Self Care in a Cup
With how well they get along, you’d have no idea that Be’Anka Ashaolu and Jeronica Macey were sisters, let alone flourishing business partners. Together, they built Nirvana Soul.
Replacing the beloved Caffe Frascati after one of its owners retired, Nirvana Soul reflects the warmth of the sisters’ relationship. The duo, sometimes known as “Jeranka,” has transformed the coffee shop from a vintage Italian ambiance to an open space brightened with plants and evolving walls of art. The cherry on top? A bright pink ceiling.
Since she was 22, CEO and cofounder Jeronica has dreamt of building an inclusive coffee shop. “I do believe that everyone has a purpose,” Jeronica encouraged. “And I feel like that every time I’m in a coffee shop; I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be,” she continued.
Jeronica first fell in love with the coffee business while working at Peet’s Coffee in Willow Glen. Over the years and between “real” office jobs, she’s always found herself back at the cafes. Before opening Nirvana Soul, her final stops were at Bon Appétit and the nearby Voyager Craft Coffee—both of which left her with strong friendships and partnerships.
“I do believe that everyone has a purpose. And I feel like that every time I’m in a coffee shop; I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be.” –Jeronica Macey
Meanwhile, cofounder Be’Anka’s career took her into marketing and sales operations, which is why she became the CMO of San Jose’s first Black-owned coffee shop. The people-centered leader explained that because she grew up surrounded by technology in Silicon Valley, she doesn’t think anything is impossible. Her mentality has been essential for the shop’s success.
Jeronica described her sister as “the type of person that is a pusher, in a good way, but…”
“I like to ‘encourage’ her,” Be’Anka cut in.
“ ‘Encourager. Your word!” Jeronica laughed. “She definitely has a ‘can-do-it’ [mentality].” The CEO continued, “I don’t trust anyone more than I trust my sister.”
When Jeronica approached Be’Anka about opening a coffee shop, the CMO’s response was, “Let’s just try! The worst thing that can happen is that we fail. And then we just don’t want to be like old ladies thinking back to like, ‘Why didn’t we just try to open Nirvana Soul?’ ”
When the sisters started their search in 2019 for what would become their second home, Caffe Frascati owners Roger and Caroline Springall were serendipitously looking for new owners. The four hit it off right away. “They really liked us and felt like we were the right people to take over this place, so they wanted to work with us. And they did,” Be’Anka said as she described the various obstacles the first-time owners had to overcome.
For most of their planning process, they relied on Google, starting with typing, “How to open a coffee shop in downtown San Jose?” into the search bar. “Seriously! That’s how we did it,” Be’Anka confirmed.
Since opening in the summer of 2020, they have supported dozens of artists, from SJSU students to an 82-year-old painter. For many creators, it’s their first chance to publicly share their stories and display their work. When choosing what to display in Nirvana Soul’s free, mini gallery, Jeronica explained that “the truth is, it honestly is a vibe. Like we feel if the energy matches Nirvana Soul. It’s such an instinctual thing.”
The only permanent paintings are their two murals: a word collage by Emilio Cortez and an image of the owners’ faces with coffee beans in their hair by first-time muralist Ricardo González Kurszewski.
Be’Anka went on to share that she and Jeronica have built their business with the community and with the artists. She firmly believes that “this business is not what it is without the artists,” who are all people of color. These mutually beneficial relationships have solidified the coffee shop’s spot in the vibrant SoFA District and in countless people’s hearts.
In early August, Jeronica and Be’Anka added comedians, poets, DJs, and musicians to their community. Their Thursday-night-live addition arrived in tandem with their extended hours, which now go until 7pm most days. Their barista and rapper Jordan Melvin (aka “Gatsby”) hosted the debut event on August 6th.
Jordan taking the stage is a quintessential example of the supportive, growth-oriented culture Jeronica and Be’Anka have taken from their childhoods and instilled into the baristas. More than just coffee experts, the owners push their team to explore their passions and take ownership over other parts of the business. “It’s nice to be around people who care about something as much as we do, which is often not the case,” explained Be’Anka.
To name a few examples of these more-than-barista game changers, we have sound engineer Joy Hackett and baking guru Eli Schwartz, who run their music and open mic programs. Leti Castellano is their animator and illustrator, Kevin Crisafulli writes their monthly newsletter, associate manager Mariseth Abat is a featured photographer, and Daniel Rios is their trained opera singer.
“I don’t know if I just was really lucky or blessed,” Jeronica boasted about her close-knit team that hangs out after hours to get food and go thrift shopping. “Our team really gets along, you know what I’m saying? But that’s how it’s always been at every coffee shop I’ve ever been at. I feel like there’s nothing like that,” said the owner, who meets one-on-one with her team on a biweekly basis to check in on their goals and mental health. “They’re doing so much for me to help me live my dream. I want to be able to pour back into them and their dreams,” the coffee queen shared.
The challenges of owning a coffee shop or restaurant are no secret. Few survive their first year. And yet by Nirvana Soul’s 10th month in business, the founders were already scouting out places for their second location.
The team’s drive and community’s support are directly correlated with the success of the brick-and-mortar store that opened six months into the pandemic. The community propels the coffee shop by asking for things that it can’t yet do. Be’Anka explained that “people believe in us so much that people will literally be like, ‘Ok, well, when you ARE roasting, I want you in our restaurant…’ We get that a lot on all kinds of different opportunities.”
Courtesy of Dap Ashaolu, their CFO and head of products, in July the sisters added a roastery and warehouse to their empire; a feat that usually takes years to reach. “I just felt like we kept being in those situations where the doors were opening,” said Jeronica.
From childhood, when they shared their grandmother’s leftover coffee—diluted with water and boosted with too much sugar—to today, the power sisters have only begun chasing their dreams.
“We just don’t want to be like old ladies thinking back to like, ‘Why didn’t we just try to open Nirvana Soul?’ ” –Be’anka Ashaolu