Winter 2021, the peak of the pandemic in the US. Both my boyfriend and I are missing our pre-pandemic routines, which prominently featured working in coffee shops. Riding the bus to an appointment one day, the phrase, “Mitochondria Cafe, the powerhouse of your day” popped into my head. Up to my eyes in cabin fever, I decided to create a pop-up cafe in our one-bedroom apartment.
The first step was to figure out how to make this happen: what materials do I need? How long will it take to plan and build? How can I keep it a secret? Where will I even put it? To that last question, the only logical answer was in our dining room area, so I took measurements of it, and of our furniture, and started planning the footprint.
Since our apartment was older and I couldn’t buy all-new furniture, I tried to channel a cafe in an old house. My mood boards gravitated towards mismatched furniture, plants, and art on the walls. I created loose brand guidelines—kept it simple with a font that I liked and two accent colors.
As I worked on gathering materials I would need, I also started making art for the walls. I couldn’t just call this place Mitochondria Cafe, there had to be some tie-in with the name, and wall art seemed like the easiest way to achieve this. Since my partner is a science teacher, the illustrations would have to be accurate enough to not annoy him. I started by reading about cell functions and copying diagrams, iterating until I had settled on a minimal style. I planned to print them at FedEx’s, and kept the colors to a minimum to reduce print checks.
Once the posters were printed, it was a mad rush to figure out final details: how to foam milk in our french press; what order I would set things up in; gathering coffee, treats, and 5-pound jute coffee bags; and doing as much clean up and set up beforehand as possible. On the day of the event, I followed the order of operations and was done almost exactly when I planned to be. Then all that was left was to deposit my blindfolded partner on the front step and have him count to 20 before coming back in.
Mitochondria Cafe was a success in that my target audience loved it. He had no idea what I had planned, but felt like he was transported to a different space. Despite the chaos in the rest of the apartment, he asked to leave it up for as long as we could. In a winter that didn’t have many bright spots, this ended up being one of them.