Brewing Coffee, Creativity, and Community


Drew Gale, co-organizer of Kaldi's Open Mic Night

Good coffee. Live music. Relaxed people. All warm the soul on a rainy brisk Friday evening, “Open Mic Night” at Kaldi, on the corner of El Centro and Diamond.

Removing the layers of outerwear and chills from a frigid wind, I was immediately distracted by the friendly atmosphere. Susan and Chanho Park (not the former Dodger pitcher, but former CFO at a Korean Bank and coffee bean enthusiast) became the new owners this last December.

Along with their daughter Christina, a graduate student at USC, the barista staff, and loyal customers, new and old, a steadily growing audience prepared for a night of exchanging laughs and artistry.

Of Kaldi’s ambiance, Christina stated that there’s “an atmosphere [here] that breeds creativity as well as intellectual juices.” And glancing at the display of local art (from photography to sketches) and people reading, writing and in conversation, I can’t deny it.

Nestled amidst and among the city’s 41 historic landmarks, it seems apropos that Christina, a current student in historical preservation, along with sister, Jennifer, help their parents at Kaldi, originally the South Pasadena Bank Building (keeping Mr. Park loosely tethered to his former life in banking).

So in our quaint city of preserved landmarks, a modern surge of creativity brews at Kaldi, the namesake of a legendary goatherd from Ethiopia, believed to have discovered coffee while watching his goats find renewed energy after eating certain red berries.

Passionate about coffee beans, even roasting his own at home, Mr. Park and his wife have brought a new brew to Kaldi. Along with new beans, a new “Open Mic Night” has also been added.

May of 2011 was the last time an event like this took place at Kaldi. But even then, it was not the same because there were only three scheduled acts.

Last Friday marked the first of many to follow. Co-organizers of the event, a local Drew Gale (former Kaldi employee, award winning personal trainer, and musician) and Jonathan Zadok (stand-up comic, entertainer, and musician), who both met while working at the historic Rialto, hope to create a new open-mic tradition of sharing talents while having fun.

When asked, why they switched to an open-mic format, Gale responded without hesitation, that it would be great to “try to get in new people and make it more for the community.” Even children are invited to perform and participate in a coloring contest with prizes. Though kids were not present Friday evening, it was nice to know they are always welcome to join-in.

Though the “open mic” format, in general, originated with the sharing of folk music, today it is an opportunity for members of a community to share their creativity in a supportive environment, be it poetry, music, spoken word, comedy, or a host of other mic-related performances.

But on Friday, original acoustic guitar pieces dominated. Gale, opened the evening with tunes like “Movies with Lewis,” dedicated to an elderly man (a client he walks with as a trainer) with whom he also enjoys watching movies.

Next up was Richie Webb, staff at the local Kinesthetic Kids and a South Pasadena resident. Webb played his music as well as improvising by encouraging the crowd to throw out words. They chose random ones, like “cats, bake sales, and airports.” And Webb delivered with a rhyming musical concoction of a cat getting sick from a bake sale on the way to an airport.

Zadok followed, wearing a multi-colored beanie and singing witty tunes, in line with his life in comedy. Then a soulful Mike Sanjuan shared his original pieces next, enjoying casual tunes among friends. All were amazingly professional, laid-back, and gifted.

Wearing my “Open-Mic at Kaldi” swag, a button pinned to my shirt, and as I spoke with customers and those sharing the mic, I couldn’t help but feel what Mrs. Park spoke of, “Each day I’m learning that [Kaldi] is more than a place to get coffee.”

Yes, in fact, it’s one of several gems in our diverse and small-town neighborhood, where community is more than buildings and programs, but people who help each other, grow and enjoy life between generations.

Future “Open Mic Nights” are planned for every second Friday of the month, sign-ups for acts begin at 6:45 PM with performances winding down by 10 PM.

New Owners: Susan and Chanho Park with daughter, Christina.

Kaldi: one of South Pasadena’s 41 historic landmarks

Rolling Out the Dough: Bread & Pizza Making at Fiore


The warm scent of yeast from a fresh risen loaf of bread wafts through the air from the corner of Fremont and El Centro. Last Tuesday evening, Fiore Market Café, owned by Bill and Anne Disselhorst, had their 2nd bread making class for a quaint group of 5 students. The week before, they had their first pizza making class with 10 budding amateur chefs, including myself.

Though I absolutely melt before fresh baked breads, what truly drew me to the classes was Fiore’s consistently delicious menu. I have tried a variety of fare issuing from their kitchen. I am pleasantly surprised with new favorites each time (like the short rib sandwich, roast chicken sandwich, or the vegetarian chopped salad). From their salad dressings, soups, and breads to their sandwiches, desserts, and drinks – all are fresh, homemade, creative, and simply delicious.

The inspiration for Fiore’s American-European, edible delights stem from Bill and Anne’s many cooking adventures while living in Italy. Their newfound friends taught them a new way of enjoying food, utilizing their hands to prepare homemade dishes while using fresh local ingredients. Bill beams and his smile widens when reminiscing about their experience there, “They have a craftsman-like attitude about cooking.”

