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A Ska-Powered Coffee House Skanks Its Way To Boyle Heights

The ska and punk scene in Los Angeles is unrivaled, and if you were into the DIY scene in the late 90s and early 2000s, East L.A. and Boyle Heights were the places to be. Of the dozens of punk and ska bands that came out of the scene, Matamoska stood out for their ultra-bouncy and light-hearted bilingual ska-punk.  

If you found yourself driving through the streets and avenues on Friday and Saturday nights, you’ve probably heard a horn section blowing their hearts out and a group of huddled punks wearing patched-up Jansport backpacks and walking to the nearest backyard gig. It’s safe to say that they were probably walking to a Matamoska show, and it’s cool to see this band is still making their way around the globe playing great music. 

Last week, they played an acoustic set at Cafe Girasol, a coffee shop co-owned by their tenor saxophonist, Jovan Loera—a coffee shop born out of a ska love story. 

Jovan Loera, originally from Ensenada, Baja, California, has been involved in the ska scene for as long as he can remember. In 2012 he played saxophone in two groups called the Two Tone Boners and India Maria Ska. It was around that year that Jovan recalls meeting Patricia Gaeta Hernandez (Patty), an alto saxophonist for another band called Today’s Special, who entranced him with her skills, “I heard her play at a show, and from that moment, I told myself ‘Who is this chick? I have to meet her.”

Outside Cafe Girasol. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.
Jovan and Patty, co-owners of Cafe Girasol in Boyle Heights. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.

Fast-forward some months, and after several attempts to get close, Jovan went as far as auditioning for a band Patty played for, and their love story began. They began a relationship, kept playing in bands, and years later found themselves married and living life until 2020 hit. Patty had been working for an immigration law firm primarily full time and was also a freelance videographer with a busy schedule. Before that, she shared she had always had a special relationship with coffee and worked at several coffee shops throughout her young adulthood. 

“I grew up with my dad growing coffee in our backyard in East L.A. He would ask my sister and me to help cultivate the coffee cherries and go through the whole process, including roasting the beans on our comal. I knew every step from planting to picking to roasting.” Patty shares. 

She remembers drinking coffee as a kid, “My mom always thought chocomil was too sweet so that we would have coffee with our breakfast instead.” She knew a lot about coffee, having worked as a consultant and barista trainer, and the pandemic moved her and Jovan to purchase a Rocket espresso Milano R58 and try their luck brewing some good coffee to provide to the community. 

They brew beans from their neighbors down the street Picaresca Cafe and Lightwave coffee roasters. Patty shared that she appreciates that Picaresca is a Latino-owned and operated company that sources its coffee from different regions, including Mexico, Guatemala, Kenya, and more, which allows her to offer her customers a variety of freshly roasted beans with diverse flavor profiles. She appreciates that they focus on quality and ethical green sourcing. Lightwave coffee holds a special place in Patty’s heart because of its high-quality flavor she’s worked with for years, “they constantly push themselves to be better and have won medals in different categories.” She knows their roaster and shared that he takes his job seriously, which shows in their flavor. 

A 'Flan Latte' inspired by Matamoska's hit song. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.
Matamoska doing an acoustic set inside Cafe Girasol. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.

Jovan, a construction worker by day, shared that Cafe Girasol started as a simple dream, “We said, alright, let’s get a machine and a license and see what we can do!” Patty shared that beginning the business was not easy. “Cafe Girasol started as a home business where I would bottle everything and deliver. It got to the point where we talked about joining a farmers market, but there were so many fees and permit requirements that I got discouraged and decided to continue selling from home.” 

She shared she also felt a little bit of imposter syndrome. She was afraid about the feedback she would receive from clients, “I was so scared to put my product out there, I didn’t make my first sale until September of 2020.” 

