Brewing Coffee, Creativity, and Community

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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.

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Kaldi: one of South Pasadena’s 41 historic landmarks
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