It may not even have been open a full two months yet but already Oakland's Remedy Coffee at 4316 Telegraph Avenue (between 43rd St & 44th St) in the ever evolving Temescal district has the warm & comfortable feel of a local cafe that has been there a lot longer than just seven weeks. The friendly and attentive Todd Spitzer is the owner of Remedy and I instantly knew I liked the guy and his new business when I first went in and saw him proudly sporting a T-shirt that read Live in Oakland. Love in Oakland. Love Oakland, and, between preparing individual servings of fresh coffee, he was changing the record on the turntable (yes, a vinyl player!) behind the counter.
That was about four weeks ago and in the short time since, business has quadrupled for Remedy -- and for good reason. It's a welcoming, very spacious, well lit environment with a variety of seating options (high stool counter, sofa level, & standard cafe table inside and out), excellent coffee (they specialize in light coffee), free Wi-Fi (unblocked under Remedy Hearts You), great music selection and nice bass-y speakers well positioned up high, excellent art on the wall (artist Cathy Lo currently), plus numerous cool curiosities such as a Pacific Bell phone booth right when you walk in the main door. The back patio is still to open, but it will soon. The clientele (many of whom arrive by bike) is a nice wide mix of people from The Town: musicians, DJs, artists, students, blue collar workers, OPD, young, old, straight and, gay. It's open Monday to Friday 7am to 6pm and weekends 8:30am to 6pm.
Before opening Remedy, which is right next door to Flying Yoga, round the corner from a cluster of Korean restaurants known to many as Little Korea, and down a block from Rent-A-Relic, Todd had a coffee cart set up right outside. With help from friends, he slowly but surely over a period of year worked on getting his business off the ground. He carefully crafted the interior of Remedy, which is modern without being cold or alienating. I recently caught up with Todd to ask him about going from cart to cafe, light roasted versus dark roasted., Oakland as a place to live & work, the meaning of the Remedy logo, and, of course, music -- inviting him and his staff to submit their all time Top Five Albums lists. The staffer descriptions are all Todd's.
Taylor King (Almost lead barista and art curator) Top Five:
1) Jethro Tull Thick as a Brick
2) Lightnin' Hopkins Buked & Scorned
3) Beirut Gulag Orkestar
4) Honeycomb Honeycomb (self titled EP)
5) Joe Purdy Last Clock on the Wall
Amoeblog: How important is music to you, your staff, and Remedy's overall vibe?
Todd @ Remedy: Music is very important to the vibe at Remedy. Music creates the feel, and makes a statement [as] to who we are. The speakers were built on site by a dear friend. We use an old tube amplifier to power them. We want the sound to have a warm, almost live like quality. And yes, the Yelp reviews are correct in that we do play it loud, and we do it on purpose. You see, all too often the essence of true café culture dies because it becomes an over caffeinated study hall.
And though everyone is welcome to come to Remedy and study, read or get lost staring into their laptop screens for whatever reason, we want to communicate that our cafe is about so much more than just that. It’s a place where a vibrant, eclectic community meets and connects with one another, and we want the style of music and the volume of music to help make that statement. Everything we do has an artistic and playful edge to it, and we want to play good music loud enough so that you can hear the genius behind it.
Amoeblog: I love that you have a turntable and lots of vinyl behind the counter. How often do play records and do customers ever bring along their own albums to play?
Todd @ Remedy: We rock the vinyl sporadically throughout the day. Vinyl always sounds better. And yes, we have a BYOV policy. And there are quite a few customers that will bring in some vinyl and share an album side or two. Of course, we do exercise the right to edit their selections if the music is lame.
Celeste Cooper (Incredible baker) Top Five:
1) The Clash London Calling
2) Michael Jackson Thriller
3) Willie Nelson Red headed Stranger
4) Fugazi 13 Songs
5) Patti Smith Easter
Amoeblog: Can you tell me a bit about the coffee beans you specialize in and why you chose to base your business model on a light roasted rather than dark roasted or combination of types?
Todd @ Remedy: Dark roasting is the most common form of roasting coffee and has been well championed by corporate coffee like Peets and Starbucks. Dark roasting tends to burn away much of the subtle nuances and unique and flavorful aspects of most coffees. The larger coffee companies will also do this because they can buy cheaper grade coffee and the dark roasting covers up the lack of flavor in the beans. We want to offer coffee where you can taste, compare and enjoy coffee to a new level. We buy our coffees direct from farmers at a living wage, which is much higher than what the big corporations might pay. Also, the quality and selection gives a far superior product and experience for our customers.
