We needed a new working coffee shop.
Although I have several Pleasanton favorites, including Sweet and Savory, Café Main and Peet’s, these spots don’t provide ideal remote-office environments for me.
The café at the now-defunct Borders used to be my go-to spot for a productive working environment and the location served well the members of my Pleasanton-based writer’s group, the Literary Lushes.
Ear-buds in, we’d write thousands of words a day on novels, memoirs, business plans, short stories and nonfiction.
We’d watch over each other’s belongings when one of us needed to visit the "loo" and we’d take critique breaks to support each other’s works in progress. We became friendly with the baristas, Ann Marie and Shawn.
But when Borders went bust, the Literary Lushes were forced onto the streets – or back to our lonely home offices.
Last month, however, one of the Literary Lushes, Grace Navalta, found the newest coffeehouse in town. On our first visit, Grace and I immediately felt that sense of belonging we'd missed.
Located in the Vintage Hills Shopping Center at Bernal and Tawny/Vineyard, CoffeeAli (pronounced “coffee alley”) is a welcome addition to the working-coffee-office scene, not to mention its positive influence on a shopping center that has been a long-standing eyesore.
Yogoholic, Spark Dance Studio, a sushi restaurant, Anytime Fitness and a Martial Arts dojo, which all opened within the past few years in the Vintage Hills Shopping Center, signaled hope for the property’s previous woeful existence. But CoffeeAli helps make the center more of a destination.
In fact, until last month, the only reason I spent money in the Vintage Hills Shopping Center during our 14 years in Pleasanton was to use the coin-operated laundry in 1997, before the appliances in our new house were connected.
CoffeeAli occupies the spot formerly filled by washers and dryers.
Owner Ali Frey said my Literary Lushes and I are welcome to spend entire days working at her shop if we wish. She’ll even clean up after us.
Frey offers a selection of yummy pastries, breads, fruit and beverages, plus the expected assortment of tasty coffee, blended beverages and espresso-based drinks.
Free Wi-Fi and plenty of outlets make the spot worker friendly.
“I even have extension cords if you need them to reach the outlets,” Frey said.
The cafe even welcomes pooches and young kids; Frey provides a bowl of water and puppy treats by request.
“There’s lots of space in here,” she said of the roomy shop, which is dotted with high and low tables, stools and chairs inside and outside.
“And I invite kids to come in. I don’t care if you make a mess!”
A bookshelf provides toys, games and books for all ages. Frey, who has a six-year-old son, insists that toys are washed nightly.
Teenagers frequent CoffeeAli at least as often as toddlers with groups of moms.
During one of my recent visits, a group of girls in dance-practice attire strolled in for drinks and snacks during a break from a summer dance camp at Spark Dance Studio, which is located a few doors down from CoffeeAli in the shopping center.
Only a month after opening, CoffeeAli is already expanding its menu. Frey will soon offer pre-made lunches. She also will fill the walls with work from local artists and host live, weekend-night entertainment.
"I hope to get local acoustic musicians,” she said. “Anyone who wants to play should just email or call me.”
Frey hopes to hold school fundraisers and outreach efforts to benefit the global organization, Doctors Giving Back, which brings clean water and medical services to underdeveloped countries.
"This is who I am,” said Frey of her decision to open CoffeeAli after working as a barista in a downtown Pleasanton coffee shop for many years.
"I always wanted to open my own coffee shop one day."
She didn't expect to lose her long-time barista job for mentioning that wish, however. Not to be deterred, within months of losing her barista job, she found inspiration from a song she sang during services at Pleasanton's Valley Community Church and began pursuing her dream.
Aided by a private investor, CoffeeAli took shape last fall. Frey is thrilled.
“It's what I want to do and it’s what I have a passion for. I am a barista. And it’s mine,” she said with a wide grin.
Well, Ali. I’ve got news for you: CoffeeAli is now mine, too. I’ll be on hand as literary artist-in-residence a few days a week.
Cameron Sullivan is the author of the blog, Candid Cameron.