Low-profile space is the muse for Temescal coffee purveyor

on December 9, 2009

One could easily wander past the small storefront at 419 40th Street in Temescal and fail to notice it – dismissing the smell of fresh-ground coffee beans as an olfactory hallucination.

The small courtyard, decorated with reclaimed wood could be just as easily overlooked by the passerby.  One might mistake it for somebody’s cozy back patio.

Upon return trips to the neighborhood though, a curiosity about the place might develop.  That’s when coffee lovers will find themselves drawn to the counter where proprietor Catherine Bullimore serves pastries and drinks in a setting designed to be every customer’s momentary hideaway.

The name of the café located at the intersection of Webster Street is Sub Rosa.  That translates to “under the rose” in Latin—an expression that denotes secrecy and confidentiality—and Bullimore used the term as her guiding motif when she opened up shop in August of this year.

“It’s a small space and it’s unexpected,” said Bullimore, 30, who formerly worked as a freelance graphic artist.  “I wanted to keep the design spare and clean but welcoming and warm.”

Bullimore, a resident of Temescal said she designed the place partly as a destination for friends living in the neighborhood.  Like Bullimore, a graduate of California College of the Arts, a growing number of people living in this part of North Oakland are writers, musicians and designers who want unique experiences in their everyday lives.

Bullimore said she began looking at the 120 square-foot storefront years ago and thought its cozy size was almost reason enough to make a go at selling coffee.

“The site was the muse,” said Bullimore, who grew up in Sonoma County but now sees herself living in Oakland for years to come.

After securing a lease, she drafted plans and with the help of her father she created cardboard mock-ups of the floor layout and design.  They decorated the room with Bullimore’s own art and salvaged fir boards and subway tiles.  Since there’s not enough space to sit down in the coffee shop itself, they created the outdoor courtyard space with tables constructed from raw wood and stools made of moss-covered logs.  They completed the atmosphere indoors with a vintage stereo behind the counter, which these days tends to play bands like Black Sabbath, Basement Tapes-era Bob Dylan and Beach Boys rarities.

“It was really a father-daughter project,” Bullimore said.

Coffee beans roasted by San Francisco’s Four Barrell Coffee sells for $2 a cup with lattes going for $3.50.  A variety of pastries from local bakeries such as Hopkins Street Bakery, and Peoples’ Donuts are also on sale daily with varied prices, along with art and T-Shirts designed by Bullimore and local collaborators.

Bullimore said she has found a lot of support in Temescal, which was recently described in a Wall Street Journal article as having gone from “rundown to reborn.”  Friends and strangers alike are flocking to the place as if it’s their own precious secret.

“I feel like I have a village of support behind me,” Bullimore said.

1 Comment

  1. mark on December 14, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    The Temescal neighborhood gets my vote for the most changed area in Oakland in the 15 years that we’ve been gone. Other neighborhoods seem to be going through slow, iterative change, while Temescal seems to be an entirely different place.



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