‘Toto, we ain’t in Starbucks anymore’

Brenna McNamara

A string of lights illuminate the outside of Jimmy’s Café in Cuyahoga Falls. The artistic atmosphere of the cafe transcends the inside of the restaurant and spills out into the patio with stained glass windows and artistically designed chairs. Phot

Credit: Ron Soltys

Carla Jarvis’ fiancé died unexpectedly after they were together seven years. She felt like how anyone would feel without his or her best friend and life — lonesome.

After living with her parents for a year, a dingy, old building a few blocks down caught her eye. Jarvis was curious about the brightly painted building and made a casual comment to her sister. Months later, in March 2002, her sister informed her that dingy building was a coffee shop.

“Maybe that would be a good place to go,” her sister suggested after spotting people sitting outside.

With a book and a pack of crackers, Jarvis biked a few blocks down and spent the day on the patio, reading on a bench shaped like a butterfly.

“I was trying to build a new life,” she said. “I didn’t know what it was, but I was gonna find it on that butterfly bench somehow.”

And she found whatever she was in search of on that butterfly bench. For three years, every day, Jarvis came and volunteered to help.

“I would get outta work and I’d be here till 11 every night. I just hung out,” she said.

One day Jimmy Van Hoose, then the owner of the coffee shop, told her that the café would be nothing without her help over the years. He then asked her for a dollar. Once in his hand, he said “Thank you. You are now the proud owner of Jimmy’s Café.”

The first steps into Jimmy’s Café in Cuyahoga Falls will have you clicking your ruby-red heels and saying, “Toto, we ain’t in Starbucks anymore.”

It’s a toss up as to which is more overwhelming, the outrageously stunning décor or the staff’s open-armed welcome. But patrons of Jimmy’s know the combination makes the place magical.

Upon stepping into Jimmy’s, you are stepping into art. Typically, the phrase “every square-inch” is an exaggeration among writers, so I’ll fold for accuracy purposes. Ninety-nine percent of every square-inch is covered in stupefying, radiant art from the tables to the floor to the food.

Jimmy bought the building not just to serve great drinks like the coconut-flavored “Jimmy’s Special” or the Italian sodas of innumerable flavors but also to be his canvas.

“I still come in here after six years and find things I didn’t know were here,” said Jarvis pointing to metal bird sculptures, camouflaged amongst the color. “I just recently noticed these.”

The café is filled with pieces found on curbsides to random pieces like headboards brought in and warped into art.

When Jimmy bought the connecting beauty shop in 2004, he had the backing of a friend who would financially support the remodeling. After he backed out, he had an empty building with walls knocked down, and no money.

“I knew Jimmy opened this place to be a place for community people to come and be real people,” she said. “But the ultimate reason I wanted to make sure this place succeeded was so I could always have my place to come.”

When the café needed some extra money, Jarvis remembered not being able to look at her fiancé’s belongings after his death, and put them up for sale.

“That’s it, I thought. A sidewalk sale,” she said.

The regulars of Jimmy’s donated everything from stereos to original art to the sidewalk sale turned sidewalk extravaganza. Nine months of construction and $5,000 later, with a little help from some friends, Jimmy’s Café became a restaurant as well as coffee shop.

“What Jimmy does with walls, he does with food,” said Jarvis.

The Louisiana-style cuisine is inspired by Jimmy’s 26-year stay in New Orleans.

“Jimmy taught me to be fearless and experiment with off-beat flavor combinations,” Jarvis said. “It can’t just be great food, though, on a white plate. You gotta make it look as pretty as it tastes.”

Jarvis remembers a couple that came in on Saturday morning to learn that breakfast is served depending on her choice. They were going to go somewhere else, until Jarvis offered to pay them to go somewhere else if they didn’t like it.

They come in every Saturday.

“We try to make everything special, down to the coffee. It’s not like eating at your ordinary restaurant. There, it’s ‘Hi. How many?’ You sit. You eat. You leave.” Jarvis said. “When you come here, it’s an experience. We converse with you and laugh with you. It’s like going to a friend’s house and sitting and having dinner.”

Contact all reporter Brenna McNamara at [email protected].