Mellow meeting place
By Fred Bellet | Hernando TodayThe Euphoria Emporium Hookah Cafe is phantasmagoric.
Published: December 22, 2012
Published: December 22, 2012
Step inside where you can choose a cozy room of your liking. Rooms have themes such as the Magical Mystery, Sultan's Den, Wonderland and Pandora.
Tucked into the corner of a strip mall on Kass Circle, business owner Cindy Gioia Oakes opened the cafe/hookah lounge a year ago primarily because she said, "Kids in their late teens in this town don't have a place to go and socialize."
"I wanted to open up a safe place, to get kids off the street," Oakes said. There had to be something better than hanging out at the four corners of Mariner Blvd. and Spring Hill Drive, she said.
As a result of her imagination and thrifty spending, Oakes put together a venue for musical, poetic and artistic young adults to come and express themselves, she says.
The idea of opening a hookah lounge and cafe came from her sons, Daniel Dick, 32, and Andrew Oakes, 23, who work there along with daughter Brittany Oakes, 25.
The cafe is mellow and the main attraction for patrons is the hookah mystique.
Within a décor that would have made the late-Ravi Shankar comfortable, patrons relax on soft sofas or plush chairs amidst the wafting aroma of freshly brewed New Orleans coffee. Throughout the themed rooms, tall hookah pipes centerpiece tables and emanate a variety of their own sweet scents.
Customer Brad Gregor, 19, of Spring Hill, walked in with five of his friends. They chose a long sofa under the black light of the fluorescently painted Wonderland room, where they waited for more friends to arrive before ordering.
"It's a great place to hang out with friends," Gregor said. "It's relaxing."
Brittany Oakes took their order for several hookahs; the group opted for the tobacco variety, called shisha, with its endless varieties of sweet flavors.
All along, the musical sounds of guitarist Matt Powell, 21, and vocalist Jessica Xavier, 23, provide unrehearsed entertainment in the main room, called Emporium Hall.
Both are regulars at the lounge and both are from Spring Hill.
"These kids were spending money on gas going down to Tampa, spending more money to go to hookah lounges down there," Cindy Oakes said.
Rather than see the kids go out of town, she decided to do something in Spring Hill on the same level.
"It's a fad, a new thing, a social thing," she said. So, with the help from her sons, she got with the latest trend and opened the Euphoria Emporium. "The kids really enjoy it," she said.
"I can't say it's harmless," she said, referring to the standard tobacco-burning hookahs. However, "we feature a safe alternative, the e-hookah. It's kind of like smoking those electronic cigarettes they have out now. It's all vapor, no tobacco, no tar, no nicotine," she said.
In addition, she adds, we also have one substance called hydro. It's flavored tea leaves and contains no tobacco or nicotine. However, it can produce a low level of tar.
Cindy Oakes has a zero tolerance for alcohol and drugs.
She stresses that she doesn't sell pipes or rolling papers or any kind of paraphernalia you see in the independent convenience stores or head shops. And although she has a tobacco license, she said she doesn't sell cigarettes or cigars. For customers who do smoke cigarettes and cigars, the Pandora room is open air and located in a breezeway just off the main entrance.
The Emporium is a "clean, safe place to come" she said.
Cindy Oakes says "customers show their IDs at the door, pay a fee and they get free coffee or tea all night." There's an additional charge for smoking the hookah, but there's always a special going on.
She says they feature all sorts of snacks and beverages such as espresso, cappuccino, latte, handcrafted smoothies, milkshakes, fruit punch and energy drinks, as well as a full line of soft drinks.
"We also feature teas from around the world."
Snack foods and ice cream waffles are featured daily with various baked goods brought in from the bakery at a nearby business, Paesano's.
"This is a place for everybody" she said.
On a recent night, Jesse Bertone, 20, and Sara Ray, 18, both of Spring Hill, had the Sultan's Den to themselves. Sara kept abreast of what was happening on her cellphone and periodically texted friends as she and Bertone conversed and took sporadic draws from the hookah hose.
Like tentacles, two colorfully wrapped, 7-foot-long stainless-steel hoses are attached to the hookah's stem. Disposable protective tips are utilized at the end of the hose, making the smoking experience sanitary.
Whether it's the electronic burner-type or the live red-hot charcoal-type, patrons can draw on the hose like sipping a straw and delight in the flavored vapors of cinnamon, vanilla, blueberry, coconut and dozens of others.
The Emporium's primary customers are those from ages 18 to 21, and some of them "just want to come in, listen to music and drink coffee," Cindy Oakes says.
Hookahs are nothing new. They've been around for more than 1,000 years and were common in India and the Middle East. Lately, they've become popular, offering customers a quiet, peaceful and, in the case of the Euphoria Emporium, exotic and surreal experience.
Cindy Oakes wants people to know about the alternative, non-tobacco substance for the hookah, suggesting "the electronic hookah is the way to go."
With a top-notch ventilation system, she said, "you walk in here, you don't see smoke lingering."
For the holiday season, she says "we have an awesome gift shop."
The business, which celebrated its one-year anniversary on Dec. 9, featured an art show tagged Art Daze III. It's the third time they've had it since opening, she said, and it's dubbed a "show and sell event." Local artists proudly displayed their work for sale as local musicians played on.
While musical guests are usually acoustic players, the Emporium did spotlight Spring Hill sensation, The Heene Boys, who were recently featured on Yahoo! News as the youngest heavy metal band. "They taped part of their music video here," said Cindy Oakes.
There's so much more than meets the eye. There are board games, playing cards, unique books and the appearance of a palm reader or belly dancer for customers' entertainment.
Cindy Oakes says you enter via the "porthole" (the main entrance) and make your way through the "gateway" (where the cashier and gift shop are located), step into Emporium Hall and prepare for an enchanting evening.
The Euphoria Emporium is open from 6 p.m. to midnight, Monday through Thursday. Fridays and Saturdays, the doors are open until 2 a.m. There's a discount for students with their college ID cards and reservations are welcome.
The venue is located at 1381 Kass Circle. For more information, call (352) 835-7130.