Morocco meets Main Street: Meriyem’s Cafe brings flavor of Mediterranean to Northampton

  • Elizabeth Stassinos and Shoba Rajgopal, professors at Westfield State University, enjoy the fare at Meriyem’s cafe on Main Street in Northampton. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Elizabeth Stassinos and Shoba Rajgopal, professors at Westfield State University at Meriyem's cafe on Main Street Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Caleb Yetts, the owner, Rania Yetts, husband, works with Zara Malik, an employee at Meriyem's cafe on Main Street Northampton, makes a specialty drink on Wednesday afternoon, August 30, 2023. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Zara Malik, an employee at Meriyem's cafe on Main Street Northampton, makes a specialty drink on Wednesday afternoon, August 30, 2023. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS


  • Orange Blossom Smoothie, Iced Pistachio Rose Late, Orange Cardamom Cookie and a Moroccan Spice Latte at Meriyem’s cafe in Northampton.

  • Meriyem's cafe on Main Street Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Published: 8/30/2023 4:59:56 PM
Modified: 8/30/2023 4:59:20 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A Mediterranean breeze has swept through downtown, bringing a taste and feel of Morocco to Main Street with Meriyem’s Cafe.

Located in the storefront formerly occupied by Dobrá Tea, the Northampton eatery offers its patrons the allure and decor reminiscent of a traditional Moroccan home with an indoor garden or a courtyard, also known as a riad. For an added touch, all of the interior walls have been limewashed with actual limestone, mimicking the appearance of buildings in the western region of North Africa.

A native of Morocco, owner Raina Yetts recalls gathering outside at the riad around a sun oven to cook, eat and be together.

“I wanted that feeling here in America where people could try all of these Moroccan fusion items and Mediterranean fusion items in a gathering place rather than just having us just appear at a wedding a few times a year,” said Yetts.

The cafe is an extension of Yetts’ catering business, also called Meriyem’s, which was established in Salem last year.

The business came about after Yetts and her husband, Caleb, had returned to Salem after spending a few years in Utah while Caleb was serving in the U.S. Air Force. During the couple’s time there, Yetts said she became known to most as the “go-to person” for making food for events.

“I just grew up that way,” she said. “My mom is like the stereotypical matriarch of the family. She united everyone with food. Our house was the place to be for Thanksgiving and holidays. She catered so many fundraisers, weddings and events, and I thought, ‘Why don’t we do this?’”

The name “Meriyem’s” comes from Yetts’ mother, whom she calls the “heart” of her family and who has become known for uniting people together with her culinary skills, blending Moroccan flavors into dishes that are more well-known in the U.S.

Yetts grew up in Danvers, having emigrated with her mother and sisters from Morocco to the U.S. in 2000 when she was about 5 years old.

“She volunteers at churches, mosques, all kinds of fundraisers and events, and she’s known for making food,” Yetts said. “And I wanted people to enjoy food, especially with my mom’s recipes … and we launched Meriyem’s in January 2022.”

The catering business offers North African, Italian and Greek inspired menus, featuring dishes such as oven-baked chicken marinated with imported Moroccan saffron and includes fresh turmeric and ginger; and creamy za’atar potatoes, seasoned with béchamel sauce that includes a combination of dried oregano, thyme or marjoram with sumac and toasted sesame seeds.

Yetts was able to open Meriyem’s Cafe storefront through a loan from the Franklin County Community Development Corp. She also launched a Patronicity crowdfunding campaign to help build a full commercial kitchen in the basement of the Northampton building in an effort to expand the catering business and offer a full menu at the cafe. The campaign raised more than $4,000 and was sponsored by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corp.

Through the Biz-M-Power program, Meriyem’s receives $2 for every $1 raised, doubling the $4,000 raised through the Patronicity fundraiser.

The Biz-M-Power program gives preference to low- to moderate-income brick-and-mortar small businesses owned by women, minorities, immigrants, non-native English speakers, U.S. military veterans, disabled individuals, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The program offers small businesses financial assistance through this program in an effort to help companies expand with an acquisition, improvement or lease of a facility, purchase or capital lease of equipment, or other capital improvements.

For now, Meriyem’s Cafe is limited to cold and hot drinks, along with some sandwiches. Among the beverages being offered are freshly made smoothies, imported Moroccan teas, espressos and lattes. Yetts anticipates being able to offer a full menu within a year.

The cafe also offers vegan and gluten-free baked goods from The Baker Over Yonder. Both Yetts and her husband are celiacs and rave about the allergen-friendly sweet treats, such as the orange blossom cookies with cardamom buttercream.

Another feature of the cafe is the gift shop in the back. With a welcoming entrance that reads “bazaar,” the shop sells imported goods that Yetts’ family has selected from Morocco and shipped over to her in Massachusetts. From baskets to poufs — which store bedding, clothing and household items, and are used as small tables, a foot rest or for additional seating — everything is handmade.

“I always felt like I was too American for Morocco and too Moroccan for here. And I never really kind of had a place. This feels like a merger of both of my cultures here in America and I get to have this little piece of home and be able to show people my culture … in a space that I got to curate,” said Yetts. “It’s so exciting.”

Meriyem’s Cafe is open Wednesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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