Reality felt better than a dream when sisters Jeronica Macey and Be’Anka Ashaolu got confirmation Wednesday that they closed escrow for the SoFA District property.
At long last, they owned a place to open the café they had so long envisioned, a haven for coffee lovers and creatives called Nirvana Soul.
“It’s kind of surreal because it’s been a long time getting here,” Macey, Nirvana Soul’s co-founder and CEO, gushed in a recent interview.
Ashaolu—Nirvana Soul’s chief marketing officer and Macey’s downtown San Jose housemate—had a similar reaction.
“We live together,” she said, “and when Jeronica came and told me, I was like, ‘Is this really happening?’ It’s almost unbelievable because we’ve had so many false starts, and to finally say it’s real, we had to take a step back and then realize it was.”
The sisters plan for a soft opening in the near term and a grand opening in August. Their coffee spot will take over the building that formerly housed Caffe Frascati, the beloved Italian-themed bistro that hosted artists and entertainers to standing-room-only crowds.
The idea for what would become Nirvana Soul began a little over a decade ago when Macey—having tasted coffee at dozens of places across the country as a barista, manager and coffee consultant—got an itch to one day open up a café of her own.
When she shared her dream with Ashaolu—who spent most of her career as a marketer at a tech company—it began to feel more and more within reach.
But the possibility really began to take shape once Macey moved back home to San Jose in 2018. From there, it wasn’t long before the sisters took the plunge as entrepreneurs.
Ashaolu and Macey initially put in an offer on Caffe Frascati—located at 315 S. First St.—in May 2019, but were unable to reach a purchase agreement.
That was merely a bump in the road for the dynamic sister act, as they time and again overcame numerous obstacles to reach this point. From last year to now, Ashaolu and Macey looked at nearly a half-dozen other properties. While some were appealing, none could match the distinct vibe of Caffe Frascati.
“This was definitely our dream destination, and it really did come down to timing,” Macey said. “Caffe Frascati was the first shop we looked at because of the culture they built there. The music and the art is something we knew we always wanted to incorporate into Nirvana Soul. We knew if we could make this happen, it would be perfect.”
It took 15 months for Ashaolu and Macey to acquire the property, a journey that was filled with plenty of setbacks. However, the sisters gained a loyal following by being totally transparent throughout the whole process on their social media channels.
“We’ve been steadfast from the beginning,” Ashaolu said. “The guiding doctrine for us is to never give up and keep on doing the hard things.”
The low point came around three months ago, when Ashaolu and Macey ran into a situation with their lender and Small Business Administration.
“We thought we had hit a wall that was almost impossible to climb,” Ashaolu said. “We didn’t think we had anywhere to turn. Whatever happened, we were determined to still make it through, but realizing our dream would just have to happen farther down the line than what we had originally thought. But we had a conversation with our mom, and she said, ‘Of course I’ll take care of it.’ Just like that, we kept moving forward.”
Ashaolu and Macey said Nirvana Soul promises to be a place of peace, restoration and inspiration. Macey came up with the name because nirvana means paradise and the sisters consider themselves to be a soulful group.
In an ironic twist to this story, Ashaolu rarely drinks coffee—but not because she doesn’t like it. Ashaolu happens to be caffeine-sensitive, so she sticks with low-caffeine or caffeine-free tea—a big reason why Soul Nirvana has tea on its menu.
Even though Macey started dreaming about opening a coffee shop a decade ago, the seed was actually planted for the sisters at a much earlier age.
“Back in the day, our great grandmother would treat us to her leftover coffee every morning we spent growing up with her,” Ashaolu wrote in her blog. “She’d drink her cup of Folgers leaving us just enough to fill it back up with water, add way too much sugar, and drink it all together. This was our ritual. Just an old lady and three kids having the sweetest, watered down cup of coffee to start our day. It was perfect. Probably a little inappropriate in retrospect. But still one of the fondest memories we share as siblings.”
It’s no wonder when the sisters think of coffee, they have feelings of comfort and calm.
“Now,” Ashaolu said, “we want to create that same type of feeling for other people.”