Situated in what is fast becoming the place to hang out downtown, Cocoa Cinnamon, a chocolate and coffee shop, is set to join the ranks of Geer Street Garden, King’s Sandwich Shop, Fullsteam – our local brewery – and the hoards of food trucks that frequent the music venue Motorco as a premier foodie locale.
The whitewashed brick building at 420 W. Geer St. was once a garage of some kind but was renovated a few years ago and turned into a pilates studio, its parking lot also home for a while to the Daisy Cakes cupcake mobile on Saturday mornings.
The café is set to open later this month if all goes well, but certainly by August. Cocoa Cinnamon, which to date has largely been a made-to-order confection business, is owned and operated by Areli Barrera de Grodski and her husband Leon Grodski de Barrera – cute, no?
They met outside Asheville, where Leon was part owner of – and ran – a coffee shop. Areli had moved back home after finishing her degree at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2009, and they were soon married.
Since moving to Durham in 2011 they have been literally peddling coffee and chocolates on their mobile coffee cart that frequents the Durham Farmer’s Market.
“We were just looking for a place that felt good to us to open up our business,” Areli said. “It was between here or San Diego.”
Do you hear that, people? We beat out San Diego!
At the heart of their mission is a deep respect for the true origins of coffee, chocolate, and all the spices, herbs and infusions that have gone into both since the beginning of time, it seems.
Areli, who was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and grew up with food as part of her family’s income, found herself completely enchanted in 2010 after reading, “The History of Chocolate,” a sweeping look at the true origins of the cacao bean.
Chocolate is indeed rooted more deeply in ancient indigenous civilizations than it is Belgium, though she is not quick to hate on the techniques European chocolatiers have brought to the craft. She just likes to be mindful that the vast majority of the history of chocolate production involved working with it in a raw form – there was no tempering.
“You feel like mad scientists,” Areli said of their craft. “Making chocolates, making drinks.”
In addition to a full coffee bar, the brick-and-mortar café will feature truffles, drinking chocolates (think hot cocoa but way richer and thicker) and tabla, which is Spanish for bark. Their confections are incorporated with complimentary flavors from the likes of pumpkin seeds, hibiscus flowers, ginger, vanilla, coconut, chia seeds – the list goes on. They also craft raw cacao beans molded with raw agave syrup and spices, sort of like a truffle but much less likely to melt in the sun.
“We would like to focus on good quality tea as well,” Areli said.
Durham welcomed Respite, a tea and coffee shop on North Duke Street not long ago, and downtown there is already the Beyú Caffé and a coffee shop within Rue Cler. Still – for a college town, there really are not that many places dedicated to the art of the perfect pour, or in this case, a sublime piece of cocoa.
“I honestly think that competition is actually healthy,” Areli said. “The more coffee shops there are, the bigger the scene grows, so it’s a good thing actually.”
Just take a look at our neighbors. “If you go to Carrboro and Chapel Hill they have plenty of them and they are full,” she said.
As for their location just next to a Cross Fit training center (I swear I have seen people flipping tractor wheels in addition to swinging kettle bells around in broad daylight) the couple sees this as a good thing. They plan for plenty of outdoor seating, so patrons can cheer on the gym rats, and perhaps lure them over for a hard-earned chunk of tabla.
“We can also help them get a kick with our espresso,” Areli said.