Takoma Park rallies around coffee shop


Anna Petrillo and Javier Rivas, owners of La Mano Coffee Bar, near the Takoma Metro station, needed $10,600 to rewire their shop. They raised that amount, and more, from a crowdfunding site. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For the Washington Post)

When the founders of the upcoming La Mano Coffee Bar in Takoma Park found themselves in a bind earlier this year, the community around them was happy to, well, lend a hand.

La Mano — which means “hand” in Spanish and Italian — has been in the works for over a year. The 460-square-foot shop, scheduled to open in coming weeks, hit a snag this spring when Pepco told the shop’s owners that they would need to rewire the entire store for a price tag of $10,600.

Co-founders Javier Rivas and Anna Petrillo had already spent much of their $380,000 they had in personal savings and loans from family and friends.

That’s when the community stepped in.

Takoma Park residents suggested an online crowdfunding campaign and, in the end, raised more than $15,000 on the Web site Indiegogo. Local artist Mei Mei Chang painted a mural on the shop’s walls. Scott Cummings, who lives in the neighborhood and co-owns design firm Square Form, created a pastry case and light fixtures.

“The community has been there for us from the beginning,” said Rivas, who also owns Modern Time Coffeehouse inside of Politics & Prose, a popular bookstore on Connecticut Avenue NW. “Not every small business that gets started can say they have their neighborhood cheering them on.”

Soon after they signed the lease last September, Rivas and Petrillo began selling coffee at pop-up shops at area businesses and farmers’ markets.

“We were expecting things to take a while,” Petrillo said, adding that she and Rivas had replaced everything from the store’s plumbing to its walls. “But we knew from the beginning that we wanted to be out in our community as much as we could. It was a wonderful way to meet people, and we got to know our customers before we even opened.”

‘They’re ready for us’

There are local touches all over the tiny store, which has exactly one table and one chair.

The company’s logo was created by a former Corcoran College of Art and Design student. Rivas’s neighbor made the neon sign that hangs in the window, and a University of Maryland professor is building a plywood bench for the store. Many of the light fixtures were purchased a few doors down, at home goods store Trohv.

Area residents point out that there isn’t a grab-and-go coffee shop in the area, and that the store — across the street from the Takoma Metro station — will be a commuters’ dream when it opens in early September.

“There’s been a big gap there,” said Cummings of Square Form. “It will be an important addition to Takoma Park.”

But, Rivas and Petrillo say, their proximity to the Metro also posed a challenge. They worried that area residents would be hesitant to stop by the shop before heading to the Metro, which does not allow open food and drinks.

“We were concerned that people just wouldn’t want to bother coming in,” Rivas said. “We had to find a way to change their minds.”

The solution came in the form of a travel mug with a tight-fitting lid. Petrillo and Rivas ordered a box of 200 and began offering them as a gift for donors who contributed at least $25 to the company’s Indiegogo campaign. In the end, the vast majority of La Mano’s 225 area backers opted for the travel mug.

“People bang on the window when they’re going to the Metro or walking their dog,” said Rivas, who lives in Takoma Park. “They’re ready for us.”

Caroline Boucher Hutton sure is.

Hutton, who lives nearby, said she routinely stops by La Mano’s pop-up shops to buy a cup of coffee or a package of beans. And now that’s donated $100 to the company, she feels that much more vested in the future of the neighborhood business.

“It’s a bummer that the La Mano folks have had to go through all of the hoops they did,” Hutton said. “But we’ve gotten to know them better because of it. It’s made it personal.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
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