International Cafe in Columbia to close after more than 30 years

International Cafe, a delectable favorite among customers new and old, plans to close its doors for good this week after 32 years of service.

No matter the time of day, Venezuelan-Libyan couple Elizabeth Hernandez-Gumati and Mohamed Gumati have welcomed customers to their restaurant for over three decades with the savory smell of their famous gyros and falafels permeating the air.

The classic, barebones look lets people know on first glance: The focus is on the food. 

As the co-owners cook and clean in between orders, they look up to see who is entering, asking for the order before either party ever makes it to the register.

They have worked hard to make the cafe the best it could possibly be.

Now, they will enter the long-awaited chapter of retirement.

“It’s bittersweet,” Elizabeth said. “We had no idea so many people cared.” 

Mohamed Gumati, left, jokes while serving longtime customer Tim Hawks of Columbia during lunch at the International Cafe, which will close this week.

Elizabeth and Mohamed have owned and operated International Cafe since 1989, serving Middle Eastern cuisine to a large array of customers. 

“People have come from all over to say bye,” Mohamed said. 

Since the announcement Dec. 8 that they will close the restaurant located at 26 S. Ninth St. by the end of 2021, individuals and families from mid-Missouri and out-of-towners from Kansas City and Chicago have come by for one last meal.

One moment that stood out was a couple who came in, both with tears in their eyes. 

“They had their first date here,” Elizabeth said. 

That couple has since married and had children. They decided they had to bring their kids to the restaurant that had kicked off their relationship.

Mohamed Gumati slices gyro meat for a lunch order at the International Cafe.

“We don’t have to say what makes this place special,” said customer Carol Greenspan, who was dining at the cafe on Tuesday. “Our smiles say it all.” 

Greenspan and longtime friend Jeff Vrotemarkle have been coming to the restaurant about every two weeks since it first opened.

The two typically stick to the same order, a chicken gyro and lentil soup.