Coffee shop builds community downstairs, supports community upstairs
By Jay Anderson
Aaron Henderson grew up in the La Mesa–Spring Valley area and has returned to open a new coffee shop coming to the Village called Public Square, located on La Mesa Boulevard where Cosmos Coffee formerly operated.
Public Square is not merely taking over the old Cosmos shop; it is undertaking a major renovation to transform it to include spacious indoor and outdoor seating, a concert stage, and the coffee bar. Additionally, Henderson intends to convert some of the second-floor rooms of the Historic La Mesa Hotel for after-school programs and tutoring use.
“[Public Square] will not just be a place to hang out, but a place to do good,” Henderson said. “It’s as much to partner with organizations that are already doing things in the community. We’ll be the vehicle to help serve the community.”
Like partnering with nonprofits David’s Harp and Urban Life San Diego.
“I don’t know if this is the term they use, but it is trades for grades,” he said. Participating high school students who maintain good grades and good character marks, do not receive detentions or referrals, are not expelled, and remain in school will be taught trades. For example, David’s Harp will teach students audio, video, and music production, while Urban Life will provide instruction about the culinary business, including aspects of serving etiquette, food preparation, running a kitchen, and catering.
“It is not only building the community downstairs, but [also] supporting the community upstairs. Whatever profitability we have downstairs, we can help support nonprofits that intentionally serve the community upstairs,” he said.
In support of the overall project, including the coffeehouse build-out and renovations build-out and equipment for the upstairs music and art studio, Henderson initiated a $50,000 Kickstarter campaign. Although Henderson said, at this time, opening the coffeehouse is the priority, since the campaign did not fully fund.
Though a date is not set, a soft launch for the coffeehouse is hoped for in late May and definitely in June at the latest. After the opening, another Kickstarter campaign will be launched this summer. In the interim, the coffeehouse will be the main focus.
The downstairs coffeehouse will provide what Henderson describes as terrific coffee, artisan tea, and “amazing grub from some of San Diego’s finest,” by collaborating with and supporting local small businesses that are very good at their craft.
For example, Paraiso Delicacies will provide in-house cinnamon rolls, which Henderson described as fantastic and with choices of creative ideas for different toppings. Public Square will also serve Wow Wow Waffles — Belgian liege waffles topped with sweet and savory toppings. And they will serve Pop Pies — potpies with an ethnic twist. Not your traditional chicken potpies, but “incredible crusts” with a variety of fillings, like beef machaca, chicken Indian curry, and Chinese spiced pork.
Public Square will also offer daily offerings of concerts, poetry readings, art galley showings, and open mic nights.
“When you walk into the space, you are walking into a narrative,” Henderson said, adding he wants it to be a place where people can connect with one another —fitting with his theme of “Coffee. Culture. Cause.”
Henderson wants Public Square to be a place where La Mesa can thrive, while preserving its identity and sense of community. To get that sense of community, on the front windows, he solicits public comments, asking, “What does community mean to you?”
In the Kickstarter campaign videos, Henderson speaks about the history of the public square serving as the heart of a community and how the public square hosted news, commerce, politics, and social movements — a place where people could see and be seen; hear and be heard; and serve and be served. “[Public Square] is intentionally designed to connect people with one each other,” he said.
To learn more about the Public Square Kickstarter campaign, go to kck.st/1YwKqbY.
—Jay Anderson is a freelance writer, former Marine and retired college administrator. Reach him at email@example.com.