Perhaps most of us, if we lost our favorite coffee hangout, would heave a great sigh and move on. Perhaps most of us, if our local convenience store disappeared around the same time, would heave a greater, longer, deeper sigh, and curse the gods for their fickle whims. Alas, such is life.
This is something like what happened to Rene Spudvilas and the folks at the Giragira Chariya bicycle workshop last year, when in a flurry of unfortunate circumstances, the Osaka location of Streamer Coffee Company closed down, followed by the departure of a popular nearby convenience store. Faced with empty retail spaces and a feeling of community loss, the gang at Giragira instead saw opportunity. They acquired the Streamer Cafe coffee equipment at bargain prices, hired head barista Taira Nemoto, and turned the former grocery store space into Giracha Coffee, a new Osaka hangout spot filled with bikes, fashion, and coffee.
Design and remodeling was largely handled by Rene Spudvilas and Taira Nemoto, who even put together the unique counter at which their coffee is brewed and served. For the scary stuff, Spudvilas told Sprudge, they got some help from a plumber, electrician, and welder. The end result is a DIY project that feels eccentric, friendly, and warm. Literally a stone’s throw from the Giragira bike shop, this new cafe is imbued with hand-built authentic Osaka cool.
If you’re wondering about the baby face on the signboards and merchandise, then you’ve just met The Boss—Cal Spudvilas. Rene Spudvilas admits, “Well, he is The Boss, really. We had no choice. He is working at the cafe daily, keeping customers entertained, and accepting bread, donuts, and apple juice as payment,” says the cafe owner of his real-life mascot—and son. “He was already the ‘face’ of the cafe before we even made any merchandise or cup designs. That design was done by a local artist who drinks our coffee every morning.” Cal’s bubbly nature adds a lightness to the atmosphere, making communication that much easier, even with four-legged friends.
And communication is very much at the heart of Giracha Coffee. “Most Japanese cafes have a very ‘formal’ type of customer service,” Spudvilas told me. “There are kind of rules of what you do or don’t say to customers, what you can and cannot ask. We try to be a lot more informal, and chat to customers, and even introduce customers to each other or invite them to events.” This is very unusual for Japanese cafes, but Osaka is a little different from Tokyo in that way. Spudvilas went on: “Being a standing-bar-style of cafe, we find that a lot of customers start talking to each other, or chatting with the staff, rather than playing with their phones or MacBooks, as you find at most Japanese cafes.”
It’s all about bringing a sense of community through good vibes and Streamer Coffee, the cafe’s dedicated roaster partner, which lives on in the neighborhood through Giracha. “We hope it introduces a bit of different culture to the local Osakan visitors,” Spudvilas tells me, “and also be a much needed break for tourists who need a ‘good coffee’ and some local knowledge during their busy days sightseeing and shopping around town. We hope our customers can make some new friends by hanging out here.”
It’s a story that brings to mind the old idea of one door closing while another opens—where in the loss of things we love, we should perhaps see the world for what it gives us rather than what it takes away. In a culture that can sometimes feel isolating, cafes like Giracha Coffee are pushing for community, connection, and interaction with coffee as the medium to bring people together.
We’ll let young Cal and his love of Anpanman have the last word, and play us out.