When Hurricane Maria struck their home in Puerto Rico in September 2017, Jaime and Natalie Arraya looked past the destruction and saw an opportunity.
They packed up their 9-month-old son, Ben, and came to Columbus, where they stayed with Jaime’s longtime friend Jeshua Perez before finding their own place.
Now, the Arrayas and Perez are opening their own specialty coffee shop in north Columbus: Cafe Motif.
“That’s what we were planning on doing at home, opening our coffee shop,” Natalie said. “But after the hurricane everything shut down so we came here. And we saw an opportunity to just do what we wanted to do.”
Jaime, 31, said he is shooting for an opening date of June 17, dependent on inspections and if the team can ready the space in the middle of the Old Town development.
They have been working to curate the cafe since last April, when they first contacted realtors.
Natalie, 30, persuaded her husband to pursue the business venture.
“She was the one who said ‘there is room for it in Columbus, I think there’s nothing like it here,’” Jaime said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to dive into such a project in a new place.”
The idea was simple: to serve exceptional coffee, every day.
The cafe will serve coffee brewed several different ways: drip coffee, espresso, pour-over and cold brew, and each of those coffees will be experienced differently. There won’t be any caramel syrup or sugar-laden sprinkles here.
“Usually the person who orders pour over plans on sitting down,” Jaime said as he demonstrated pour over technique. “Most of the time he plans on sitting down, he plans on enjoying the coffee. If not, he’ll most likely order the drip coffee to go or espresso which is quicker. But someone who orders pour over specifically, this is ‘pay attention to me coffee,’ ‘sit down and talk about me with your date’ coffee.”
Jaime said the pour-over is one of the things he’s most excited about.
“We’ll usually have the most interesting coffee in pour-over because the brew method allows you to enjoy all the subtleties. If anyone wants to nerd out about coffee, the bar is the perfect spot,” he said.
The cafe owners have partnered with Intelligentsia, a coffee roasting company based in Chicago with coffee bars and training locations in six metropolitan cities nationwide, including Atlanta. Intelligentsia buys its coffee beans direct from growers in countries in Latin America and Africa.
Jaime said Cafe Motif will be the only ones serving Intelligentsia in Muscogee County.
“They’re one of the biggest pioneers in specialty coffee. They’ve been working on sourcing really good coffee and roasting it since the 1990s. Anything we need, they hook us up in 24 hours,” Jaime said. “All of our offerings will be from them, but fortunately since their products are so lovely, we’ll have different coffees for a different brew method.”
Right now, those who order espresso will be served Intelligentsia’s Black Cat Classic Espresso, which this season is a blend of coffee from Brazil and Columbia, while those who order drip coffee will receive El Diablo Dark Roast, coffee that is sourced from Peru currently. Columbia Tres Santos limited release is currently being used for Cafe Motif’s pour over, which includes a flavor profile of citrus, tropical and honey.
The cafe will also be serving cold brews, pastries and other on-the-go beverages until the kitchen gets up and running. They will also be selling bags of coffee beans and will grind the beans for those who don’t have a coffee grinder at home.
“We’ll be able to tell you if (a bag) was roasted this week or two days ago,” Jaime said. “As we get used to the schedule ... we’ll be able to tell people for example if you want to buy retail, Thursday is the day because we get coffee Thursday roasted two days ago, so people can get their coffee as fresh as possible.”
Perez, 27, has lived in Columbus since 2004, but lived in Puerto Rico briefly as a teen, where he met and became friends with Jaime. He moved back in 2010 when he was 18.
“Throughout the years, even though I was in the states and he was in Puerto Rico, we may not see each other for a year but still hit it on, we’re that close,” Perez said.
He will be the chef at the cafe, working to create simple, fresh, aesthetically pleasing menu items that pair well with the coffee.
“I’ve always had a passion for cooking, I’ve always wanted to be a chef since I was a kid,” Perez said. “We’ll just have a small, simple seasonal menu so we’ll change it up. Just like with his coffee, the food is a creative outlet too so we’ll have special dishes that we come up with and put out.”
The team has put as much thought into the design and aesthetics of the shop and its brand as they have the coffee.
Jaime has a bachelor’s degree in painting, and had a friend help him create the minimal, simple logo that can be used as a pattern itself in addition to a standalone word.
“Motif is basically like a dominant element in a music piece or in an art piece,” Jaime said.
“So ‘Motif,’ we liked it because it was short, simple, clean, and also because our pattern or our predominant element would be exceptional coffee, constantly and consistently brewed flawlessly.”
Along with serving a flawless product, Jaime said he hopes the concept and the offerings continue to evolve and become more refined.
“We feel that coffee should be an experience. There are so many beautiful coffees that everyone needs to try — food pairing with coffee is possible and I think we want to kind of expand on that, so when people come here everything is made with intention,” Jame said. “Every day it grows and everyday we think of something that we can add to it, and I think it’s going to be like that the entire time. Not only do you want to keep the space exciting for our customers, but we want to keep it exciting for us.”
He also doesn’t want to be lumped in with other coffee shops.
“People will probably say ‘Oh, it’s just a coffee shop.’ We need to make sure we eliminate the ‘just’ from the equation,” he said.