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New Coffee Shop Brews Up Business In The Midst Of Pandemic

Marlyn Gonzalez stands in GEM Coffee, the shop she opened during the coronavi...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: Marlyn Gonzalez stands in GEM Coffee, the shop she opened during the coronavirus pandemic, on May 21st, 2020.

It took Marlyn Gonzalez over three years to line everything up for her business.

She had found the perfect spot off of El Cajon Boulevard, between City Heights and Talmadge. She had gotten the permits, the loans, trained and hired her staff and lined up a roaster. She had finally settled on a name — GEM Coffee.

All she needed to do was open — which was scheduled for late March. And then the pandemic hit.

“It was, oh my goodness, it was very confusing times to say the least,” she told KPBS.

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler , Video by Matthew Bowler

Gonzalez decided to go ahead with opening anyways.

“While we were trying to push our open, a lot of businesses around us were closing so that felt bad in a way,” Gonzalez said. “But then I kept thinking of how hard we worked, and we had our team on board. We were ready.”

Gone was the seating section, the furniture stowed away in the back.

She felt she owed it to her neighbors and her two baristas to open up.

“We were able to do both service and maintain the safety of the public,” she said.

RELATED: Some San Diego Businesses Reopen To Scarce Customers

Marlyn was lucky — as a coffee shop, the transition to take out was easy.

Her goal is to serve quality coffee at reasonable prices and act as a bridge between the working-class City Heights neighborhood, and the gentrified Talmadge neighborhood.

“I see ourselves becoming that anchor to both communities. And hopefully merging those communities, whether there’s activities we can host that are more common in one community than the other. And having two communities join one,” she said.

Business has been steady, she says, featuring a mix of people looking for coffee and flowers to brighten up the homes they’re now confined to.

She has no regrets opening up, while it seems like the rest of the world is shutting down.

“Full speed ahead,” she said, laughing.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.


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Photo of Max Rivlin-Nadler

Max Rivlin-Nadler
Speak City Heights Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover City Heights, a neighborhood at the intersection of immigration, gentrification, and neighborhood-led health care initiatives. I'm interested in how this unique neighborhood deals with economic inequality during an unprecedented global health crisis.

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