This new Highlands café blends the owners’ Euro-Asian heritage with a Gen-Z vibe – Courier Journal

Take a stroll into Shahar — the new, bright yellow café on Bardstown Road — and you’ll find a comic book collection on the wall, a hanging neon “Good vibes only” sign and Michael Jackson albums on the record player.  

Leaning behind the front counter are siblings Vick, 18, and Suzana Multani, 21, likely wearing a graphic T-shirt and basketball shorts.

The pair are the total “Generation Z” package: Vick designs for his own clothing brand and Suzana learned to brew espresso for the café by watching YouTube videos.  

The café’s only other employee at the new restaurant is their high school best friend.  

The hard-working business-savvy siblings appear nonchalant by the responsibility of owning and operating a small business in one of Louisville’s hottest spots. 

But it’s not only the age of the owners that sets this place apart. Take a closer look and you may find some of the café’s other elements unfamiliar, like the traditional Uzbek patterns hanging on the walls, Russian cakes in the pastry cooler, or even the restaurant’s name “Shahar” — which translates to “urban city” in Turkish.

The most unique aspect of Shahar, though, is the food, which is a blend of the Multani’s East European and Asian roots and created by their sole inspiration — their mother.  

The Multani’s opened Shahar Café at 1511 Bardstown Road in early May with the help of their mom, Dilbar “Dilya” Sultanova. t

Sultanova, who grew up in the former Soviet Union, moved to India for college where she later had her children. After owning her own restaurants in India, it was Sultanova’s dream to build a large restaurant in the U.S. In 2009, the family immigrated from India to the U.S. and settled in Louisville.

“When we first came here, our mom worked part-time at Subway, and we didn’t even have a car. I remember we walked everywhere,” Suzana said. “But where we are now is all because of her. If she can do it, anyone can do it.”  

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Sultanova enrolled at the Paul Mitchell beauty school and opened her own salon in 2014. She now has two salon locations, Brow Artistry on Bardstown Road and Taylorsville Road — whose success allowed her to open Shahar Café on her children’s behalf.  

“I had the idea to bring a touch of my culture to the restaurant, and my kids wanted to have a place for teenagers to hang out, so we did both,” Sultanova said.  

Now Sultanova often works 15-hour days managing the salons and baking pastries for Shahar. The café is closed Mondays and Tuesdays — time the family uses to perfect their take on Euro-Asian recipes. 

“All my life, I cooked and baked for my family,” Sultanova said. “Everyone loved my food, but I never gave my recipes out. Now I’ll show my son how to make things and his pirozhki are better than mine. I got almost a little jealous.”  

Vick experiments every day with items like the pirozhki, a traditional Uzbek fried dough with mashed potato stuffing, and in the process, he and Suzana are reconnecting with their heritage. 

Shahar’s daily menu features teas and Turkish coffee, imported from the Multanis’ aunt who lives in Turkey and brewed with the grounds still in it.  

“If you like espresso shots, you’ll love this. It’s a slap-in-the-face sort of wake up,” Suzana said. 

Along with American-style lattes, Shahar also serves kompot, a Russian fruit juice squeezed fresh every day by Sultanova. Their poutine is bought straight from Montreal.

“Puff puffs,” Turkish dough balls served with honey or chocolate syrup, are sold out almost every day. Their Samosas are inspired by their childhood in India. The special menu changes weekly with “whatever mom comes up with.”

Lately, Vick’s vegan burger has been all the rave. They also serve Shashlik, a halal beef kabob, and Pelmeni, which are Russian dumplings with onion and dill.  

Soon, next to their Russan cakes, Napoleon and Baklava, Shahar will sell a Japanese cheesecake they’ve been experimenting with. Vick posted a flick of the cheesecake on Instagram — their main marketing tool — and people are already asking about when they can come try it.  

Vick’s vegan, gluten-free chocolate chip cookies are so soft and sweet, you’d never guess they weren’t your grandmother’s cookies. He tried over and over again to make them just right.  

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“People already have to put themselves in a box being gluten-free and vegan, so we just want to make sure it’s OK to be in that box because you can still have that good stuff here,” Suzana said.   

It’s not just gluten-free or vegan people who will find dishes to enjoy at Shahar. Sultanova said she often finds people from Louisville’s Arabic and Russian community at the cafe, “a place where everybody can hang out and get something from their culture.”  

But the hardest part, Suzana said, “is getting people who aren’t used to this food and taste to try it. Of course people don’t want to spend money on something they don’t know but I guess we just have to do what we can do to open up people’s minds.”  

Suzana said she and Vick — who graduated from Eastern High School in 2018 — never imagined they’d be running their own café.

Vick wanted to focus on designing his fashion brand; Suzana wants to finish her degree in computer information systems and hopes to work for a big tech company like Apple or Google.  

While most young adults might take on a part-time retail or food service job to finance their passions, Vick and Suzana grew up watching their mom run businesses and realized it could be in the cards for them, too.  

“We stay stressed, but we don’t give up easily,” Suzana said. “At the end of the day, I know whatever happens,Vick is going to be by my side, and no matter what I will be there for him.”  

Sultanova sees the café as an investment in her children, just like funding a college education would be.  

“It’s so wonderful that my children do not come to ask me for money, they ask for recipes and suggestions to make the restaurant better,” Sultanova said.  

While Sultanova has a dream that the café will someday be a full-scale restaurant, Vic and Suzana are taking the experience day-by-day. Soon they’ll be planning game nights and no-wifi nights, where customers will have to get off their phones and talk to strangers, prompted by question cards on the tables.

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They’re keeping the café local by hanging their friends’ artwork and playing their music.  

“At the end of the day, what I keep in the back of my head is that my mom made it out of nothing, and we’ll be OK,” Suzana said.  

Shahar Cafe is open Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Reach intern Savannah Eadens at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @savannaheadens.