This is the coffee shop of the future. In addition to being known for flavors like the MC Squared (a green tea-coffee blend) and Gold Rush (Vietnamese-style iced coffee), Contra Coffee also lies in the midst of an all-in-one bookstore, art gallery and a podcast studio thanks to a collaboration with 1888 Center, the first physical home for the OC nonprofit literary arts organization.
Contra’s unconventional approach values individuality, and its owners hope to challenge the perceptions of a traditional coffee shop by drawing influence from their diverse Santa Ana roots and the craft beer community.
“We wanted the social experience of a craft brewery where there is a lot more camaraderie,” said Contra co-owner Paul Del Mundo. “We’re always coming up with different flavors, different drink combinations and formulas. We give ourselves that creative freedom to keep things fresh, new and exciting.”
Del Mundo started Contra with partner Julie Nguyen, who he met in a food science class at Cal Poly Pomona. The company debuted at the downtown Santa Ana Farmers Market in 2015, where sales bloomed.
At Contra’s first brick and mortar, customers can now order from Del Mundo and Nguyen’s ever-expanding menu, which features flavor combinations such as the Dirty Horchata and Princess Peach.
The company’s aims to build its relationships by providing customer service at a personal level. For Del Mundo and Nguyen, this means introducing themselves with a welcoming smile and working to remember all of their regulars by name and drink of choice.
“We slowly wanted to build our customer base. Luckily, people have been loyal since the farmers market,” Del Mundo said.
Though they now have a storefront for their pop-up operation, Del Mundo and Nguyen are always trying to improve and evolve. Drinks listed as “R+D” indicate if a drink is part of Contra’s research and development menu, meaning they are new experiments you can try. Del Mundo and Nguyen put new recipes on the menu each week to get feedback from customers before deciding whether or not to make them permanent additions.
“Our whole career is based on formulation. It is our way for us to express ourselves creatively,” Del Mundo said.