The Mestizo Coffee Shop and Art Gallery is almost certainly the only java joint whose main entrance is flanked by the verse of Spanish poet Federico Garciá Lorca and Chicano poet Francisco X. Alarcón.
If your Spanish is serviceable, García Lorca's "Llagas de amor" makes a fine read. It's the final stanzas of Alarcón's poem "Mestizo," however, that provide the best taste of what's inside.
"... my feet recognize no border/no rule, no code, no lord/for this wanderer's heart."
While the coffee shop's address is fixed at 631 W. North Temple, just shy of North Temple's viaduct, the establishment is a work in progress -- a vibrant exercise in marketing that puts community first, and not simply because of its colorful décor.
The Mestizo is a place that wears culture on its sleeve, with pride and for all to see. Latino music percolates throughout, the restroom door is adorned with Frida Kahlo portraits, its bracing colors are refreshing, and a ceramic iguana presides over the cash register from a shelf on the opposite wall.
When wife-and-husband team Ruby Chacón and Terry Hurst opened the shop, they envisioned a simple coffeehouse with art gallery -- the sort of place they would have liked to hang out at during their own youth. Although Chacón would later become an artist of formidable local repute, both grew up in blue-collar families with little exposure to the arts.
Both agreed they wanted the shop to become a community fixture, so solicited the advice of nearby residents in choosing décor. But neither was prepared for how much community input they would eventually accommodate.
Hurst resisted carrying bottled Coca-Cola at first, but then stocked the Mexican brand -- sweetened with cane sugar instead of fructose, as in the U.S. version -- at the request of schoolchildren and construction workers. He also added Chiclets and chocolate to Mestizo's more substantive food offerings, such as Argentine spinach pie, or pascualina ($3.25), and other savory fare.
The shop's social calendar also responded to community suggestions. Mondays welcome open-mic music, while Wednesdays host open-mic poetry in English and Spanish. Salsa dance lessons are on Friday nights, while Saturdays are reserved for lotería, or Mexican bingo. Even the baristas contribute sandwich recipes.
"There's a lot of voice and democracy that's gone into this place. Sometimes it's a little hard to manage," Chacón said. "At the same time, this shop is a community partnership. It's the only way this place is going to work." Hurst concurs. "There's an idea of what you want it to be, faced with what it needs to be."
What Mestizo is now suits its clientele just fine, and then some. "It's like nowhere else," said Alonso Reyna, an 18-year-old student of art and anthropology at the University of Utah who uses Mestizo as a meeting place for friends and a hub of sorts for the Mestizo Arts and Activism Project, of which he's a member. "I can't imagine Salt Lake City without it."
Stephene Allouche, who hails from Bordeaux, France, and works as a commercial attaché for the French government, makes Mestizo a frequent stop between business trips. "It's the first time I've had a great espresso in the United States," he said. "You feel like you're in an intellectual space here, not a Starbucks."
This isn't the first location for Mestizo. Chacón and Hurst first opened at 200 S. 511 West. Hurst said the initial venture was underfunded and suffered from bad timing.
"We feel the pain of the economy like everyone else," he said. "But this is growing."
What » Mestizo Coffee Shop and Art Gallery
Where » 631 W. North Temple, Suite 700.
Hours » Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.