Photos by Asia Morris.
Downtown Long Beach just welcomed its first third-wave coffee shop, a hobby-turned-entrepreneurial dream come true for Bobby and Correne Hernandez. The couple never quite pictured a life revolving around one of the nation's most coveted drugs: caffeine.
The name Recreational Coffee is based on that obsession, as well as a consideration for, well, recreation, positive vibes and the all-around experience of stopping by for a quality cup of espresso, served with a smile.
"I was a [recreational] therapist at a hospital, so I was still kind of sittin' on it," Bobby said. "And then I looked up 'recreational' in the dictionary and the second definition said 'relating to a socially acceptable drug,' and I was like, 'Perfect, perfect. We're Recreational Coffee.'"
While Bobby studied Recreation and Leisure at Cal State Long Beach, which led to nearly four years of work as a recreational therapist at the city’s VA, his coffee hobby quickly turned into something much more time-consuming. With the hobby-turned-successful pop-up shop to handle, Bobby quit his job in May, and he and Correne have been running the business ever since, now as downtown Long Beach’s latest brick-and-mortar addition.
Perhaps one of the clear testaments to Bobby’s talent for taste and his ability to go against tradition, if only for the consideration of others' palates, is Recreational's Americano.
He found a ratio, "a five-ouncer," which he believes challenges the Starbucks-tainted consumer mindset of always wanting something bigger. So far, everyone has loved it. He tinkers with the menu items all the time, so there’s not an item on the menu he wouldn’t enthusiastically consume himself.
"I just make it until it’s something that I would absolutely love and then the customers tell me the same thing," he said.
The affogato is a mind-blower. Made with three small scoops of organic vanilla bean ice cream from Straus Family Creamery, Recreational’s espresso, espresso grounds and sea salt, it’s a symbiotic symphony conducted with a sharp bitterness, quickly followed with the sweet crescendo of chilled vanilla and finished with the satisfying crunch and savoriness of the sea salt and grounds. There’s really nothing better than a dessert you can truly savor, that gives you the jolt to walk out the door with a hop in your step.
And if you’re not in a dessert mood, there may not be a better way to start your morning than with an Espresso con Panna, made with Recreational’s espresso, house-made organic whipped cream and topped with a few dark chocolate shavings. It’s like an affogato, but for breakfast. Drool.
It all started, Correne says, when someone at their church introduced Bobby to the French Press. His fascination took off from there. As the budgeter in the relationship, she knew that as newlyweds (nearly five years ago), spending $40 a month on coffee might not be financially feasible, but she stood by him anyway.
"When he gets stuck on something, he goes all in," she said.
She says visiting Portola Coffee Lab in Costa Mesa (whose coffee they use alongside Case Coffee Roasters) and seeing how they brewed their coffee got him hooked, as well. And while owning their own business was definitely a goal of theirs, they never thought coffee would be the center of that achievement.
"No, we never thought we would do this," said Correne. “Like five years ago I don’t think we ever would have been like, 'We’re going to have a coffee shop.' I don’t even drink coffee. He’s the coffee nut. It’s crazy that we actually have it.'"
And while the two may have never dreamt of realizing such a rad idea, Bobby and Correne are a match made in entrepreneurial heaven, as partners married in life and in business. Bobby says she definitely upholds the grounding voice of reality for them both.
"It works really well because, especially with finances, I’m not the strongest in that realm and she is, so she’s definitely the voice of reason when it comes to the business, which is super needed, obviously," he said. "Because I can’t do the money and she can’t do the coffee, so together it really works."
Just as important as creating good coffee is presenting that stellar product in an inviting space. Bobby visited a coffee shop in LA where he remembers being greeted at the door and truly taken care of. It gave him an experience that he wanted to share with Correne and his friends.
"I remember the coffee was good, I don’t really remember how it tasted, but it’s like the coffee almost didn’t matter at the time," he said. "The overall experience was amazing, where I wanted to take other people there so they could experience it like I did."
"That’s what I wanted to do," he continued. "Create a unique experience for every person, to have friendly baristas that are real, that want to have a friendly conversation that will talk and be nice to [the customers] and ask them how their day is going. Even something as little as that, and then on top of that have amazing coffee that we care very much about."
Recreational Coffee is designed to have everything Bobby looks for when he goes to a coffee shop. If guests feel like chatting with baristas they can sit at the bar and relax, if a coffee-parched student needs to focus and study, several tables await to be used near the rear of the shop surrounded with less distractions; the layout of the storefront encourages community. The only thing lacking is a bike rack out front, which is the next thing on the list to be added.
As far as the renaissance block of downtown Recreational now occupies, which includes Beachwood’s The Blendery, Rainbow Juices and Howl up above, the duo is more than stoked to be a part of the craft movement and the district as a whole.
"All of downtown is crushin’ it right now," said Bobby. "I’m eager to see what it’s going to be in a couple years."
Recreational Coffee is located at 237 Long Beach Boulevard.