Hungry Ghost Owner Wants Customers to Talk, Not Work, at His Coffee Shop

By Sonja Sharp on May 4, 2012 8:54am 

Owner Murat Uyaroglu shows off his array of Stumptown coffees at the new Prospect Heights cafe Hungry Ghost.
Owner Murat Uyaroglu shows off his array of Stumptown coffees at the new Prospect Heights cafe Hungry Ghost.
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DNAinfo/Sonja Sharp

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Friday the 13th was a lucky day for Murat Uyaroglu.

The owner of the posh new coffee house Hungry Ghost on Flatbush Avenue had few qualms about opening on the notoriously unlucky April day, less than three months after he first picked out the space at the corner of Sixth Avenue in Prospect Heights.

In fact, he sort of liked it.

“We were trying to get a date to get people motivated, and I said let’s do it Friday,” Uyaroglu said. “For me it’s a lucky number. I was born on the 13th, so I like 13.”

Judging by the steady stream of customers Wednesday afternoon, his luck is holding, even if a few in the neighborhood take umbrage to his particular vision for the up-and-coming corner.

With his second neighborhood venture — he also owns Prospect Perk at Flatbush and Sterling Place — Uyaroglu, 33, is hoping to bring the Turkish cafe culture of his youth into a borough more familiar with the coffee-house-as-office mindset.

If you want to sip your Stumptown in its sunlight-flooded booths, you might want to leave your laptop at home.

“You don’t go to cafes in Turkey with your laptop,” Uyaroglu said, after politely requesting  that a MacBook-toting customer relocate.

“You go to the cafes to engage — you play cards or games, drink tea. It’s a lot of talking. It’s not a library.”

Computers, while welcome, are relegated to the back bar and a few seats along the wall at the Hungry Ghost, while the broad communal table (reclaimed wood, of course) at the heart of the dining room and the coveted window seats are scrupulously screen-free.

The policy has already earned him a handful of bilious Yelp reviews, but it’s nothing Uyaroglu can’t live with.

“I’m perfectly happy with people coming here to do their work, but I just want to have the right balance,” he said. “I want this to be more a talking cafe than a work space.”

So far, it hasn’t kept the coffice — coffee cum office — set away.

“I’ve been here three times already — it’s a great environment,” said Prospect Heights resident Ana, 26, who’d snapped up one of the screen-friendly spots and was working on her laptop.

“They give you space to use your laptop, yet allow space to stay away from laptops.”

As exacting as Uyaroglu is about his electronics policy, he was even more meticulous when it came to finding just the right location.

“I looked all over the place — Fort Greene, Williamsburg, Ditmas Park. Sometimes, you have to find the right spot,” he said.

“It could be in Bed Stuy, but if I find the right corner, if I feel the vibe, I’ll be there.”

No less important was the coffee (Stumptown, naturally) — and most especially, the food.

For head chef Pete Solomita, 54, Hungry Ghost is an excuse to flex his PR culinary muscles beyond the exotic baked goods that helped make his name. Though customers can still find the drool-inducing gingersnaps that made his Little Buddy Biscuit Co. popular a few years ago, Solomita said he’s equally excited about the cafe’s savory fare.

“My cookies are damn good,” Solomita said. “I’m a very good vegan and vegetarian chef, so I want to have more of those options, and have the fun things like a bacon and cheese sandwich too.” 

Helping launch the Hungry Ghost after being forced to shutter Little Buddy's brick and mortar cafe has also been a kind of redemption, the chef said.

“When I started, I had to deliver with the bag (of cookies) in one hand and my son in the other," he said.

"He saw me having to close the bakery, and now he’s seeing the rebirth. I want him to learn the lesson that if you want something badly enough, you can’t give up.”

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