic, destiny dictated that he would, in fact, resurrect an old favourite.
“After doing a lot of research on the area, and what the office workers were buying, I realised there were quite a few coffee shops around here doing a similar thing and that I needed a point of difference. Some of my old customers and friends had been saying ‘please bring back Kismet’, so that’s what I did,” says Oktay.
Though the compact space in Civic means there is no stone oven this time around, so pizzas and homemade breads (along with dips) are off the menu, the new Kismet is once again serving chicken and beef doner kebab rolls; snack packs including chips, doner meat, cheese and sauce; lamb or chicken skewer rolls with salad; felafel rolls and more. For those flooding out of the car park and into the city early in the morning, Oktay is ready with bacon and egg rolls and, of course, a ready supply of coffee.
“We have a lot of people who just want to grab and go – a morning coffee and a sandwich – while others come in for the snack packs, zucchini balls and kebabs for lunch. Anyone who loved Kismet before will pretty much find the same things here,” Oktay says.
A couple of tables outside facing Marcus Clark Street are available to those who move quickly, but most are popping in this weekday lunchtime to grab takeaway or simply a coffee to take back to the office or tuck into outdoors.
“We are seeing a lot of repeat customers now, which is really good, and some are even buying coffee beans from us,” says Oktay, who was born in Ankara, Turkey, and moved to Canberra in 1989 when his dad got a diplomatic posting here. Four years later, his parents returned home, but Oktay was hooked.
“I was at uni and loved the place. I decided that Canberra was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life.”
Oktay hopes this latest phase of his life will eventually lead to an even deeper immersion in the world of coffee.
“Hopefully, one day, we will be able to work with small coffee producers [in South America] and help contribute to better living standards. That’s my dream,” he says.
Kismet is located just across the road from the bustling No Name Lane in the Citywest car park Arcade, 113-119 Marcus Clarke Street, Canberra. It’s open weekdays only from 7:30 am until about 2:30 pm.