Chow Bella

Counter Culture Cafe Returns with a Tempe Twist

It seems that everyone's favorite 24 hour coffeehouse is on the verge of a comeback. The Counter Culture Cafe used to offer music, art, and locally-made goods and clothing along with coffee, light snacks, sandwiches, and wifi available at all hours until they were unceremoniously booted from their home on the northwest corner of 24th Street and McDowell Road in the fall of 2006.

Having to pack up after nearly two years, Counter Culture found temporary refuge in the now-departed Paper Heart on 7th Avenue and Grand in Phoenix. So, the biggest surprise (other than the shop's return) is that the formerly Phoenix establishment will be opening at Centerpoint on Mill Avenue in Tempe.

Counter Culture's co-founder, Andres Yuhnke, is clearly excited. "Yeah, we've gotten a lot of positive feedback," says Yuhnke. "Being out and about, people would always ask when we were going to reopen?"

"Now, that opportunity has presented itself to us"

The opportunity comes in the form of the empty shell of the old Islands burger restaurant in Centerpoint and the means to make it happen come via Downtown Tempe Corporation's Mill Avenue Retail Competition.

Looking to pump some life into its sagging downtown, DTC's contest required local small businesses vying for some prime real estate on Mill to submit their business plan earlier this summer for consideration of a prize of free rent for a year.

Andres and his business partners, wife, Mony Yuhnke (original CCC co-founder), Mitchell Hillman (consultant for Fresh & Easy grocery stores), and Brad Wallace jumped at the chance to revive the Counter Culture name.  While their business plan hasn't been officially announced as the winner of the contest (in fact, there have been no announcements at all) and there are still some investors to lock down, the crew will meet tomorrow to hammer out the final details on moving into the new digs.

"We're really excited; it gives us a year to establish ourselves without rent," notes Yuhnke.

Looking at Counter Culture's business plan (provided by Yuhnke), it's easy to see why the DTC and Centerpoint folks should be happy to have the cafe move in. A complete commercial kitchen left behind by former tenants will enable the cafe to move beyond just gnoshing items to accompany coffee to a full menu that includes plenty of vegan-friendly options. Being open 24 hours on the main drag of a college town should serve the eatery well.

Additionally, Counter Culture's ambition extends beyond merely the culinary as Andrew Yuhnke and Brad Wallace also have a stake in the local music scene, having founded Free Sushi Records together. They already have access to a suitable sound system, so there are plans for a performance stage, which will help fill the 6100 square feet that they're moving into. Yuhnke envisions the start of a revival of the lost Tempe music scene that was lamented in the recent documentary, Mill Avenue Inc.

"We'd definitely want to bring a little bit of what Long Wong's was, back to Mill Avenue and to be of service to local bands."

Yuhnke, a former board member of Artlink, also sees the new Counter Culture's proximity to the light rail as a way to bridge what's happening in downtown Phoenix with a rekindling of those downtown Tempe fires. Says Yuhnke, "We already have the connections established to help make it happen."

It's true, too, since in addition to a burgeoning downtown population that has long been seeking establishments with extended hours, it was the original CCC's basement retail space, Downstairs, that helped galvanize the collective of folks that would eventually become Conspire Coffee and Boutique in Phoenix. Echoing that initial effort, Counter Culture also plans to have a consignment-based retail program to get goods by local artists and clothing designers to the people.

Bigger than all of the specific plans is the commitment to being a boon to local culture. Unlike the original, Counter Culture's new home "isn't a 1920s Craftsman house," says Yuhnke, "but we hope to breathe that same spirit and essence into it."

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Jose Gonzalez