Cosmos Cafe offers music and urban flair

by Ashley Williams

03_26_13_Features_CosmoCafe2_AWA tornado that would give Toto flashbacks swept through the metropolis. It scooped up the downtown vibe, mixed it with some organic coffee and dropped it in the heart of La Mesa.

Founders Patrick Hoz and Paul Johnson thought it would be an exciting challenge to bring an urban cafe to East County. The two, along with new owner Ari Bejar, crafted a successful business that has been adopted by the community.

Cosmos Coffee Cafe looks like an extended art piece—it’s humble on the outside, but pulled together on the inside. Bright walls and blond, wooden floors give a lively feel. Couches in the front face big windows looking out at the street. There is bar-style seating at high counters around the perimeter for those sitting alone and bigger tables to accommodate groups of two to four. I wouldn’t recommend coming here with a large group because space constraints and the size of the round tables would make it difficult to bring everyone together.

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During the times I’ve visited Cosmos, service has been on the slow side. The cafe’s laid back vibe makes it perfect for catching up with a friend, but don’t come here if you are in a rush.

The caramel macchiato was the sweetest I’ve ever had, but it was delicious. Just be warned that if you’re accustomed to a more subtly sweet macchiato, this isn’t what you’ll get. Unfortunately, the chai tea latte wasn’t quite as spicy as I like, but the Mexican hot chocolate was able to pull off a spicy-sweet taste.

In regards to food, the menu is fairly basic. Pastries, bagels, sandwiches, soups and salads are the bulk of the lineup. I ordered the most adventurous item I could find on the menu: a toasted bagel with avocado, toasted almonds and organic alfalfa sprouts. I can’t make much of a comparison because I’ve never eaten anything quite like it, but I’d say it falls into the average category as far as semi-adventurous food goes.

I’ve been to Cosmos several times in the last few months, and it’s not the average-tasting food and drinks that brink me back. Going to Cosmos is more about the destination than what’s consumed there.

The wall space doubles as a gallery for local artists, whose artwork is rotated every few months. I appreciate the artistic motif felt throughout the cafe. Even the bathroom walls are painted with captivating images that look like they’re modeled from modern Cartoon Network shows.

Live performances are also incorporated into the cafe’s emphasis on art.  There’s an open mic night at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, a jazz band on Fridays and performances by various musicians on Thursdays and Saturdays. Stay up-to-date with who will be playing on any given night by “liking” Cosmos on Facebook.

The friendly staff is also an integral part of the Cosmos experience.

“We try to be friends with customers more than anything,” Cosmos employee and San Diego State multimedia art senior Julia Stine said.

The employee dress code is much more relaxed than it is at many chain coffee shops, which adds to the, “Hey, those guys and gals behind the counter are just normal people that I could see myself hanging out with” vibe.

The fact that they’re in uniform could easily escape the passive customer, but employees are discretely unified by unique shirts that all have the cafe’s name and logo on the back. One looked like an old-school bowling league shirt and another was a black, scoop neck shirt that resembled something that could be found at Forever 21. My personal favorite was a green T-shirt that read “No hablo Starbucks.”

Stine described Cosmos as “a friendly, open place for whatever you are doing – reading, studying, talking.”

Stine said before working at Cosmos, she was a regular customer. She went on to say she made several friends just from hanging out at the cafe.

One of the most unique aspects of Cosmos is it only sells coffee that’s certified as fair trade. Also, both its coffee and espresso is made with certified organic beans. Cosmos coffee is supplied by San Diego-based and family-owned Cafe Moto.

According to Cosmos’ website, the owners “are infusing their own philosophies about recycling, eco-friendliness, community activism and (are) using local ingredients.”

This attitude of consciousness is demonstrated by Cosmos’ attempt to locally source more of its ingredients. The pastries are made by a sustainable baking company called Sweet Cheeks and the bagels are supplied by La Mesa’s Gold Coast Bagel Co.

While the idea of bringing an artsy, globally conscientious cafe to East County may have been a risky venture, Cosmos has become a successful La Mesa staple by intertwining itself with the community. Local food, local talent and a worldly flair have become the perfect addition to La Mesa’s main drag.