About 500 days ago, Leon Grodski de Barrera and Areli Barrera de Grodski, took an enormous risk. With their friend and artist David Solow, but with very little money, they revamped a service station at Geer and Foster streets into Cocoa Cinnamon. Since, the artisanal coffee shop has become one of Durham's most thriving small businesses, and more important, a community hub.
This was before Old North Durham had fully caught on as the city's next desirable neighborhood. Before Liberty Warehouse was slated to become condos and other developers started sniffing around.
Leon and Areli overcame the financial odds, and less than two years later, the couple is opening a second Cocoa Cinnamon at the intersection of Hillsborough Road and Trent Drive in Old West Durham. It is scheduled to open in the spring of 2015.
The building, to be redesigned by Coby Linton, a Durham architect, will have the same intentionality in aesthetic as Cocoa Cinnamon.
"We never want to grow to the point of being cookie-cutter," Leon said.
Credit him for having the imagination to see beyond the building itself, which housed the erstwhile Salamandra restaurant. (Boarded up, with awful siding, it does have a lovely painting of a salamander on a western wall.)
"It's got to be one of the ugliest buildings in town," says Linton. He plans to reduce the size of the building from 3,500 to 2,800 square feet. "But underneath all the ridiculous additions over the years is a cool old building."
Many neighborhood residents remember the building, which was built more than 80 years ago, as Jim's Party Store, the primary liquor shop for Duke students in the 1970s and 1980s.
Surrounded by a walkable residential neighborhood, Gregoria's Cuban restaurant is across the street; Bull City Records and Locopops are just east; Ebb and Flow, a boutique home design store, and Wimpy's hamburgers sit to the west.
In the spirit of the original Cocoa Cinnamon, where the "neighborhood owns the shop, in a sense," Leon says, he and Areli want Old West Durham to feel similarly invested.
"We want it to be a friendly, indulgent experience where you feel cared for," he says. "We sell happiness."
In next week's INDY, look for a full story about the new space, de Brodksi's vision of the intersection of business and community, and how the new shop could add vibrancy to Old West Durham.