perk up ☕️

I found the best new coffee shop in the east bay - and it’s aptly called ‘Ain’t Normal Cafe’. The times we are in, indeed, ain’t normal, so it feels rather miraculous to find a new brick and mortar spot that inspires joy.

Ain’t Normal was started by Faunus Lucas who says it’s always been the plan to start a cafe and he thankfully didn’t let a pandemic deter him from opening last year. He said his interest in coffee began during an anthropology class in college when guest speaker Tony Serrano, owner of Modesto’s Serrano Social Club came by to speak with the class. This was the initial spark that motivated Faunus to soon take a dishwashing job at the much beloved Bartavalle Cafe where he worked his way up to a management position before starting his own coffee pop-up and corporate coffee catering company which ultimately led to the opening of Ain’t Normal on College ave.

I mostly chit-chat with Faunus for a few minutes at a time on Saturdays and sent him an e-mail for this newsletter, but from what I can gather in our brief interactions, Faunus is an intentional guy. He’s doesn’t seem like he’s making haphazard or casual decisions. Faunus has a plan.

When you step into Ain’t Normal, this becomes apparent from the meticulously designed space and thoughtful displays. He curates an impressive and rare selection of ever-rotating beans from across the U.S. - I just picked up a bag of Little Wolf which he brought in from a small roaster in Ipswich, MA, and I recently gifted a coffee lover the tough-to-come-by Oakland-roasted ‘Mother Tongue’.

The team churns out perfectly made pour over coffees and espresso drinks and usually has a few different offerings on hand to meet your flavor profile preferences. If you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish with your morning coffee - the team is happy to share more about which coffees feature citrus notes and which feature chocolate notes.

Back when people used to go to bars, I always biased toward places that also serve food. A wine bar without cheese? Insanity. A tiki bar without soakers? I’d die.

I have the same sentiment toward coffee shops. You must have food. Just a little nibble of something. Anything really. But it absolutely cannot be those textureless Costco style pastries where the only difference between a croissant and a bagel and a slice of bread is the shape.

Most coffee shops in the Bay Area pick up their pastries wholesale, usually from Starter Bakery which is terrific. But when I first saw the scones at Ain’t Normal I realized they looked a bit different. I asked the Barista where they got their pastries and she matter-of-factly said ‘Faunus makes them’. Of course he does.

He told me via email that “slowly but surely we're working on establishing ourselves as a place that not only offers great coffee—but also thoughtful food made in house with love and care.” And you can already see this with the scratch-made scones, cookies and even buttermilk biscuit egg sandwich.

Faunus told me the intent with Ain’t Normal was to be inclusive. They could sell a box of Nerds or pack of Starbursts for $2.50 next to an $18 pack of June Taylor candied peels; a $2 cup of noodles or a $7 homemade breakfast sandwich. The point is for everyone to feel welcome - no matter their budget or taste preferences.

One of the things that you may not know about me is that I have some Larry David-like qualities where little obscure things irritate me to an extreme degree. One of these things is when you get a coffee and the barista presses your lid on with their bare hand and their palm touches the part you drink out of. This wasn’t always something that haunted me until one time several years ago when I went to take a sip of my nice hot coffee and I tasted salt or sweat or ughh, I still shudder at the mere thought. I’m cringing. And now you’re cringing too. But I had to tell you. So that you can appreciate this more:

The folks at Ain’t Normal use these very long, clean, brightly colored tongs to pick up and hand you your own coffee lid so you can put it on yourself. If your coffee is going to be tainted with palm sweat, it may as well be your own 😝 its a pandemic, after-all!

So if you need a new coffee spot, check Ain’t Normal for:

  • High quality yet unpretentious coffee ✅

  • Welcoming and informed staff ✅

  • Commuter-friendly locale ✅

  • Gluten-rich, scratch-made food ✅

  • Impromptu candy ✅

  • Cool branding and design ✅

  • A healthy avoidance of germs ✅

Ain’t Normal Cafe, 5701 College Ave, open daily from 7 am - 3 pm.

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And some more on what other east bayers are up to from around the web:

  • 💖One of my favorite columns to read in my single days was Modern Love - it features all different stories of love in unlikely places, its a great read for “hopeful” romantics. ICYMI, the recent column ‘We needed more significant others’ was written by Oakland resident Logan Ury, who tells the heart-breaking story of her partners cancer diagnosis and the unique living arrangement that is getting them through it all. If you find yourself touched by the column, be sure to pre-order Ury’s book ‘How Not to Die Alone’.

What else is happening in your neighborhood? Tell us what’s on your mind.