New restaurants Madrigal Café and Frida’s Tacos and Bar are bringing new life to once vacant storefronts between the Honors Residence Hall and the Carolina Coliseum.
Both restaurants plan to bring new international flavors to the block that already features Mediterranean, Indian and Asian staples.
Located in the same building as Shiv’s Convenience store, Madrigal Cafe plans to offer an extensive menu including pizza, pasta, sandwiches and bruschetta, but the desserts will be taking center stage.
Reza Zarifi, an international relations student at Midlands Technical College, opened Madrigal Cafe at 1128 Devine Street alongside his mother and brother. Zarifi's family-owned restaurants in their native country, Turkey, so he looks to this new opportunity to continue their legacy.
“My uncle had a coffee shop so I worked there when I was twelve,” Zafiri said. “We opened a couple of other (restaurants) back in the home, Turkey. Then moved to here … we’re always in the restaurant business.”
After COVID-19 reduced mass gatherings, the family’s catering business, which would serve up to 600 people per day, was forced to close. However, their ovens both figuratively and literally fired up again when Zarifi found inspiration in an unusual place: a college class.
“There was ‘Nighthawks,’ there was a story about that famous Nighthawks painting — a coffee shop with a lady and a man sitting right beside each other,” Zarifi said. “It's like World War II and it's a dark street, that was what inspired me to start a coffee shop.”
Zarifi admited that literature about Edwin Hopper’s famed artwork is an unconventional muse for a restaurant. While he didn’t name the cafe 'Madrigal' after the famous work of art, he named it after his favorite band and a style of Italian romantic choral music.
The cafe will mainly focus on serving coffee and desserts. Staying true to his roots, Zarifi will offer Turkish coffee. urkish coffee is known for its full body given that it isn’t filtered, so the ultra-fine grounds remain in the drink. Another Turkish coffee called menengiç, a caffeine-free beverage made from pistachios, will also be available.
Zarifi’s mother, Emma Erguwan, will lead the way in terms of the food, as she holds three culinary degrees. Erguwan studied in Turkey and Iran with a focus on desserts, but she is particularly fond of roulette. This featured menu item is a popular Persian cake rolled with whipped cream.
International flavors continue just around the corner at 601 Main Street with a new taco bar. Frida’s Tacos and Bar opened in the space that once housed Bruno’s Taqueria, which closed late 2021.
Viviana Cortes, who moved to Columbia from Maryland, thought the empty space would be the perfect location for a Mexican restaurant, citing few others in the area and in proximity to USC.
Cortes, who had a restaurant until 2008, is trying to get back into the food business after working in construction for the past 14 years. She said she faces many difficulties opening a small business, however. Expensive permits mus be acquired, staff must be hired and somehow customers need to hear about the restaurant.
“I don't have a lot of employees, but I'm trying to get more employees. I'm trying to get more customers where I can hire more people,” Cortes said.
Despite Cortes' difficulties with both staffing and marketing, she is sure about one thing: the food.
“We have a lot of special recipes,” Cortes said. “We have our own salsa. Everything is homemade, the tortillas are made at the moment (you order), we don't get anything from the store.”
Both locations have struggled to sustain previous tenants. Frida's Tacos and Bar and Madrigal Cafe are banking on their unique international food to mesh with the diverse flavors the area already offers.