By Gus Bode

Traditional custom makes its debut in Carbondale

As the sun begins to set in Carbondale, an outside patio begins to fill up with friends and customers. Fountains turn water over in the corner, and trees enclose the area, giving it a private feel.

As patrons begin to take their seats, hookahs begin to be brought out one by one. Within minutes, the air begins to smell of sweet tobacco and Middle Eastern mint tea.


This oasis is not found in Egypt, but in the Shell Gas Station at 534 E. Main St.

Dean Amley is the owner of Egyptian Corner, which encompasses the gas station, Caf Egypt and the outside patio. He was born in Jerusalem and in his 20s began to travel to Egypt, where he first discovered the coffee shop culture and hookahs. He became intrigued with the atmosphere and the social gatherings that centered on smoking the Nargile, or hookah.

“Smoking the nargile is the No. 1 type of traditional gathering in Egypt,” Amley said. “It is very common.”

Amley graduated from SIUC in1987 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and now lives in Murphysboro. He said he wanted to start the caf as an alternative social atmosphere. He wanted a place where people could gather in a mature setting that was alcohol-free.

“Drinking alcohol is against my faith,” said Amley, who is a Muslim. “We don’t even sell alcohol here.”

Amley was motivated to open the caf for people who would like to socialize and hang out in an atmosphere other than a bar.

As customers sit on the patio, they can choose the flavor of tobacco that they would like. Caf Egypt offers eight flavors of tobacco including apple, apricot, lemon, mixed fruit and watermelon. Moments after choosing your flavor, a waiter brings out a three-foot tall hookah. The glass base is filled with cool water, and the top of the hookah is loaded with tobacco and covered with hot coals. In the middle of the hookah is a colorful hose out of which you smoke. Each customer gets his or her own disposable plastic mouthpiece.


As the smokers inhale through the hose, the tobacco smoke is pulled through the water and the result is a cool, almost misty smoking experience. The hookah will smoke for about an hour and a half, and a waiter will check on the coals periodically to make sure they have not burned out.

Caf Egypt has a seating capacity for 50 people and has 20 hookahs available for use. Customers must be at least 18 years old to smoke. The prices are surprisingly reasonable for the exotic experience, about $6 per hookah. Customers can bring their books and homework, play cards or dominoes, but mostly they socialize.

Patrick Lee sits at a table with a friend and his son, Isha. As Lee waits for his hookah to be brought to his table, he talks about his first experience with the Nargile.

Lee first discovered the hookah when he was a photojournalist in the Middle East. While he was there, he said that everyone was smoking them, but it wasn’t until Lee came back to the U.S. that he first smoked the hookah.

“I didn’t try smoking a hookah until I was in San Francisco,” Lee said. “I was always afraid that there would be opium in the tobacco.”

Lee never found any opium in his hookah; instead, he found a very enjoyable smoke. He has been smoking hookahs for three years now and owns five of his own. His collection includes hookahs from his travels, and they are made of ceramic, brass and metal.

“Each one has it’s own personality,” Lee said. “They all smoke differently.”

Many people who hear the word hookah associate it with smoking marijuana. The negative association with the hookah is something that Amley is aware of. He said that it is not used for smoking pot; it is traditionally used for smoking dark-flavored tobacco. Amley is careful to keep the distinctions.

“The Nargile is not to be used for pot,” Amley said. “I don’t want people to think of it that way,”

For now, Amley is not worried about what misconceptions people may have with the hookah. He sits among friends and relaxes on the patio he has created, and the sounds of music and conversation carry over the murmur of the fountains. Customers sip Middle Eastern tea with fresh mint as they puff on fruity-flavored tobacco.

The patio was opened Tuesday to the public. Before then, Amley would only entertain family and friends, but now he wants the rest of Carbondale to get a taste of Middle Eastern culture.

“I want to give the town a little taste of the outside world,” Amley said.

Reporter Nicole Sack can be reached at [email protected]