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American Dreamers: Tōv Serves Coffee And Community In Southeast Portland

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It doesn’t take long to discover that Tōv is unique among coffee shops. As you approach the SE Hawthorne food cart pod that it calls home, you’ll immediately notice something different: a bright red double-decker bus, tented with ornate and colorful tapestries. This is where Joe Nazir brews and serves coffees and teas unlike anything else you’ll find in Portland. At least until he builds his pyramid.

Though the baristas at Tōv will gladly serve a traditional espresso, it’s the drinks that reflect his Egyptian heritage that have caught the public’s attention. The Turkish coffee is among the best in the city, and it might be the only place to find sahlep, a steamer made with rice flour and topped with coconuts, peanuts and pistachios. Think Egypt’s answer to hot chocolate. Think delicious. On the weekends, guests line up for Tōv’s falafel croissants, another PDX exclusive. 

A quick trip up a winding stairwell leads guests to Tōv’s seating area. Reminiscent of the Egyptian cafes of Nazir’s childhood, the open-air patio is designed for community. Small wooden tables and chairs are arranged to inspire dialogue among patrons, rather than to accommodate co-working. The vibrant cushions, ornate servingware and dense canopy of trees all add to the experience. In Tōv, the Sunnyside neighborhood has more than a coffee shop. It has an oasis.

Coffee and entrepreneurship were never Nazir’s original plan. After earning a degree in engineering from Oregon State, Nazir took a part-time job at the Corvallis coffee shop where he once used to study. He learned to pour shots and create latte art. He learned the value of being your own boss. And perhaps most importantly, he learned the impact that a welcoming and inclusive environment can have on employees, patrons, and the community as a whole. In coffee and entrepreneurship, Nazir had unlocked his new passion.

From that point on, Nazir strove to learn all he could about coffee. For over five years he worked for Starbucks, a journey that took him from Corvallis to San Francisco and finally to Portland. Next he worked at some of the city’s most prominent independent roasteries and cafes, where he built relationships with experts from all facets of the industry. Side gigs in sales and banking instilled in Nazir a financial literacy and drive. Classes at Mercy Corps taught him how to craft a business plan, and when it was time to pull the trigger, the same organization was key in helping him to secure financing. After years of effort – and more than a few curveballs – his dream became a reality.

Nazir views Tōv as more than just a business, but also an instrument of change. As a child, Christian discrimination drove his family to immigrate from Egypt to the United States. Today, that same faith motivates Nazir to use his success to uplift his community in Portland. His strongest passion lies in support for Portland’s homeless community, and he puts his money where his mouth is. Profits from Tōv allow Nazir to support vital local organizations such as Portland Rescue Mission. His presence in the bus allows him to get to know the homeless community as individuals. Sharing even a simple cup of coffee can be an opportunity for compassion and understanding.

When asked about his future, Nazir confesses to big plans. He’d like to turn the concept of Tōv on its head, returning to Egypt to open an American-style cafe. However, his plans for Portland are still somehow larger. Nazir dreams of building an actual pyramid, housing not only an outpost of Tōv, but also a hotel and other complementary businesses. Together, the collective would showcase both his Egyptian heritage and his knack for blending cultures. It’s a dream, but one that’s a little easier to see from atop his coffee oasis on SE Hawthorne.

What to know more? Check out Tōv on Yelp.