Considering the passionate way that regular customers talk about Dharma Café, you'd think the restaurant had been in business for a generation. But after 11 years and one move, Dharma owners Susan Ralph and John Gurney are retiring and handing over the space to another beloved restaurateur.
Dharma has been sold to Catherine Duwez, who first attracted attention for her moules frites at Café Montrose and has more recently been cooking her French/Belgian specialties at Broken Spoke Café. Duwez tells CultureMap that her new concept will be called Café Brussels and will open in a couple weeks.
"The cafe doesn't have customers, we have friends," Ralph said, struggling to hold back her emotions.
Next Tuesday is Ralph and Gurney's last day in the café, and they are planning a huge goodbye party in the evening. But that doesn't mean all the Dharma traditions are going away. For now, at least, Ralph tells CultureMap that Duwez will continue to host the musicians that have been a Dharma mainstay, as well as the popular Sunday brunch.
"The cafe doesn't have customers, we have friends," Ralph says, struggling to hold back her emotions. "There is John, myself or [my son] Brad here all the time. We know the customers and the customers know all of us.
"We've always had the open window [into the kitchen] and you know, we could be on fire and people would walk by and say, 'Sue, good seeing ya!' "
Dharma Café spent its first six years in the tiny space in north downtown's warehouse district that would later house Latin Bites and (currently) Oxheart before moving just outside downtown to an eclectic building a few blocks north of lower Washington Avenue.
Ralph says the decision is a difficult one for them, but they are planning to travel and do other things that they couldn't while running the restaurant. "I have a little yard in front of my townhouse — it looks like shit. I'm the 'bleh' house on the block.
"And I love gardening, but I can't plant flowers. My whole life is here."