EL CENTRO — Customers sipped coffee and exchanged conversation and laughter as they played card games Saturday evening, September 21, at Connection Café. Soft music filled the room as baristas blended/crafted coffee for waiting customers.
“Every third Saturday of the month we have coffee nights where we have live music, games and good coffee,” said Sam Rice, manager of Connection Café. “It is a time for people to come together and hang out.”
The café is open for both First Christian churchgoers and the community but the coffee lovers who patronize tend to be 20-35-year olds, according to Rice. He said the coffee house is a place where coffee lovers can relax, listen to music, engage in conversation, and simply hangout with friends.
The café is a craft coffee shop that offers espressos, lattes, mochas, and cold brew coffee. Volunteer staff also offer fresh pastries that are baked daily, including scones, cookies, breads, waffles, avocado toast, and grilled sandwiches.
Shelbi Bailey, a volunteer barista, was working the busy evening shift. She has worked at different cafés in town and is fairly new at Connection Café, but she confidently creates lattes and designs coffee art.
The coffee house is adjacent to First Christian Church on South Waterman and West Orange in El Centro. It features two areas where coffee aficionados can enjoy their coffee — inside a temperature controlled room and an outdoor patio area with a canopy.
Inside, an elderly couple played cards. Newspapers and magazines were stacked against a wall. On the opposite wall, several pieces of multi-colored paper were clipped on twine with prayer requests written on them. A stack of paper and pens was nearby.
As parents sat sipping coffee outside on the covered patio near a grassy area, their children explored a playhouse. Another customer was busy on his laptop.
As a ministry of the church, the café was designed to connect and become a bridge between the community and First Christian Church. The café has undergone several transitions over the past three years; it initially opened as Anazaó Coffee Nights, then Anazaó Coffee Friday, and now is known as Connection Café.
“We are nonprofit. Everything here is donation-based,” said Rice. “We try to break even to cover the cost.” Any extra money is used to support other ministries in the Imperial Valley. These include Youth For Christ, The Edge Radio Show, College and Career Group, Burning Bush International, and others.
As an added attraction, volunteer musicians were invited to perform live music in the patio area. The Peyton & Liz Duo performed several songs with Peyton Zavala, 18, on vocals, the ukulele and guitar, and Elizabeth Perez, 18, sang duet with Peyton. During their break, Josh Loper sang popular songs and played his guitar.
Peyton comes from a family of musicians. She learned to play the ukulele and guitar at a young age from her father. She also used YouTube tutorials.
According to Peyton, the verse that inspired her to sing in front of people is from Psalms 100:1, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” She is now active with the church ministry at Central Baptist Church in El Centro.
Rice recognizes the importance of music in a coffee shop. “Music brings people together. People love music. Coffee and music, I think, is an excellent way to relax.”
According to Rice, Connection Café’s mission is “Connection. Culture. Community.” It is connecting the community through the coffee culture.