Nice Little Pick-Me-Up
A 23-year-old carves out a caffeinated part of Lighthouse’s character.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Some sort of Hawaiian gargoyle creature looks down at patrons from atop a ledge above the front counter. Next to it sits a giant throne embellished in red velvet. Mod black-and-white checkered tiles cover the floor, and art by local artists lines the purple walls. Every nook, cranny and person that collects in this tiny place overflows with personality—including its owner.
Young entrepreneur Miriam Danbom, sent here by an enthusiasm for savory coffee and unique people, stands behind the counter with a ready grin and cup. In April she opened the 250-square-foot Miriam’s Cafe coffee shop on Lighthouse Avenue. Her inspiration was practical: After moving to New Monterey, she noticed no independent coffee shops in her neighborhood.
“I saw myself at the 7-11 on the corner every morning,” she says, “and that’s not exactly champion-style drinking.”
After working for Bay Books in downtown Monterey and Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co., Danbom realized she had the experience and drive to make it on her own.
“A lot of people like to talk about opening businesses,” says Danbom. “I thought, ‘Why just talk about it when you can go out and do it?’”
An opportunity arose when a family friend sought a change after years of retail attempts with her small space between the Bulldog Pub and the Wash ‘N’ Dry Laundry. So Danbom, 23, set about securing a loan from her parents to lease the space.
She immediately began transforming the shop into a funky café in the Berkeley tradition.
“I took a fly-by-night plan and sought advice from construction and decorator friends,” she says. “I put in cabinets and counters, and did the walls and a little bit of tweaking. It needed a little bit of love.”
Ten months later, the café occcupies a niche in the distinctive Lighthouse landscape. Seaside High teacher Nicole Feurer of Pacific Grove has been attracted to it since Miriam’s opened.
“It’s really cute,” Feurer says. “It’s a little hole-in-the-wall place, but it’s just so cozy and the variety of people who come in are great, both young and old.”
Striking decor—which Danbom describes as “attention deficit art deco”—is key to the cuteness. So too are monthly exhibitions from local artists. This month, Monterey-based artist Lady Hull has thrown beautiful hand-painted holiday ornaments and a rainbow of crocheted hats across one wall.
The beverages of Miriam’s Café similarly steam with character. All the coffees are organic and grown in areas that have long used sustainable agriculture. Many of the teas are fair-trade-certified and come in a slew of clarifying green, invigorating black, and replenishing versions. The “Three Jewels” is one sublime blend, an herbal elixir of rooibos (an earthy African red tea with a sweet bark-like aroma), chamomile and orange peel. As with Miriam’s other teas, “Three Jewels” is steeped loose-leaf to better retain the fresh natural essence and free-radical-fighting-antioxidants of the plant.
But many, including Feurer, come for the coffee. “I started coming in more and more frequently because the coffee was so good,” she says.
Danbom also has her basic snacks—think bagels, sandwiches, muffins, and cookies—which she frequently hand-delivers down the block with coffee. She sees it as part of an allegiance to an area full of independent shops.
“I think all the businesses are here to enhance each other,” she says, “Lighthouse is a really cool street.”
Danbom also clearly clicks with her customers, greeting everybody by name or, for newer patrons, their preferred drink. “They’re a pretty eclectic bunch,” she says, “and that’s a good thing.”
Danbom shrugs off the stresses of running the shop by herself with simple clichés.
“The philosophies of this place are ‘Take one day at a time’ and ‘Enjoy the ride,’” she says, “or every inspirational thing they told you in high school that fits into one sentence.”
That upbeat and sovereign spirit makes for a fun place—and the perfect spot for Danbom. “She’s a personable and independent woman,” Feurer says. “I call her an upward-bound sophisticated New Woman.”
MIRIAM’S CAFE, located at 615 Lighthouse Ave. in Monterey, is open from 7am to 4pm. 277-5655.