After more and more people began trying her product, word of mouth spread and she knew she had something special. She started by delivering some tasty sweet praline, café de olla, lavender, and turmeric tea lattes to people all over Los Angeles. A customer favorite was her beetroot rose latte, which she made with roses stolen from her mother's garden. In December of 2021, she took Jovan to look at a location she had her eye on, and he loved it and jumped on board to support her and sign the leasing paperwork. She had to wait several months to unveil her grand opening, but on July 2nd this year, Patty and Jovan’s dream came true. They celebrated their grand opening with live music, resident vendors, and the community. 

Jovan shares, “coffee and culture go hand in hand, and we want to provide this space to everybody. Lo que necesita la gente es un espacio para enseñar la capacidad; what people need is a space to be able to show their potential.” He wants to influence people to think beyond limiting mindsets and develop community-generated success. “Aqui en Cafe Girasol, estas en familia, thats the vibe! Here at Cafe Girasol, you’re with family.” Patty and Jovan shared that the shop was born out of a community effort, 70% of their clients are friends, and they would not have been able to succeed in this without the love and support of their loved ones. 

On August 27th, Matamoska joined in on the community love and played a half-hour acoustic set at their shop. The space was filled with community, family, and vendors, including Ajna Caya, a holistic consultant, and designer, Brete Con Amor. In honor of their set, Patty curated a special coffee drink, the “Matamoska Flan” latte, an ode to a classic and original song of theirs. Patty spent the previous night making a flan custard, simmering it to a syrup, and melting it with espresso. The latte was creamy and sweet, like the ska tunes playing in the background. 

Cafe Girasol opens their space for local vendors. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.
Cafe Girasol proudly uses beans roasted by Latino-owned roasters. Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.

We spoke with original Matamoska bandmate Jose Padilla about his experiences in the ska scene. He felt grateful to be still representing East L.A. and the community everywhere they play. Padilla shared, “We’re more than music. We’re trying to make an impact in different ways. Sometimes, I think, “why us?” 

He reminisces that he remembers playing in backyards at late hours with metal bands in the late 90s because they weren’t as welcomed into punk show lineups. He’s happy to know that ska has always created space for positivity to flourish and that Matamoska has influenced generations to keep going. Later that afternoon, the band was getting ready to head to Border X Brewing in Bell to celebrate the release of a beer in their honor, the Matamoska lager. 

The location on Cesar Chavez Avenue, smack dab in the middle of the heart of Boyle Heights, is unique to Patty because she felt it was an opportunity that kept presenting itself. “The previous owners, ‘Grampa’s Ice Cream,’ needed someone to support with a sublease, and I wasn’t ready.” She went on to share that her neighbor Deisy, Of Milpa Grille, had also encouraged her to think about leasing the space and she still was not ready. It wasn’t until the latest tenant, owner of a meal prep company, requested support for someone to take over that she agreed with Jovan’s backing. They both report that neighbors have been warm and welcoming. 

In a busy and competitive scene in Boyle Heights. We asked Patty why she thinks people should support Cafe Girasol, “A lot of heart, soul, and sacrifice went into this dream, and I want to provide a place, a home away from home, that exudes comfort for our community.” She described coffee drinking as a ritual, a magical cup to enjoy with loved ones, or a pick-me-up that rescues us from the midday lull. 

As for plans, Patty and Jovan hope Cafe Girasol continues to be a space for bands, spoken word, book clubs, movie nights, study sessions, and more. They want to develop a hub for people to connect and enjoy great coffee. “Our shop currently shares space with El Pigsty (our artist/designer who sells pins and Tie Dyed shirts and Los Angeles caps, Educated Chola, who sells mugs and merch with slogans that promote mental health advocacy, and many others. We also share the space with musicians like Tony D from The Steadians, Ghostown Records, and Matamoska!”

They encourage any vendors, artists, and musicians who are interested in connecting to reach out to make community events happen. 

Cafe Girasol is open Tuesday - Sunday - 7:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Follow them on Instagram for updates. 

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