Carma Halterman opened up her cafe 18 years ago in November 2004. Michael Lynch, her housemate at the time, wanted a part-time job in a social environment. They both thought that the location, which is now home to Carma’s Cafe, would suit them perfectly.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Halterman shared how she put forth their idea at a guild meeting.
“There’s the most precious little place in Charles Village that I bet I could turn into the sweetest little coffee house,” she said.
She didn’t expect anyone to support her, but in the same meeting, a lady said that she could pitch in $10,000 for the cafe to become a reality. After six months of planning and discussing drinks and recipes, Halterman decided to sign the lease and build the cafe from scratch.
“We made the cabinets, we ran the electricity, we put the patio out,” she said. “I made our first set of dishes.”
Although it opened quietly, Carma’s quickly became a local favorite at Hopkins. Many students, including sophomore Tina Xie, go there to pick up a quick coffee or sandwich.
“The iced latte at Carma’s Cafe was refreshing but not the best drink to get in late February because it was still chilly,“ Xie said.
Fast forward 16 years, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected restaurants across the world. According to the National Restaurant Association, sales were lower by $3 billion in January 2022 compared to mid-2021. The recent omicron variant also decreased expected revenue by dissuading consumers from eating in and reducing hours of operation.
Carma’s Cafe has been no exception. Halterman expressed that she had a conversation with her employees about possible options in the beginning of the pandemic to try to accommodate everyone’s needs.
“One of my employees had tuberculosis as a child so she felt particularly vulnerable,” she said. “Instead of her having to work at the front desk, she came in at midnight and baked all the goods for the next day.”
COVID-19 has also impacted the global supply chain. The 2020 U.S. Census Small Business Pulse survey revealed that 36% of businesses experienced delays with domestic suppliers, especially those in manufacturing and trade sectors.
According to Halterman, Carma’s has also faced supply-chain struggles.
“Two months ago, there was a period of three weeks where white chocolate chips were nowhere to be found,” she said. “Not even Amazon had them.”
While Carma’s closed for remodeling during COVID-19, Halterman only expected to close the cafe for a couple of weeks. She never imagined being closed for over a year, as shared on her website.
“We got some torrential rain in August and early September ,” she wrote. “That little drip turned into something that eventually brought down the dining room ceiling, damaged walls...[and] shorted out electricity.”
Despite the challenges that COVID-19 and the structural integrity of the building brought to the business, Halterman said that she’s been lucky to have the financial support from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and Paycheck Protection Program to continue to remodel the cafe.
She hopes to open on April 1, 2022, when customers can anticipate new additions to the menu.
“We’ll expand our baked goods items and add a refrigerating case where we’ll have things that are easy to grab and go, like our cold sesame noodles,” she said. “There also might be frozen desserts and macarons.”
While reflecting on possible menu additions, Halterman states that she wants to be mindful of dietary concerns. She wants to make creative foods that use gluten-free and vegan ingredients.
“There’s so many things that are naturally gluten free,” she said. “We don’t need to go to chemistry class to reformulate how to make a sweet treat.”
Due to the increase in prices of ingredients since the onset of COVID-19, Halterman expects that her menu prices will increase as well.
“Before COVID-19, a bag of wholesale all-purpose flour was just a little over $12,” she said. “However, the last bag I bought was just under $30.”
As COVID-19 cases stabilize, traveling becomes more of a reality than a far-fetched dream. Visitors to Baltimore can drop by Carma’s after visits to the National Aquarium or Inner Harbor.
Depending on the weather, Halterman suggests newcomers try Carma’s iced mocha, hot mocha or hot chocolate.
“We make our chocolate sauce from scratch,” she said. “You can’t find it anywhere else.”