“You know, there’s a cool new spot in Stepanakert where you can go, relax, and do some work,” a TUMO team member tells us enthusiastically. “And the founder is a former TUMO Stepanakert student!” As you can imagine, we didn’t waste time getting in touch with Nina Shahverdyan, one of our first Stepanakert students, so we could write about her. This was in September, back when everyone was planning to return to their normal routine. We arranged a time to chat, and…
Nina had moved to Yerevan four years ago to go to university, but never lost her connection to Artsakh. All her future plans are tied to Stepanakert. “After all this is over, I’m returning. I have many ideas and still a lot to do. Now we all have to work so the city lives again.”
In spring, when the virus started to spread, Nina’s started attending her university classes online from Artsakh. And that’s when she decided to open a coffee shop. “I created a dream board and wrote down all my dreams and upcoming plans. I included waitressing at a coffee shop on that list.” Because of the virus, Nina stayed in Stepanakert and spent months planning the opening of her coffee shop where she would not only be the server, but the chef and manager, too. “I told my dad what I was thinking and he immediately said, ‘Ok, let’s do it.’ And, just like that, with the help of my family, Gardens Cafe became a reality.”
Nina thought out every detail herself from the menu to picking the dishes and the interior color scheme. “I spent a few days on just the menu. I worked with chefs and bartenders to make sure every item on the menu was tasty and visually pleasing. And to make sure the quality of service was top-notch, I followed coffee shops online from around the world and I kept in mind the example set by Yerevan coffee shops.” Nina added that her sisters helped her quite a bit and also joined her as servers in the coffee shop.
A day after our meeting, Nina was going to return to Stepanakert to personally witness and document events as they unfolded and to help her parents who remained there holding down the front. Nina’s brothers Vahagn and Arman are now in Yerevan and are taking part in the special TUMO program for Artsakh’s students who are temporarily in Armenia. “It’s true, I am working toward becoming a communications specialist, but at TUMO I fell in love with photography and directing. I bought traditional film to take photos with the same camera that my father used to document the war in the 90s. I will now use it to record the second, and hopefully the last war.” Then, with a confident smile and eyes that shone with an infectious twinkle, she added, “This is all temporary. We already need to start thinking about project which will give Artsakh new life.”