Bite-sized coffee shop enlivens local corner

by Brittany Fasano

 Antonio Zaragoza, Photo Editor
Antonio Zaragoza, Photo Editor

An eclectic little lime-green coffeehouse decorated with distinctive artwork and nostalgic figurines brings life to a once-dead street corner in Mission Hills.

Replacing a dull office building with a drive-up ATM, Meshuggah Shack has won an Orchid, an award from the San Diego Architectural Foundation, for its remarkable “Community Intervention.”

The owner of Meshuggah Shack, John Bertsch, did most of the labor himself by using found materials to revamp the kiosk, the corner and, in a purposeful way, the surrounding neighborhood.

Meshuggah, an expression Bertsch heard growing up, is Yiddish for “crazy” and describes the shop’s central theme with flair.

“I like spaces that are created by buildings and make an impact on public space,” he said.

With a history in real estate development, Bertsch has an obvious interest in urban design and the shaping of public places. By drawing from this experience, he is an open book when it comes to the business functions of Meshuggah Shack.

“Throw caution to the wind,” Bertsch said. “I had never operated an espresso machine before. I didn’t know what was going to happen (when opening Meshuggah Shack). It was expressive of me and out of it will grow bigger and better things. I want (it) to be the seed of something larger, a conceived source of origination.”

Meshuggah Shack has established a friendly, carefree environment that encourages creativity. The outside walls of the building are ornamented with eye-catching artwork while the inside continues to foster the same creative energy.

“I’d love to have more (art)work,” Bertsch said.

He wants the coffee shop to be a canvas, an inspiration to others.

Meshuggah Shack’s drink menu consists of an espresso bar, coffee, tea and assorted sodas. Some drinks are named after different people who have worked at Meshuggah Shack or have been regular customers. Innovation is welcomed and encouraged: As Meshuggah Shack skillfully combines flawless urban design with commercial space, this coffeehouse is truly a work of art within itself.

The sweetest compliment Bertsch ever received was when he was told this Mission Hills “shack” resembled a Mexican beach shack with its relaxing and informal nature.

“If I can evoke that feeling, then that’s a powerful thing,” Bertsch said.

Among the chairs and seating arrangements surrounding the coffeehouse, there is a deck with a porch glider cast under the beautiful trees that envelop the loveseat. Here, Meshuggah Shack’s connection to the city can be realized.

“It’s one of the most magical places in the world,” Bertsch said. “I think people are really hungry for this type of place. It’s not about the coffee, per se. It’s about the streetscape. It’s a social, public forum where neighbors can interact with each other.”

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