Photo by Jeremy M. Lange
Cocoa Cinnamon's Simon Bolívar latte
It’s a brisk Saturday afternoon in Durham, and Cocoa Cinnamon owners Leon Grodski de Barrera and Areli Barrera de Grodski are in the last stretches of the soft opening for their new coffee shop on Hillsborough Road in Old West Durham.
They’ve done this before: Three years ago, the couple opened its shop’s flagship location on the corner of Geer and Foster streets, just two miles east of the new sister space. It has thrived in the middle of the surrounding Central Park District’s reinvention as a food-bar-and-music hotbed.
Now, thanks in part to a $50,100 Community Sourced Capital fundraising campaign
and collaborative contributions from area artists and designers, the new Cocoa Cinnamon officially opened for business on Monday morning. During Saturday's soft opening, Areli was in full barista mode, her undivided attention given to the precise pour of milk needed for a latte. Her sister, Valerie, was stationed at the other end of the bar, breezing through orders. This is their second time doing a soft-opening together, too.
“We wanted to keep the tradition going,” she told me, smiling, not breaking concentration.
Outside, on the cafe’s front porch, children christened the hand-built wooden booths and empty planter basins by hopping from one to the other like little roof jumpers. In the cafe’s rear parking lot, two cyclists chained their bikes to Cocoa Cinnamon’s 15 Minute Parking signs in lieu of “large-capacity-aesthetic” rear racks or upright racks in front. Right above the cyclists, stamped at top of the new cafe’s oyster-hued brick walls, stood one of the only visual remnants of the building’s 80-plus-year history—faded red lettering that spelled “Hester’s TV APPLIANCE Sales Service,” the name of one of many businesses that occupied this space from its Jim’s Party Store inception to its last iteration, Salamandra restaurant.
There’s real intention behind Cocoa Cinnamon II's aesthetic—from the patterns on the frosted glass to how the portulan chart on the bar’s wall align with the brass on the oak tables and the miniature beeswax figurines dangling from beaded string, like they’re frozen corde lisse acrobats
In his Los Angeles Review of Books essay “Writing in Cafés: A Personal History,”
Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft describes modern cafés like this new Cocoa Cinnamon location as “a social space full of constrained chaos, full of all kinds of desires” and one “in which our attention can easily threaten to wander, where perception plays with its negation.” On this special afternoon, MacBook-engulfed worker bees sat at small tables along the Frida Kahlo-inspired art wall opposite the coffee bar. Occasionally, they looked up, briefly surveying this new social space. But mostly, their gaze was the negation of the surrounding visual stimulants.
I wondered if they noticed, for instance, that the long white oak tabletops on which I had just placed my date-flavored Lion in the Sun latte was resting on sawhorses, not actual table legs. Triangle-based artist and inventor Chuck Pell
sat down across from me. Moments earlier, he presented Cocoa Cinnamon co-owner Leon Grodski de Barrera with a crisp $100 bill as a token of support—a Pell tradition, it seems. The blue painter's tape markers at various spots on the cafe’s walls are spaces where he will soon install meteorite and fossil art pieces for children of Cocoa Cinnamon’s customers to touch.
A hundred dollars for the satisfaction of a few kids getting a coffee-scented education in geology? Seems like a fair community trade to me.