Q&A: New Harvest Cafe's Kwodwo Ababio

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Subhead: It takes a neighborhood to run Linden’s New Harvest Cafe

“I thought that we were all good neighbors around here,” yells Kwodwo Ababio, in the wake of a shouting match involving owed money between two people in a Linden neighborhood. We were on a walk to see the urban gardens that facilitate New Harvest Cafe and Urban Arts Center.

Silenced by Ababio’s words—or, perhaps, his mere presence—the argument ceased and he was greeted with a friendly, “What up, yo?”

It was then that I noticed an entire front yard filled with cabbage. There was no question about it; whether it’s turning a front yard into a harvest or turning an altercation into a moment of reflection, when Ababio’s around, things happen. For the better.

The worn sign outside New Harvest Cafe and Urban Arts Center trumpets the day’s special: Tell someone you love them. The Linden restaurant is the passion of our well-loved Ababio. With lunch and dinner (starting at $5) five days a week, it sustains the gallery that shares its space at 1675 Arlington Ave.

And with a half-acre garden out back (kept up by volunteers and artists) and countless yard gardens throughout the neighborhood, it is quite literally a farm-to-table restaurant.

Which came first, the restaurant or the arts center?

The artists’ collective. It transitioned from the gallery into the cafe because we weren’t making any money selling art. Every time we had an event, we gave away food. So we were like, “Why don’t we start selling the food?”

Did you grow up with an interest in food?

No, not really. I’m an artist. I’m interested in art.

What’s in your fridge at home?

Nothing. Maybe a beer, a Heineken or two. I’m here all the time. I live here.

What’s been your biggest learning curve?

People are picky. We cook gourmet soul food. They’re used to collard greens cooked with ham hocks.

We don’t cook our greens with any meat. It was a little different for them to catch on to.

What’s your best seller?

The Damn Soup. It’s a seasonal soup that has every damn thing in it. It’s $2. The big bowl is $4.

What are your plans for the future?

We want to open up that front building. We own it and we want to open up an upscale soul food bistro in the ’hood.

We want to make it a performance-art space where you can come and have a sit-down, full seven-course meal.

We’ve got a lot of high crime down here. My thing is to change the perception of this community. New Harvest is the diamond in the rough.

Photo by Tim Johnson

New Harvest Cafe

1675 Arlington Ave., Linden