The Art and Joy of Cocoa Cinnamon


The Clarion Content’s top-notch culture correspondent and Durham fashion guru, Cady Childs, hit up one of the newest hot spots in town. Cleverly located in the bustling Central Park district, across from Geer Street Garden, kittycorner from MotorCo Music Hall, Durham’s first late night coffee spot in eons, Cocoa Cinnamon, has opened. It is a palace of sensory delights from the floor upward as Ms. Childs explains in her own inimitable prose.

The Art and Joy of Cocoa Cinnamon

by: Cady Childs


Step through Cocoa Cinnamon’s front door on Rigsbee Avenue, midmorning on a sunny day. Stripes of light shine through the wide bright windows, reflecting on a floor patterned with painted, rectangular bands in yellow, crimson, pale blue, mustard orange, and indigo. This work of art, created by Heather Gordon and David Solow Art + Design, sits quietly in an unexpected place, with no need to announce its presence.

Cocoa Cinnamon’s story, from the turning wheels of the bike to its now free-standing form is driven forward by the owners’ desire to weave a cohesion of coffee, art, and history into one caffeinated, cultured mecca, where one lives amidst and within art whether they know it or not.

“The art is embedded within the structure of this place,” Heather Gordon, the artist behind the front room’s floor project, said, “You can’t come here without experiencing it.”

Gordon originally met owners Leon and Areli Barrera de Grodski through their mutual love for a cup of honest, good coffee. She was already a regular patron of the bike, and when she was given the opportunity to contribute her work in such a distinctive medium in the shop, she knew, like most fans of Cocoa Cinnamon, that history and travel would play a huge part.

Artist Heather Gordon at work

Artist Heather Gordon at work

Since the beginning, Leon and Areli’s business structure has been grounded in their idea of culture and community, of indulging in genuine sipping chocolates or a Chinese tea, while having an unexpected, enjoyable conversation with the person sitting next to you. Their aim is to create a coffee house as comfortable to it’s patrons as their own homes would be, while presenting a menu that is an artistic expression all on its own. Cocoa Cinnamon lovers regularly face the dilemma of truly not being able to make up their minds when they get to the counter, and are given a history lesson in the process.

The painting in the front room is a reflection of this philosophy. When someone, literally, walks across it to enter the main part of the shop, they’re playing hopscotch along a criss-crossing binary-coded map of words, discovery, romance, and travel. The colored blocks are a combination of three different texts: part of Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’, a passage from the Persian 13th century poet Rumi, and Ann Druyan’s brainwaves from her recording of the experience of love for the Voyager’s ‘Golden Record’. Gordon worked with Areli to select the colors to represent the binary patterns of these three, ending up with a viscerally stunning work that catches your eye while becoming a vital part of the space at the same time.

These three pieces shown together create a collision of desire and intense self-reflection. Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ begins, “I celebrate myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. . . You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.” Whitman interpreted sexuality and physical love through an organic, innovative verse structure, reading our human impulses as not only a part of living, but also a vital part of nature. ‘Leaves of Grass’ is reflected on the floor in green and light blue, the colors of living earth.

The second text reflected is a poem from Rumi, the infamous 13th century Persian poet. He focused on a theme of unity and peace through many of his works, this one in particular questioning the reader as to where they see themselves naturally: Where is a bunch of roses/ if you would be this garden? / Where, one’s soul’s pearly essence/ when you’re the Sea of God? Rumi can be seen in the yellow and red painted blocks, echoing the colors of Persian spices.

The story of Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan falling in love while compiling a ‘golden record’ of humanity to blast into space is probably as romantic as science gets. While working together to create this record for the Voyager mission, the two found each other and their lives complete intertwined. Druyan wanted to record her brainwaves to show alien life what love feels like. The result was an hour of recorded sounds of excitement, discovery, and connection, reflected in Gordon’s work in yellow and blue. This part of the piece physically forms the imagined outline of the Higgs Boson particle explosion in its shape. The Higgs Boson is an unseen, but often theorized over particle of subatomic matter that has puzzled scientists since the 1960s, called the ‘God Particle’ by many. Simply put, it is assumed to be the double-sided tape between subatomic particles, the very glue of our existence, as it were.

“There were several people involved in getting it across the finish line. I drew out loose lines across, I didn’t want it to be rigid, things bend towards the center and warp a little bit,” Gordon, who is also a liaison for Golden Belt Artists, said. “We marked the squares, and all painted them together.” Gordon credits David Solow, another local artist, for playing a large part in the design and planning process of the work as well.

The philosophy of boosting creativity to it’s highest potential is shown throughout Cocoa Cinnamon’s physical shop and literal practices, and is certainly clear in this piece of work. Other artists have contributed work and built throughout the coffee house’s space, including Jackie MacLeod from the Liberty Arts Group, and more. There are still more squares to be added to the floor’s final product, creeping up the sides of walls and into the main room, but, in our eyes, Gordon and Solow have already created art we can live in, and want to live in, a lot more.

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Aaron Mandel

Aaron Mandel is a writer and an accomplished public speaker. He is the publisher of the Clarion Content. For more than a decade, the Clarion Content has covered Durham’s arts, politics, music, and cultural milieu. From breaking news stories to the hottest local acts, the Clarion Content is on the scene. The Clarion Content published more than twenty distinguished guest columnists and garnered nearly a million views. Mandel is a volunteer for the Durham Mighty Pen Literacy Project and serves as the President of the Board of Sustain-A-Bull Durham, a local small business collective with more than 200 members. He writes regularly on the Clarion Content and has been quietly writing fiction since the 4th grade. Mandel has been published in the Raleigh News and Observer. He has also produced numerous art shows, including, “Durham under Development”. He was a featured speaker at “The State of Publishing” conference. He has presented to Durham Chamber of Commerce, “Chamber U” on the “New Media”. He has also served as the play-by-play announcer for the D.B.L., a Durham youth basketball league. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Religious Studies from Indiana University in Bloomington. An avid policy debater at Indiana and a Nation Debate Tournament qualifier, Mandel was also a member of the New Jersey State Champion two-person Policy Debate Team. He has lived in North Carolina, New Jersey, California, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, Indiana, and Baja California, Mexico.

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