Carma’s Cafe prepares its return

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Carma Halterman opened her café 18 years ago in November 2004. Michael Lynch, her roommate at the time, wanted a part-time job in a social environment. They both thought the location, now home to Carma’s Cafe, would suit them perfectly.

In an interview with The News-LetterHalterman told how she pitched her idea at a guild meeting.

“There’s the most treasured little place in Charles Village that I bet I could turn into the loveliest little cafe,” she said.

She didn’t expect anyone to support her, but at the same meeting a lady said she could offer $10,000 to make the cafe a reality. After six months of planning and discussing the drinks and recipes, Halterman decided to sign the lease and build the cafe from the ground up.

“We made the cabinets, we ran the electricity, we took out the patio,” she said. “I made our first set of dishes.”

Although it opened quietly, Carma’s quickly became a local favorite in Hopkins. Many students, including the second Tina Xie, go there for a coffee or a quick sandwich.

“The iced latte at Carma’s Cafe was refreshing but not the best drink to have in late February as it was still chilly,” Xie said.

Fast forward 16 years, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected restaurants around the world. According to the National Restaurant Association, sales were down $3 billion in January 2022 compared to mid-2021. The recent omicron variant has also reduced expected revenue by discouraging consumers from eating in and reducing opening hours.

Carma’s Cafe was no exception. Halterman said she had a conversation with her employees about options early in the pandemic to try to accommodate everyone’s needs.

“One of my employees had tuberculosis as a child, so she felt particularly vulnerable,” she said. “Instead of having to work reception, she arrived at midnight and cooked all the produce for the next day.”

COVID-19 has also impacted the global supply chain. The 2020 US Census Small Business Pulse survey found that 36% of businesses experienced delays with domestic suppliers, particularly those in the manufacturing and trade sectors.

According to Halterman, Carma’s also faced supply chain issues.

“Two months ago, there was a three-week period where white chocolate chips were nowhere to be found,” she said. “Even Amazon didn’t have one.”

While Carma is closed for renovations during COVID-19, Halterman only expected to close the cafe for a few weeks. It never imagined it would be closed for more than a year, as its website shares.

“We had torrential rains in August and early September [2021],” she wrote. “That little blob turned into something that ended up knocking down the ceiling in the dining room, damaging the walls…[and] shorted the electricity.

Despite the challenges that COVID-19 and the structural integrity of the building have brought to the business, Halterman said she was fortunate to have financial support from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and the Check Protection Program. payroll to continue to reshape the cafe.

She hopes to open April 1, 2022, when customers can anticipate new additions to the menu.

“We’re going to expand our baked goods and add a cooler box where we’ll have easy grab-and-go things like our cold sesame noodles,” she said. “There could also be frozen desserts and macaroons.”

While considering possible additions to the menu, Halterman says she wants to be aware of dietary concerns. She wants to create creative foods that use gluten-free and vegan ingredients.

“There are so many things that are naturally gluten-free,” she said. “We don’t have to go to chemistry class to reword how to make a sweet treat.”

Due to rising ingredient prices since the onset of COVID-19, Halterman expects its menu prices to rise as well.

“Before COVID-19, a bulk bag of all-purpose flour was just over $12,” she said. “However, the last bag I bought was just under $30.”

As COVID-19 cases stabilize, travel is becoming more of a reality than a far-fetched dream. Visitors to Baltimore can drop by Carma’s after visiting the National Aquarium or Inner Harbor.

Depending on the weather, Halterman suggests newcomers try Carma’s Iced Mocha, Hot Mocha, or Hot Chocolate.

“We make our chocolate sauce from scratch,” she said. “You can’t find it anywhere else.”

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