Cafe de Noir continues to unite community

 Elias Kassab, left, stands with his wife Neveen in front of a gleaming cappuccino machine. Elias is the new owner of Brookline’s former Cannon Coffee. Photo by Rebekah Devorak.

Elias Kassab, left, stands with his wife Neveen in front of a gleaming cappuccino machine. Elias is the new owner of Brookline’s former Cannon Coffee. Photo by Rebekah Devorak.

By: Rebekah Devorak

Just outside of 802 Brookline Blvd., the rich, indulgent aroma of fresh-pressed coffee tangles with the crisp fall air, tempting those strolling the concrete sidewalks with the promise of hot lattes and pastries.

Inside Café de Noir, formerly known as Cannon Coffee, current owner Elias Kassab skillfully works the large, gleaming silver espresso machine that sits behind the main counter. As the contraption whistles out steam like a 19th century locomotive, Elias pulls at intricate levers to dispense ground up coffee beans into something that resembles a measuring cup.

He sticks that cup into a compartment, and the machine works its magic. Churning and groaning, it’s not long before dark espresso shoots into brightly-colored ceramic mugs. “I’ve never worked with coffee before,” Elias says as he hands a woman her cappuccino. “I worked for three weeks to learn everything. I know I can’t make it like a professional would, but so far no one has complained.”

Elias also owns a Middle Eastern restaurant steeped in his family’s Lebanese heritage. He came to own Café de Noir after his regular customers kept asking him to open a café. Elias heard that Nathan Mallory, Café de Noir’s original owner, was looking to sell so he jumped at the opportunity. That was back in August.

“I’ve lived in Brookline for many years, so this move made sense,” Elias says. “I brought my recipes here from the other restaurant. All of the desserts are homemade except for the biscotti.”

Elias’ most famous pastry – flaky baklava sweetened to perfection – is displayed in an acrylic case on the main counter. While coffee isn’t his forte, it doesn’t seem to matter as men and women of all ages pour into the shop for their caffeine fix. Café de Noir is fairly small, but the atmosphere is cozy rather than crowded.

A couple dressed in sweatpants lounge at one of the many wooden tables, sipping out of to-go cups while they deliberate over the daily newspaper. A pair of women, each with a box of reusable shopping bags in tow, burst through the shop’s door and chatter all the way to where Elias stands behind the counter.

“I’m all coffee-d out for the day,” the one woman says as she gestures with her shoulder to her friend. “But she wants three.”

Elias’ immediate success with Café de Noir comes, to a point, off the coattails of Nathan’s original endeavors that catapulted the shop from a basic coffee joint to the heart of Brookline society.


When Nathan, a 2012 Pittsburgh Magazine “40 Under 40” honoree, first had the idea to open a coffee shop, it was nothing more than a daydream.

“I knew I wanted to create a place where the community could come together,” Nathan says. “But I wasn’t sure of how it would work. So I called my mom and she said ‘Just do it!’ I was like, yeah, I can just do this.”

After working to get the idea off the ground, Cannon Coffee opened its doors for the first time in 2010.  Coffee was a bit of a guise; while Nathan enjoys a good cup of java, people were always the main focus.

“This wasn’t going to be another smarmy coffee shop,” Nathan says. “It’s community first, coffee second. This was a chance to give a voice to the community at large and meet people from all walks of life. People often want to get involved with helping the community, but they don’t know how. Coffee can be that link.”

Acting as both a barista and an activist, Nathan used Cannon Coffee to get people talking about controversial issues like food scarcity and drug abuse. The shop organized art shows, community cleanups and held open-mic nights every Wednesday, where local performers could play in front of a usually hearty crowd.

Steve Macevic, a regular back when Nathan owned the shop, loved Cannon Coffee because of its ability to bring people together. He first learned about the place while looking for an open-mic spot. He drove to Brookline on a whim to try it out and never looked back.

“I didn’t know a soul, and then something amazing happened,” Steve says. “They opened their coffee shop to me and welcomed me with open arms. Since that day, the people of Cannon Coffee are extended family to me. It was like they caught lightning in a bottle.”

But after five years of running the shop, Nathan decided he wanted to sell. He was looking for the right person to take over when Elias called.

“He’s a family man who has lived in Brookline for a while now,” Nathan says. “I thought it was just time for me to step down and let him start a new adventure.”


Cafe de Noir is currently facing a natural transition period. Some aspects are bound to be different, such as the name and Middle Eastern-inspired dessert selection, while others will remain the same. Elias is hoping to have weekly performers similar to the popular open-mic nights.

The customers have embraced Elias and his family. His wife Neveen helps to run the store alongside Elias while their three children interact with the patrons. The boys are especially fond of getting the customers to guess their names, and they beam with innocent pride when someone gets them correct.

“I would take the route of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” Steve says. “Nate did a remarkable job of not only making a successful coffee shop but revitalizing the community. I do think it can be just as important to the community under the new owner. It wouldn’t take much, just that same drive, motivation and passion.”

Only time will tell if Cafe de Noir will remain the same community powerhouse it was under Nathan, but by the looks of how things are going for Elias right now, there’s a good chance that it will be.