We talk to the owner of community-centric café Kindness & Mischief about the meaning of the shop’s name, the importance of collaboration, and much more.
BY KATRINA YENTCH
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Mo Maravilla
It’s kind of hard to hide how much I adore, respect, and look up to my friend Monique “Mo” Maravilla (she/they), owner of Kindness & Mischief Coffee in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. After meeting them during my days at Blue Bottle Coffee, it was destined that we would share shifts behind the bar together once I joined them in opening up their first coffee shop in 2016.
Previously a stagehand in the world of technical theater, more specifically Cirque du Soleil, Mo later switched gears to return to the coffee world thanks to the brief but meaningful time they spent working at Bricks & Scones beforehand. Focusing all their energy into building the best café possible, Mo attended Specialty Coffee Association bootcamps to make sure the coffee coming out of Kindness & Mischief would be on-par with the rapidly growing specialty-coffee scene in Los Angeles.
Today, Mo is likely working a nine-hour shift in between hosting collaborative pop-up events with local artists and up-and-coming chefs nearly every week. Or, they’re hosting fundraisers to support causes that the K&M staff loudly and proudly believes in. Oh, and they’re usually so busy they’re forgetting to eat in between all of that—meal of choice is rice and eggs when reminded. We chat with Mo about why they left the theater world, the meaning behind kindness and mischief, and the importance of being a Filipina-owned café in the L.A. coffee community.
Katrina Yentch: You were working in theater tech before moving into the coffee scene. What inspired you to move to such an opposite field of work?
Mo Maravilla: It definitely is like a complete 180 from being a stagehand and in live events. Honestly the thing that made me move into it was that I just lost meaning in what I was doing, and my husband asked me when I was happiest, and I said that was when I was working at a coffee shop. Just connecting with people every day and making their lives better. That was it. I was just like, hell yeah I’m gonna open a coffee shop!
What does the name Kindness & Mischief mean, and how is that incorporated into the café’s theme—design-wise, ethos, etc.?
The name is taken from a Mary Oliver poem, and the direct quote is that “I believe in kindness but also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not always necessarily prescribed.” And we kind of just ran with it because that’s truly how I just lead my life, with kindness and mischief and sass and a whole lot of fun.
Especially when I was just getting into specialty coffee and visiting and falling in love with spaces, and loving how much craft and science and love goes into a cup of coffee. I never actually felt like I belonged in a lot of these spaces because at the time the specialty-coffee scene was run by a lot of privileged white men, and I didn’t feel very accepted there as a minority Asian woman.
I always wanted to create a space with intention and inclusivity because that’s the kindness part, and then just a whole lot of fun. That’s where the mischief comes in, and we designed mostly with just, “What do we love? What do we love to see, what do we love to feel?” and that’s just where a lot of the bright color and sass comes. I have hats that have our little fox logo, and on the back it says “Be kind b*tches.” And stuff that’s just like, “We don’t take ourselves too seriously but we do care very much about the product that we’re serving you and everything in between there.”
There’s a lot of competition in the café world in Los Angeles, especially in your neighborhood of Highland Park. How did you try to stand out when you first started, and what makes you unique now?
At the very beginning it was so much about survival and … I like to think of it as such pure intentions, like a newborn baby. You’re just opening this shop with everything you got and everything you just hope to live out in your life.
I wanted to connect with my community and serve the best damn coffee with the utmost kindness, and I think that’s truly what we strove for and achieved. But also, you’re just like damn! You’re right there’s so much competition around us. But we were always more so about collaboration over competition …
That’s the whole idea of collaboration and community over competition. We’re always so down to support another small business and so down to have collabs with them, whether it be having art shows or music shows. Now we have plant people sharing their space with us, food pop-ups, and truly, if you’re some good people and have something awesome to offer we’re always down to talk, try to see what we can do together …
Now, really, I think what makes us most unique is completely embracing who we are, as an Asian woman Filipina immigrant. The whole team is really the heartbeat of the shop. All of us as people of color, standing up for what we hope is right, and what we truly believe is right and being super loud about it. That’s everything that we are now.
You’ve been using your business to donate to nonprofits and organizations as long as I could remember, from day one. What has inspired you to start off fundraising so early, and what kind of advice would you give to other café owners curious or hesitant about fundraising?
We started with negative dollars. I used up all my life savings to open up, and then I continued to work at the opera to fund the shop. We were definitely negative, and I still donated. And that’s truly just because of who I am. I attribute that to my mom and dad. They will give you everything and more if they can do it. If they have it they’ll give you everything they have. It’s one of those things I see a need, and if …. with this whole past year, you have such a pull to help. We just answer that, that call of, “You guys need help. We’re gonna help you if we can. We always make it happen, and people’s generosity is incredible.”
During the COVID frontliner thing we were (giving coffee to frontline workers), people were donating thousands of dollars to it. It was incredible. People also were donating it to us technically, because what we did was sold coffee and donated it to the frontline workers. They were simultaneously supporting us and keeping us alive, so donating to people in need. If you give people an avenue to help they always take it. It’s pretty crazy. People’s generosity is truly overwhelming, especially in our community.
[My advice is] if they’re not ready to do it, don’t do it if your heart’s not in it. The most important thing is that you are genuine about it. It’s not always right for every business. It doesn’t always work and that’s OK. I think your intentions really mean a lot and if you work with the community in other ways, maybe donating is not the way to do it for you, but it was for us!
Who are a couple of people in coffee that inspire you?
Honestly, I always got to shout out my people. Selina Viguera, Umeko Motoyoshi, Bronwen Serna. The last one is Joselyn Flores, she is of Dexterity Coffee. Her spirit is just everything I hope for the future. She is such a light, and gives everything she’s got into whatever she’s serving. You can just feel the goodness coming out of her. If I could be half as good as her, I’ve lived a damn good life.
What is your current favorite music to play at the café these days?
I totally love a lot of Afro-Cuban right now. I’m all up on the poolside summer vibes, upbeat fun Afro-Cuban. I guess not hardcore Miami, but Caribbean is just so fun.