Greasy spoon cafes do not often have the reputation for being a safe haven for those suffering with mental health problems.
But the owner of a small cafe in Cowley Road has received a certificate of honour from Oxford City Council for exactly that.
Andreas Koumi, 79, has been running the Excelsior Cafe for almost 50 years and was recognised for his contribution to Oxford alongside charity workers and volunteers on Monday night.
His customers said he deserved the award and described him as a kind-hearted man who treated everyone with the utmost respect.
Mr Koumi emigrated from Cyprus to London in 1954 to escape poverty and moved to Oxford two years later to work and complete a night course in book keeping.
He bought Excelsior with his brother and cousin in 1961.
He said: “I wanted people to consider the cafe as their home, where they could come and rest and not have anyone saying you have been here too long. I want people to come in every day and I want to
know about their lives. Anyone would.”
But he added: “I am ready to give up Excelsior – I feel it in the mornings – but I will miss it. It has been my whole life.”
Mr Koumi, who has two children and four grandchildren, said he had been very pleased to have won the award and said he had not expected it.
Pamela Webber, 66, who nominated Mr Koumi for the award, said: “I used to look after a mental health patient and Excelsior was the only place he felt comfortable.
“Some people do not always welcome people who suffer from mental health issues but Andreas does, which helps with the recovery. ”
Customer Debbie Preece, 44, of Cowley Road, said: “Andreas is the kind of person that if you are upset he will talk to you and calm you down. He has created a community here and if it ever closes
there will be nowhere else to go where people treat you with the respect Andreas does.”
Goldston Joseph, 48, of Cowley Road, said: “We are always welcomed in here and it is more homely than other cafes, where they are more about business.
“Andreas deserves the award because he is a kind-hearted man. If you are stuck he will help you.”
Lord Mayor of Oxford Elise Benjamin, who was one of the award’s judges, said: “What is unusual and special about Excelsior is that it is not just a local cafe, it is a haven for people who are in
“We know that there are a lot of people with mental health problems that spend a lot of time in Excelsior and care workers meet with their clients in there.
“Andreas lets them be there and helps them feel safe and secure. I do not know of any other places in Oxford like that.”
Gemma Humphrey, external relations manager at mental health charity Restore, said: “Excelsior serves our users, volunteers and staff.
“We find the atmosphere welcoming and inclusive – and we like the strong coffee.”
For a feature celebrating the other nine winners, see Saturday’s Oxford Mail.