A cafe powered by Ska Skanks its way to Boyle Heights

LA’s ska and punk scene is second to none, and if you were into the DIY scene in the late 90s and early 2000s, East LA and Boyle Heights were the places to be. Of the dozens of punk and ska bands that emerged from the scene, Matamoska stood out for their ultra jumpy and light bilingual ska-punk.

If you’ve found yourself driving the streets and avenues on Friday and Saturday nights, you’ve probably heard a section of honkers blast their hearts out and a bunch of punks huddled together wearing patched Jansport backpacks and marching to the most close. It’s safe to say they were probably walking to a show in Matamoska, and it’s cool to see this band still touring the world playing great music.

Last week they played an acoustic set at Coffee Girasola café co-owned by their tenor saxophonist, Jovan Loera, a café born out of a ska love affair.

Jovan Loera, originally from Ensenada, Baja, CA, has been involved in the ska scene for as long as he can remember. In 2012 he played saxophone in two bands called the Two Tone Boners and India Maria Ska. It was around this year that Jovan recalls meeting Patricia Gaeta Hernandez (Patty), an alto saxophonist from another band called Today’s Special, who fascinated him with her talents: “I heard her play in a concert, and from that moment, I was like ‘Who is this girl? I have to meet her.

Outside the Girasol Cafe. Photo by Laura Tejeda for LA TACO.
Jovan and Patty, co-owners of Cafe Girasol in Boyle Heights. Photo by Laura Tejeda for LA TACO.

Fast forward a few months, and after several attempts to get closer, Jovan went so far as to audition for a band that Patty played for, and their romance began. They started a relationship, went on to play in bands, and years later got married and lived until 2020. Patty had been working for a primarily full-time immigration law firm and was also a freelance videographer with a busy schedule. Before that, she shared that she always had a special relationship with coffee and worked in several coffee shops throughout her young adulthood.

“I grew up with my dad who grew coffee in our garden in East LA. He would have my sister and I help grow the coffee cherries and go through the whole process, including roasting the beans on our comal. I knew every step from planting to picking to roasting. Patty shares.

She remembers drinking coffee as a child: “My mother always thought that chocomil was too sweet for us to have coffee with our breakfast instead.” She knew a lot about coffee, having worked as a barista consultant and trainer, and the pandemic prompted her and Jovan to buy a Rocket espresso Milano R58 and try their luck brewing great coffee to give away to the community.

They brew beans from their neighbors down the street Cafe Picaresca and Lightwave Roasters. Patty shared that she appreciates that Picaresca is a Latino owned and operated business that sources coffee from different regions including Mexico, Guatemala, Kenya, etc., which allows her to offer her customers a variety of freshly roasted beans with varying flavor profiles. . She appreciates their focus on quality and ethical green sourcing. Lightwave coffee holds a special place in Patty’s heart because of its high quality flavor which she has been working with for years, “they constantly push themselves to be better and have won medals in different categories”. She knows their roaster and shared that he takes his job seriously, which shows in their flavor.

A ‘Flan Latte’ inspired by Matamoska’s hit song. Photo by Laura Tejeda for LA TACO.
Matamoska does an acoustic set inside Cafe Girasol. Photo by Laura Tejeda for LA TACO.

Jovan, a daytime construction worker, shared that the Girasol café started as a simple dream: “We said, okay, let’s get a machine and a license and see what we can do!” Patty shared that starting the business was not easy. “Cafe Girasol started as a home business where I bottled and delivered everything. It got to the point where we talked about joining a farmers market, but there were so many fees and permit requirements that I got discouraged and decided to keep selling from doorstep.

She shared that she was also feeling a bit of impostor syndrome. She was afraid of the comments she would receive from customers: “I was so afraid to release my product that I only made my first sale in September 2020.”

After more and more people started trying her product, word of mouth spread and she knew she had something special. She started by delivering tasty sweet pralines, café de olla, lavender and turmeric tea lattes to people all over Los Angeles. One of her favorites was her beetroot and rose latte, which she made with roses stolen from her mother’s garden. In December 2021, she took Jovan to see a location she had her eye on it, and he loved it and jumped on board to support her and sign the rental documents. She had to wait several months to unveil her grand opening, but on July 2 of this year, Patty and Jovan’s dream came true. They celebrated their grand opening with live music, resident vendors and the community.

Jovan shares: “Coffee and culture go hand in hand, and we want to offer this space to everyone. Lo que necesita la gente es un espacio para enseñar la capacity; What what people need is a space to be able to show their potential.“He wants to influence people to think beyond limiting mindsets and build community-generated success. “Aqui en Cafe Girasol, estas en familia, it’s the atmosphere! Here at Café Girasol, you are family. Patty and Jovan shared that the store was born out of a community effort, 70% of their customers are friends, and they couldn’t have done it without the love and support of those close to them.

On August 27, Matamoska joined the community love and played a half-hour acoustic set at their shop. The space was filled with community, family and vendors, including Ajna Cayaholistic consultant and designer, Brete Con Amor. In honor of their set, Patty hosted a special coffee drink, the “Matamoska Flan” latte, an ode to one of their classic and original songs. Patty had spent the previous night making a custard, simmering it into a syrup, and melting it down with an espresso. The latte was creamy and sweet, like the ska tunes playing in the background.

Café Girasol opens its space to local vendors. Photo by Laura Tejeda for LA TACO.
Cafe Girasol proudly uses beans roasted by Latino-owned roasters. Photo by Laura Tejeda for LA TACO.

We spoke with original Matamoska teammate Jose Padilla about his experiences in the ska scene. He was grateful to always represent East LA and the community wherever they play. Padilla shared, “We are more than music. We try to have an impact in different ways. Sometimes I think, “why us?”

He remembers playing in backyards late hours with metal bands in the late 90s because they weren’t as well received in the lineups of punk shows. He is happy to know that ska has always created a space for positivity to flourish and that Matamoska has inspired generations to keep going. Later in the afternoon, the group prepared to head towards Border X Brewing at Bell to celebrate the release of a beer in their honor, the Matamoska lager.

The location on Cesar Chavez Avenue, right in the heart of Boyle Heights, is unique for Patty because she felt it was an opportunity that kept coming. “The previous owners, ‘Grampa’s Ice Cream,’ needed someone to help them with a sublease, and I wasn’t ready.” She then shared that her neighbor Deisy, Of Milpa Grid, had also encouraged her to think about renting the space and she still wasn’t ready. It wasn’t until the last tenant, who owned a meal prep business, asked for help to get someone to take over that she accepted Jovan’s support. They both report that the neighbors have been warm and welcoming.

In a lively and competitive scene in Boyle Heights. We asked Patty why she thinks people should support Cafe Girasol: “A lot of heart, soul and sacrifice has been invested in this dream, and I want to provide a place, a home away from home , which exudes comfort for our community. She described drinking coffee as a ritual, a magic cup to enjoy with loved ones or a pick-me-up that saves us from the midday lull.

As for the projects, Patty and Jovan hope Cafe Girasol will continue to be a space for groups, spoken word, book clubs, movie nights, study sessions, and more. They want to develop a hub for people to connect and enjoy good coffee. “Our store currently shares space with The pigsty (our artist/designer who sells pins and Tie Dyed shirts and Los Angeles caps, Educated Chola, which sells mugs and merchandise with slogans that promote mental health advocacy, and many more. We also share space with musicians like Tony D from The Steadians, Ghostown Records and Matamoska!

They encourage all vendors, artists and musicians who wish to connect to contact them to organize community events.

Café Girasol is open Tuesday to Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Follow them on instagram for updates.

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