A chat with Georgina Kemp at Door 54 Café

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Georgina Kemp has emphasized organic coffee and fresh food at Door 54's cafe.
Georgina Kemp has emphasized organic coffee and fresh food at Door 54’s cafe.

“I guess my whole life I wanted to have a coffee shop,” says Georgina Kemp, or “Geo,” as she is known.

And now she has one, at Door 54, two blocks east of the Paseo de Montejo, on Calle 35.

YELinterview-1114webWe have found ourselves cooking less and eating out more lately. Since our side of town welcomed the Door 54 cafe, with its homey dining room and fresh, vibrant flavors – and superior coffee — we were hooked. Greeted as we were each trip by a smiling face, we got to know the cafe’s proprietor and confirmed what we suspected about the integrity of her kitchen.

“We avoid grease and fat,” Geo told us. “All my products we buy are first-quality products. The way that I like to eat, that’s the way I want my customers to have it.”

This is not a “health food” restaurant, but the food does reflect Geo’s philosophy about healthy eating. Her one concession to frying: the garlic fries. I tell myself that the garlic absorbs the fat. They go really well with the club sandwich or Big Boss54 burger, which spills over with goat cheese. Order a cucumber water with it, and you’ll feel less guilty about the calories. And believe it or not, the veggie drink is absolutely delicious and refreshing.

“Our veggies, our salad – when you receive your salad it’s nice and fresh, crispy. And the cheese, the cherry tomatoes, we also toast pumpkin seeds, or almonds, and nuts. When you’re eating pasta, it has a lot of carbs, but it has veggies, it has some protein, and the cream we’re using is a good quality.”

Menu items may seem simpler than they are. Tuna on your salad means sashimi quality, not canned, coated with sesame seeds and seared to order on the grill. A club sandwich tastes more like a high-end canapé at a fancy party, elevated beyond the ordinary because nothing is pre-cooked. The omelettes would pass muster in any French bistro. And back to the coffee — that’s at the heart of the business.

“I was born in in the state of Veracruz where we grow very good coffee and we were surrounded by a lot of coffee shops, and so I always wanted to have that type of business,” says Geo.

Geo moved to the U.S. in her 20s, and stayed there half her life. Three years ago, she found herself in Mérida, and was introduced to a furniture business with room for a coffee bar. Originally, the concept was just coffee products — a massive cappuccino maker is behind the counter — soda, juices, bagels, and the like. But regulations required a full kitchen, and the decision was made to make use of that full kitchen, says Geo.

Geo uses her own sources for her coffee, which is 100 percent organic and exclusive to Door 54. Aside from beverages, the coffee is the base for sauce, flavored with chipotle and spooned over desserts and meats.

Then there is the iced latte, with a double shot of espresso, hazelnut or Irish creme, and coffee-flavored ice cubes. When the heat returns to Mérida, remember the iced lattes at Door 54.

“I want when you get here you to be comfortable, like you are in the living room of your house,” says Geo. “Nobody is bothering you and rushing you. It’s like you’re not in a restaurant. It’s like we are at home. Good food, good conversation, and I like that and that’s what I want to create here, really.”

An unhurried atmosphere is a result of Door 54's homey atmosphere.
An unhurried atmosphere is a result of Door 54’s homey atmosphere.

The homeyness of the dining room can be attributed to the dining room furniture — all for sale, gathered from estate sales in the U.S. for resale here. It is anchored in a corner property that used to be one of those building you’d pass by a hundred times and never notice. Now, it’s a festive, friendly magnet for locals and expats who enjoy free jazz Thursdays and Fridays, and movie nights three times a week. In the daytime, light pours in through large windows on two sides, and a huge “Big Ass” fan above keeps the air moving.

The movie room in the back is a fair-sized space with mismatched dining chairs all facing a screen. Tonight’s movie is “Grandma” with Lily Tomlin, but other nights there are dramas and romantic pictures. Screenings are Mondays and Wednesdays (in English or with English subtitles) and Saturdays (in Spanish with English Subtitles), 2 p.m. Live music will keep the cafe busy early evenings later this week; the schedule for all of this is posted on Facebook.

Also online are reviews of Door 54 on TripAdvisor, where it has been rated No. 1 among coffee and tea places in the city.

Where to find it: Door 54, Calle 54 and 35

Lee Steele is publisher of this website and blogs at Imagine Mérida.

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