Three teenagers, one being pulled by a black lab on a skateboard, approach a tent stationed between weathered RVs on Brighton Avenue in Bolinas, California, a tiny coastal community in the North Bay Area. The tent looks like it could have been built in Christopher Robin’s backyard, covering a number of pots, kettles, and cups. A small wood bench sits just outside. There’s a general excitement and mystery to the operation, like stumbling upon a rare old album at a flea market. Rauri Mikai, a 36-year-old who’s lived off and on in Marin County for the last 20 years and spent a few summers in Bolinas as a kid, pours near-boiling water onto ground coffee behind a table while the teens ask him about his business, Mikai smiling through his thick beard all the while.
Mikai says Bolinas is where he first felt the inspiration for his coffee and chai pop-up, which he’s yet to name. But when he first set up on the liminal space of a private property near the beach, neighbors waffled between excitement and anger. Miaki remained committed, though, to what he saw as the perfect place to engage with the community of his chosen home. And those irate neighbors and local law enforcement have seemingly given him the go-ahead now that he’s moved his operation further along Brighton Avenue. The coffee won’t necessarily blow you away, nor will it be particularly easy to find Mikai (unless you head to the Bolinas Jetty on the right weekend). But visiting his makeshift coffee shop is to witness something special: individualism in pursuit of communalism, occupation as demonstration. At least, that’s what Mikai purports. “I’m into social enterprise,” he says. “I want to encourage people to do what they want to do.”
Selling coffee illegally — which, to be clear, is what Mikai is doing — was never going to be all smooth sailing. The pop-up initially launched at a local park for just a few hours before one of Mikai’s friends, who works for the park, let him know his operation would never fly at that location. Shortly after, in late May 2022, he set up at the beach launch at the Bolinas jetty. Within a few days, the property manager came to see him outside the vacant beachfront house. Though AirBnB guests at the sprawling home seemed excited about his coffee pop-up, he knew it was a temporary installation. Neither were bad locations, Mikai says, but not promising for long-term installments. “There was a discrepancy about where the property line was,” Mikai says. “But that’s no longer a part of my story.”
At his current location, where he’s been for three weeks, Mikai says he’s pulling in hundreds of dollars a day selling just three items: coffee, chai, and spiced oatmeal. The coffee comes from Equal Exchange, a company with strong political ties born from 1986 Nicaraguan importing, and Mikai sells both pour overs and cold brew. He makes the chai from scratch, then cooks his oatmeal in the same vessel. Cardamom, chai, and black tea are the main ingredients for his rendition of the drink, a recipe he is always tinkering with as he goes. Mikai makes coconut milk from scratch, too, derived from coconut shavings and water in a blender. The pulp from the coconuts then is mixed into the oatmeal after squeezing the milk, which is fine since none of the milk on the market fit his hopes for flavor and simplicity of ingredients. The name, of course, is in flux as he feels out what is working and what isn’t. “When I started it was just drip or pour over, so I called it Hypervious Drip,” Mikai says. “But now that the chai is more than half of what I’m doing, I’m considering Chai Striving.”
If it seems odd this operation has gone on with zero permitting, it’s because it is. But Mikai doesn’t seem concerned, and, frankly, neither does local law enforcement. A representative for the Bolinas Community Public Utility District (BCPUD) says no complaints have come their way, though they had heard some pushback about the pop-up through the grapevine. A local sheriff came by and said the new operation was “clearly not” creating a traffic hazard — shortly after, law enforcement came by to say hi and ask how business was going. George Krakauer, Fire Chief of Bolinas Fire, on the other hand, calls any issues “small town drama” and offered no further comment. Mikai says one main antagonizer was still visiting him from time to time, but recently the two worked it out. “There was controversy surrounding my first location,” Mikai laughs. “I’ve moved to the street, though, and it seems a lot less controversial.” The pushback has seemingly come and gone, like a gentle wave on the shore.
Now that the debates are in the rearview mirror, Mikai wants to hold down his Bolinas reputation while trying out new locations. While he’s not on social media, he encourages customers to find him on the weekend or to reach him via email. He wants to keep the good vibes while expanding what he’s capable of. “Day in and day out a lot of energy goes into being here,” he says. “But I’ll keep trying to make weekends here.”