On Nov. 6, Hamilton’s newest café, The Nook, opened its doors to the sleepy part of Bold Street just off James Street south. Those familiar with the area likely know the café’s location: a tiny space that has stood — or at least looked to be — vacant in recent history. With a dark exterior and darker windows, the spot was so uninteresting one could almost skip over seeing it without realizing a building was there.

But Suad Abukamla saw 6 Bold Street as the place for her vision to come alive. Over the course of almost a year and a half, she and a group of friends slowly transformed the space, breathing new life and a vibrant slick of yellow paint onto its previously black-walled interior.

“When I saw things coming [together] I knew I couldn’t stop because I had already started and I wanted to finish,” she said, explaining that even when she was overwhelmed, she felt motivated to keep working. “Because I was doing the design by myself so I had to do the research, and look up ideas from here and there and what’s next, what’s going to match.”

Abukamla handpicked, designed or made every part of her business, from the lighting, to the exact shade of yellow on the walls, to the tables, which she built herself from a pile of scrap lumber left by the former owners. The chandelier that hangs from the middle of the ceiling took months to find, and she looked in five different cities to find the perfect fabric for the chair cushions.

“I needed the colours to match; the grey, the yellow and the yellow is very sensitive. So then we finished Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton, Brantford and then we just had St. Catharines, the last city we were going to go to. And I was like, ‘okay I’m not leaving St. Catharines without fabric,’” she said, laughing. “I like details.”

In addition to Abukamla’s requirement that the café’s aesthetic translate exactly as she had imagined, she was also keen on making environmental practices central to her business. The Nook’s patrons will only find a garbage bin in the café’s washroom. All the cups, napkins, plastic lids and drink sleeves are either recyclable or biodegradable.

Although Abukamla admits there was no way to entirely eliminate garbage from the renovation process, she intends for the café to reach as close to zero waste as possible. All the construction materials are recycled or eco-friendly, and every business choice has been locally-sourced and to use companies that have environmentally sound practices. Even the coffee is from local roaster Relay.

Abukamla’s attention to detail is impressive on its own, but The Nook is not her only project. She is also in the process of completing her Masters in engineering and public policy at McMaster University, a degree that will further the work she used to do with the women’s rights and advocacy branch of the United Nations. She hopes to combine all these skills to encourage social change within Hamilton and inspire more women to pursue their goals.

“I was the Advocacy and Information Officer [for the UN] and we were supporting security and economic projects for women and I was always telling women… [even though] there were times when they would get overwhelmed, [they] are always super,” she said. “They can multi-task. They will do it. They will succeed.”

To facilitate this change within the city, Abukamla is in the process of creating a system for non-profit organizations and community groups to use The Nook’s space, free of charge, after the café closes for the day. These groups can use the space for fundraising, community outreach, meetings, volunteer appreciation or even as a meeting space for book clubs.

“Even in school, in my program, a lot of people are creative and they have innovative ideas,” Abukamla explained. “Just take the next step.”

Abukamla is grateful to the community and support network she has befriended in Hamilton.

“I have unique friends. I always call them my unique friends. They give me the right advice. They give me the right help.… Find the right people, stick with them and have a mentor all the time.”

As the semester draws to a close, Abukamla, like any other student, is likely swamped with final projects and papers. But she still finds time to celebrate her accomplishments.

“I am proud,” she said. “I’m happy because [despite] how long it took me to work in this café, everything in this space has a story behind it… it’s just… I can’t express my feelings. But it’s enough to be proud.”

A nook is a space that holds multiple meanings: safety, comfort, a place to relax. The Nook aspires to be all those things and empower individuals to create the change they wish to see in their city. And with an owner like Abukamla behind every detail of the business, it is likely to do just that.

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