Dear Diary Coffeehouse, a vegan cafe and creative community space, opened on Saturday, April 4, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Keeping in line with official city orders, the Central East Austin cafe is offering only contactless pickups at its location, 1212 Chicon Street, as well as free delivery in the neighborhood. Co-owners Amalia Litsa and Joshua Adrian are also looking into partnering with Grubhub.
“Opening in April really wasn’t a choice,” said Litsa, echoing sentiments from Steamie’s Dumplings, which also opened a brick-and-mortar last month. Given the unknown duration of the pandemic, Litsa didn’t see a better time to open. If they waited, they would “run out of money before things return to the way they were [before COVID-19],” she added.
“We invested a lot,” explained Litsa. “We have loan payments to cover. Realistically, we’re going to operate at a loss for quite a while, so even a weak revenue stream is welcome.”
The shop doesn’t qualify for most COVID-19 relief programs, according to Litsa, as it was not in operation a year ago and therefore can’t show losses. “We’re part of a tiny, unlucky minority of people who finished their build-out, obtained their certificates and permits, and passed all their inspections right as corona hit,” she said.
Dear Diary offers a robust menu of to-go coffee, tea, baked goods from vegan bakery Celeste’s Best, doughnuts from Wheatsville, snacks (Siete chips, mac and cheeze), beer, and wine. Due to the restrictions on dining-in, the cafe is currently offering grocery items, including a large “cold brew bear” (a bear-shaped 22-ounce container of cold brew), loose-leaf tea, milk, beer, wine, and toilet paper (which won’t be a regular offering).
Litsa reported that while the opening was a success (“the neighborhood seems very enthusiastic about our business”), regular business has been slow. “We make enough to pay our barista, which is the most important thing to us,” said Litsa. She noted that other businesses, like the baker at Celeste’s Best, depend on coffee shops for sales. However, the team is using this slower time to collect customer feedback and refine their offerings.
As the team had originally intended for Dear Diary to be a creative space (with art shows and community diaries with writing prompts), they are trying to incorporate elements of this into their current situation. For now, this means drawing illustrations on their packaging, although they hope to host creative online events in the future, and are open to other ideas.
Litsa is proud of the service that the coffeeshop is able to offer the community. “We are all shaping a new economy together, she said. “Perhaps our impact is small — we don’t have the same buying power as H-E-B — but we can help customers avoid leaving their neighborhoods, waiting in line, or getting on a week-long waiting list for curbside pickup.”