Another inspiration (for the tasty cinnamon raisin bread, in particular, which is only sold on Friday and Saturday) finds it’s roots in Bill’s grandmother, Nana Gallagher, as he sidled up to her while she regularly cooked for a group of “orphans or truant boys.”

Fast forward to August 23, 2011, at Fiore’s bread making class, it was mostly about the dough: what to mix, how to briefly kneed and shape, how long to rise and rest, and bake in a typical stainless steel pan with lid on in the oven, a unique and effective method. Even for me, a self-declared “non-cook,” this bread was surprisingly simple to make!

After shaping the prepared dough, and during the second rising, with the help of Bill’s son, Patrick, we made pesto from the basil in their garden. We grinded it with olive oil the old fashioned way, with mortar and pestle (instead of a blender), brushed it on a sheet of dough, which was prepared earlier. Then we added course kosher salt and a fresh roasted tomato mixture, also prepared earlier. Baked it. Ate it. Yummmmm!

In between the rising and baking, we snacked on roasted figs, toasted walnuts and Danish blue cheese (a heavenly combination for my palate). We also munched on fruit and other cheeses, then washed it all down with some homemade lemonade and fresh brewed ice tea. This was a meal in and of itself! Then we practiced combining ingredients to help make bread for the next day.

Not only did I learn about an easy, homemade, tastier way to eat, but I had the privilege of getting to know my neighbors, Michelle, Chi-Ling, Nathaniel and Laura, in a relaxed atmosphere, where good food is not eaten fast, but savored and enjoyed with new friends.

After the bread flour flew and the yeast worked its magic in the oven, we all left with a fresh loaf of bread that I couldn’t resist biting into immediately. Before my head hit the pillow that night, half was gone and my tummy was delighted.

In addition to the bread and pizza making classes, future classes may include making Fiore’s popular cinnamon raisin bread or a scone version. I am quietly campaigning for a soup making class, as well, maybe learning one of Bill’s inspired concoctions served during the lunch hour.

Fiore Market Café is located at 1000 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena. They are open Monday-Thursday 11 AM – 6 PM, Friday-Saturday 11 AM – 8 PM, and Sunday 12-4 PM. For more information on classes ($25), their menu, etc… go to or contact them at 626.441.2280.

Gang Members to Bread Makers: Gregory Boyle and Homeboy Industries


Yesterday, those who could squeeze into a packed South Pasadena Library community room (even overflowing onto the streets) were most likely inspired, as Mike (my husband) and I were, by Gregory Boyle, founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries. He shared funny, sad, and heart-warming stories about his quarter of a century or so journey with gang members in LA, loving on them as equals and bringing them hope for a peaceful future through jobs where rival gang members become co-workers and eventually, friends.

A gifted storyteller, Boyle enamored the crowd as he described the budding of friendships, with the initial meeting of tattoo-strewn rival gang members: cold and carefully distant. But when one of the members was beaten on the street and left for dead by rival gang members, his co-worker, previous enemy turned kin, responded with heartfelt dismay, “That’s messed up what they did… Can I give my blood?” His friend passed away, but the bond between brothers was solidified. This is the power of getting to know people, really know them, while fostering respectful and caring interactions.

Father Boyle, a Jesuit priest, is not what you might expect. While loving the Lord through his actions, he has learned what it means to be in the world, but not of the world (like “Jesus with skin”). He uses colorful language (some would call it foul) as the homies would use in their everyday vernacular to describe life. At the same time, he seems comfortable in his skin whether interacting with the first lady of the US or with someone hooked on heroine. In his words, “We’re all equals.”

I’ve eaten at Homegirl Cafe in LA, a short gold line train ride from South Pasadena (Chinatown stop), and it’s simply delicious. Even without the good that it’s doing for all who work there and the community at large, Homegirl Cafe is a good restaurant (I wrote about it months ago on facebook). You can also get Homeboy goodies at the South Pasadena Farmer’s Market on Thursday evenings (shameless plug for the homies in South Pasadena). But it all started off as a bakery, jobs for the homeboys (and then silkscreening, tattoo removal, educational classes, etc…) So you combine quality with a useful social service that works and you get Homeboy Industries.

Encouraged by Boyle’s courage and steadfastness, I bought his Los Angeles Times best seller, Tattoos on the Heart, The Power of Boundless Compassion (all proceeds going back into Homeboy Industries). He signed it, “no-matter-what-ness.” I plan to read on and find out just what that means. In the mean time, I know that I’ve just stepped into my first Tattoo parlor, the start of a beautiful piercing of art on my own heart, allowing “He who began a good work in me” to bring it to completion; I trust this.

Hopefully, the inspiration that was shared last night does not stop at a good feeling, hearing uplifting stories and being thankful the Homeboy Industry exists, but transfers to action: volunteering, seeing people as equals, doing our part to extend compassion and love a step further than we already do.