Amoeblog: When we first talked you mentioned how you had started out with a cart. Can you tell me more about this development and how the transition to store space has been so far?
Todd @ Remedy: I started the cart with my friend Paul Halverson simply because we ran out of money on the build out of the café. I saw that we had this equipment and some water and power and thought, “why not?” So I built a cart from some construction scraps and wheeled it out on the sidewalk a few hours a day. It was a hit, and a lot of fun. We really got to know the neighbors and things were much simpler. With the café we can do more, but more stuff creates more headaches. Ha ha! Overall it was a great experience and the transition to the new space has been has given us a greater capacity to connect with people.
Paul Halverson (Lead barrista & Reggae Disney fan) Top Five:
1) Warren G Regulate
2) Rancid ..And Out Come The Wolves
3) Sigur Ros takk
4) U2 Joshua Tree
5) Michael Jackson Bad
Amoeblog: Coffee is your thing, but you serve a variety of tea also, right?
Todd @ Remedy: Our tea rocks! We are as into tea as we are into coffee. We get our teas from Teance in Berkeley. Amazing people with an incredible passion for tea. We also make some of our own strawberry lemonade as well.
Amoeblog: I really like the current art exhibited on your walls. What kind of art do you project you will have on exhibit over time at Remedy and just how important is it to the vibe of your place?
Todd @ Remedy: Everything we do at Remedy is about artistic expression. The space was designed by myself and some good friends, Mark Samuel and Kevin Reimer. We specifically chose all reusable materials. The wood was from the Old Oakland Army Base, much of the furniture from Urban Ore. We didn’t want to build a coffee shop, but rather create a space. That takes longer but has greater rewards. We want culinary artistic expression in how we make coffee, tea and the tasty products we bake on site daily. With that we also want to feature what others in the neighborhood have created, and Remedy becomes a space where this art expression can be seen. Oakland and the Temescal District has an incredible art scene with top-notch artists. We want to display that. We want people to see and be touched by art. We rotate the art often and feature it on our blog.
Amoeblog: Speaking of, I love that old Pac Bell phone booth you have. How did you get that and what are your plans for it?
Todd @ Remedy: I cannot confirm or deny where the phone booth came from. Ok, Craigslist. The first idea we had was that we needed a old phone booth. We got it before we even started construction. We always have some sort of a plan for it. Right now we want to make people on the cell phones use it; it's fun. Perhaps we’ll put a twitter screen in it, who knows, but it's here to stay. The best idea came from a 10 year old boy who told his mom that they should put these phone booths all over town so we didn’t need to carry our cell phones any longer. Good stuff.
Todd Spitzer (Remedy owner) Top Five:
1) The Clash London Calling
2) Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues
3) Sufjan Stevens Come feel the Illinois
4) New Order Power, Corruption and Lies
5) The Specials The Specials
Amoeblog: I have heard about the cabaret licence or whatever it is called in Oakland that allows cafes to have live music in the evening. Will you soon be hosting live events?
Todd @ Remedy: We are considering hosting live music events, but first we need to negotiate with the other tenants in the building. We want to see live music at Remedy, as it very much fits who we are. We are also considering hosting some music events with our next door neighbors at Flying Yoga. They have a larger space that has had soundproofing put in.
Amoeblog: I like that big long Telegraph Ave & Oakland logo art piece that hangs above the bar area. How important to you is being in Oakland, or "The Town," and how important specifically is it to be located in the Temescal District?
Todd @ Remedy: Oakland is where it is at. I’ve lived in the Temescal District for 15 years and I love it. I don’t want to be anywhere else. The neighborhood is amazing; the people are eclectic, creative, supportive and nice. It's an amazing community. The demographic make up, especially the people in Temescal, make it perfect for a place like Remedy. I think Sunset magazine put it best when they said in July ’09 that Temescal is the new gourmet ghetto, Berkeley’s is so last decade -- how true. I had the giant Telegraph Ave street sign made to scale, only 26 feet long, featuring the Oakland city logo to make the statement that we’re about Oakland, and very proud of it.
Todd Spitzer of Remedy Coffee Amoeblog Interview (2010)