Sometimes the Inland Empire just can't catch a break.
A bright spot in the Southern California desert's emerging coffee scene—a way first paved by now well-known names like Klatch Coffee and Augies—hit a setback last month when Riverside, California boutique biz Arcade Coffee Roasters was forced to scale back its improbably charming setup.
After all, it's not often you get to consume a cup of artisan-roasted, thoughtfully prepared coffee from the back of a roll-up gate in a Riverside office park adjacent to lawnmower repair businesses. But that was part of what made Arcade such a nice surprise. Alas, this September, the City of Riverside put the kibosh on the informal back-door community gathering space created by partners Stevie Hasemeyer and Shane Levario—at least in that particular location, at this particular time.
“I knew [the shutdown] would happen sooner or later, but I felt like we just couldn't afford the consequences of not having a place to connect with people anymore,” said Hasemeyer about the city's closure. This was once a thriving, odd-opening-hours, pay-what-you-wish neighborhood pop-up, which failed to meet certain Riverside permitting standards like separating the roasting area from the cafe's door with an air curtain. “We will keep roasting here under our current permit and go from there,” he assured Sprudge.
The back-alley cart operated behind what is still a busy roasting space for the pair of friends, formerly known as Torch Roasting but bought out by Riverside natives Hasemeyer and Levario a year ago to found the more craft-focused Arcade.
Since taking over, the two have been focused on paring down what was once a large offering sheet to a small, select number of higher-quality coffees from sourcing channels like Red Fox, Coffee Shrub, Bodhi Leaf, and Nordic Approach, roasting them for a couple dozen wholesale accounts across the Inland Empire and sixty miles west into Los Angeles.
The makeshift cafe's loyal patrons (and, okay, maybe a few freeloading college students) are surely feeling the void in this quiet little area near the 215 freeway, where once the cheery Hasemeyer and Levario slung drinks both plain and fancy out of the back door, from single origins to lavender and ginger lattes, house-made vanilla extracts, to bottled “cold-brew cocktails”.
Though the cart's closing has been a disappointment, it—and its pay what you wish model—was always something the pair viewed as a bit of a combined business and social experiment, says Hasemeyer. “We wanted to see if people would actually make this thing work. We figured if we weren't going to make enough money and support ourselves with it, then when the time came to actually charge people we wouldn't have enough to keep this thing going,” he continued. But it turned out that even the amount of money—sometimes pocket change, sometimes a generous $100–tossed in the good vibes jar was enough to persuade the two that a traditional retail space could be sustainable.
If anything, the city's move to tighten the reins on Arcade's free spirit has only spurred on the owners' desire to find a more permanent home in their town—a local commitment both are passionate about well beyond coffee.
“This isn't unique to our city, but I see young adults leave Riverside because we don't have a lot of the things that LA, Orange County, or Pasadena have,” says Hasemeyer. “I was tired of people outside of Riverside having the things that I wanted and realized instead of expecting someone else to build it I just needed to be the catalyst for change.”
The two owners aspire to establish a permanent retail location in the downtown area, which they hope will function not just as a cafe but “like a community center where people want to come and spend time together,” says Hasemeyer.
For now, the pair continues to fire up the 12-kilo US Roaster Corp roaster for their wholesale partners while aggressively scouting out a long-term location and deploying their cart at special events. They've also been hosting regular private cuppings, “as a way to connect with the community since we can't be open to the public,” says Hasemeyer.
And for his partner, the desire to continue building on the culture they've helped elevate continues to inspire. You won't see these two leaving for LA anytime soon. As Shane Levario put it simply, “I have a heart for Riverside and I am so stoked to see the culture develop here.”
Liz Clayton is the associate editor at Sprudge.com, and a staff writer based in New York City. She is the co-author of Where To Drink Coffee, to be released on Phaidon in June 2017. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.