Kava, the relaxation drink made from the ground roots of a plant harvested in the South Pacific, is the feature at Lightbox Cafe, a new, hippie-chic juice/smoothie shop in Queen Village that is billing itself as Philadelphia’s first kava bar. (It’s next door to the landmark Famous 4th Street, creating a culinary yang to the deli’s yin.)
Out front are Jennifer Hombach, a sustainability activist and yogi who a few years ago launched a kava business called Jaya Kava via pop-ups, and Gabriel “Gaby” Vazquez, who calls himself “a frustrated bartender” and whose varied hospitality past includes operations manager at Philadelphia Brewing Co.
Hombach wanted a spot to brew her kava, while Vazquez had planned to open a cold-pressed juice bar. Their business idea came together in early 2021, and as the project evolved, the menu scope grew to include superfood smoothies (called “smoodies”), cold and warm grain bowls, toasts, booze-free cocktails, and teas. They’re using Philly muffins from Merzbacher’s for sandwiches. Everything is vegan.
Hombach lately has been importing her kava from Vanuatu. It’s brewed and served straight in coconut shells (with an earthy, bitter flavor), or mixed with other ingredients; the golden chai kava, for example, is made with turmeric cardamom chai and coconut sugar.
They hope to turn Lightbox into a hub of music, open mic-nights, art, and conversation at night with scheduled programming. The vibe is chill, casual, and cozy, especially at the two semiprivate window tables on either side of the doorway. “A kava bar is an alternative to bars,” Hombach said. “It’s more friendly and social.”
Starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, they serve Sri Lankan comfort food (curries) from Melissa Fernando at Sri’s Company as well as Puerto Rican pastelillos from Amaryllis Rivera-Nassar at Amy’s Pastelillos.
Hours are expanding earlier from the current schedule: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.