Rock bottom to roasting: Katora Coffee thrives on Caroline Street

POTOMAC LOCAL | by SUSIE WEBB

FREDERICKSBURG — Behind the glass windows of Katora Coffee lies much more than a cup of coffee and hot tea. Within its graffitied walls are two co-owners who risen above countless obstacles to create a community-oriented space.

April and Christian Zammas opened Katora Coffee at 615 Caroline St. on Dec. 11, 2017.

Although they both come from difficult pasts, with the luck of the online dating app Bumble, they found each other and started Katora after dating for about four months.

After graduating from high school in 1992, Christian Zammas immediately went into the restaurant business. He moved from his hometown in Raleigh, N.C. to St. Louis where he worked as both a chef and a DJ.

“I DJ’ed because I loved music, and I cooked because I loved food,” Christian Zammas said. “If I liked cars, I would be at the car dealership, but I like to eat, so that’s why I’m at the restaurant.”

His work in restaurants took him to many places, including New York City. Christian Zammas was a sous-chef for the Fort Lauderdale Yacht Club, and he was featured in the Food Network’s Food and Wine Festival.

By the time Christian Zammas returned to Raleigh, he was deep into a heroin addiction. He had two kids and was working for about 60 hours a week just to stay afloat.

“I was a functioning addict,” Christian Zammas said. “I was going to work to pay for my drugs so that I could go back to work.”

When the mother of his children left and moved to Fredericksburg, Christian Zammas hit rock bottom. He almost lost his arm due to a necrotic abscess, and he was fired from his job after being accused of stealing from a restaurant (months later the restaurant called to apologize when the real culprit was caught).

With a single bus ticket, purchased for him by his children’s mother, Christian Zammas arrived in Fredericksburg on March 13, 2017. He was admitted to the Methadone Clinic, and he checked himself into the Thurman Brisben homeless shelter.

“I’m a career chef, I’m a career DJ, and I’m a career drug addict,” Christian Zammas said. “Since I’ve gotten to Fredericksburg, I’ve realized that what’s given me purpose in this town is being able to give back. It’s bizarre for me, and I’m realizing now that the obsessive qualities I had as an addict I can now obsess on community. I can obsess on finding things for the youth to do because those were the years that caused me the most trouble.”

In August Christian met April who was coming out of a 19-year marriage. Their second date was at High Point Coffee which unbeknownst to them would soon become Katora.

At first, Christian and April were selling sandwiches and wraps out of High Point’s deli case under the name Katora. The name is a Hindi word that means bowl or vessel.

“We were looking up words for ‘bowl’ and we are both really big fans of Hindi culture,” Christian Zammas said. “April actually found the word on google translate, and we liked the alliteration of Katora Coffee.”

When they learned that High Point Coffee would be closing, after being in business for less than a year, they called the landlord to see what they could do to save the shop.

“Owning a food establishment allowed Christian to follow his dream and for us to be together as a family,” April Zammas said. “Since I’m the tech-designer, I’ve been able to handle all the design and development work for our brand. Marketing is a passion of mine.”

Katora Coffee is the only café in Downtown that is entirely vegetarian. They sell coffee, tea, smoothies, juices, and baked goods. Kickshaws Market provides 50 percent of the baked items in Katora’s deli case. When the gluten-free, nut-free bakery closed its storefront on the corner of Sophia and William, Katora started selling its goods in the deli case the next day.

“I’ve been vegetarian since 1997,” April Zammas said. “We’re leaning towards going full vegan soon, but we want to do it right. Sharing this lifestyle choice with Fredericksburg is part of our mission.”

Katora is home to a wide range of community events with everything from poetry slams, art battles, and live music to video game tournaments (Smashtora), drag shows, and sea shanties.

“The main thing we told ourselves from the beginning is that we were going to make our place a welcoming environment,” Christian Zammas said. “If you don’t belong somewhere, you belong here. If you don’t fit in at the cool kid’s shop, if you have kids, or if you are a vegetarian, we have it all here.”