Kaleidoscope Coffee fosters Richmond’s storytelling community

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It was just another weeknight at Kaleidoscope Coffee in Point Richmond. One woman recited a Brothers Grimm story, a man recounted his Burning Man escapades and another woman—a children’s librarian—read a picture book to the audience.

“There’s a big storytelling community in the Bay Area,” said Ruth Stotter of Marin County, excited to share her own story from the Kaleidoscope stage for the first time. “There are festivals and small storytelling gatherings. People of all ages and ethnicities get together to share stories.”

Opened less than a year ago by owner Cassie Cushing, Kaleidoscope Coffee is a coffee shop by day and performance space by night. Every week, the cafe hosts storytelling nights, open mic nights and musical performances.

For Cushing, who worked as a barista while an undergraduate at Arizona State University, opening up Kaleidoscope was a lifelong dream.

“I loved interacting with the customers and establishing a rapport with the regulars,” Cushing said. She rose up the ranks from barista to manager, and then decided to try her hand at roasting coffee. Soon, she began to sell her own roasts.

At the same time, Cushing discovered a storytelling institute at a community college in Phoenix, and was instantly hooked. “The first time I got up and told a story out loud, I had no idea how fun it could be,” she said.

Cushing moved to the Bay Area in 2013 and began looking for a place to set up a shop dedicated to art, community and storytelling.

“Berkeley didn’t have the exact vibe I was looking for, and Oakland was really expensive,” she said.

A friend who worked at Chevron suggested she check out Point Richmond, and as soon as she stepped into the main square, Cushing knew she had found the right place. “It’s such an art- and small-business-oriented town. Everyone is so warm and encouraging,” she said.

Laura Paull, a freelance writer who moved to Point Richmond from San Francisco in June, said she comes to Kaleidoscope for a monthly writing group and to work on her articles. “Kaleidoscope,” she said, “provides a lively yet relaxed artist community. It’s less frenetic here than in San Francisco.”

Kaleidoscope’s emphasis on storytelling is on display throughout the shop: tall bookcases surround the cafe’s upholstered couches and armchairs, giving the space a cozy living room feel.

On a Tuesday evening last week, visitors told stories while the baristas served coffee, wine and beer. Spoons clinked on ceramic mugs, fingers clicked on laptop keyboards, and the hiss of the milk steamer occasionally punctuated the storytellers’ moments of pause—a brief reminder that Kaleidoscope serves Point Richmond as both performance space and a place for the community to gather.

Sitting outside after the event, local artist Russ Wagner said he was impressed with the spot.

“It’s really become a social community destination,” he said.

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