Long Beach coffee cart pop-up, Cafablanca, announced it would be closing Friday, ending a seven-month run serving up free coffee, tea and lattes to the community through the pandemic.
Owners Cameron Kude and his business/life partner Juan Fernandez announced the news online, saying that though it was a tough decision to close, the pair knew they were working on borrowed time since Cafablanca was not operating with the appropriate permitting. While Cafablanca had its food handlers license and sellers permit, the coffee pop-up did not meet the full requirements to operate as a public food vendor in the city.
“Having custom designed this business as a catering service, we were very well aware that this could eventually happen,” Kude said, adding that he received a notice from the city to end operations Wednesday. “I launched this in response to COVID.”
When Kude and Fernandez started their pop-up in January 2020, their plan was to do catering on television and film production sets. The coronavirus pandemic dashed their plans and the coffee cart, a handcrafted scooter they remodeled as a coffee cart with a 1950s aesthetic, sat unused for several months.
“I wasn’t able to make make payments to my friends who let me have it and entrusted me with it,” Kude said. “I was kind of drowning through the cracks of COVID.”
By summer, fueled by the civil unrest of the George Floyd protests, the couple felt compelled to give back and re-launched their pop-up for the public under a donation-based model, offering “liberated coffee” to the public, with the intent to donate 20% of their profits to humanitarian causes, including Black Lives Matter.
The concept Kude calls “liberated coffee,” meant that anyone in the community, regardless of their financial limitations, could enjoy a steaming cup of coffee or latte for free. Though Cafablanca relied entirely on donations from others to stay in business, the pop-up prospered.
“We quickly found that we were very quickly welcomed with people’s generosity and appreciation of this concept,” Kude said. “That inspired people to donate more than they would otherwise.”
While the coffee-pop will no longer be permitted to operate for the public, Kude said Cafablanca will carry on with its private catering.
“We are pretty excited at the idea of transitioning back to the catering industry, which is what we had initially intended now that we’ve had our first vaccine and the world is starting to open back up a little bit,” Kude explained. “Part of us is extremely sad, another part of us is extremely excited. It’s definitely a jumble of emotions.”