Most locals know Café Mimosa, the boutique French coffee and gift shop located at 395 S. Topanga Canyon Blvd., at the corner of Fernwood. Every day thousands of cars stream from the valley to the coast, zipping past Mimosa’s trellised porches and bubbling fountain in the courtyard, where patrons have been known to relax, people-watch, vibe with neighbors, and value conversation over rushing. Owner and former Parisian Claire Denis serves an inspired breakfast/lunch menu including many vegan and gluten-free treats, but Café Mimosa is far more than a place to grab a latte.
“It’s an incubator, a time machine, a node on a creative ley line,” says artist, poet and Café regular James Mathers.
But you can grab a latte there, and a delicious one, as well as a turmeric-coconut chai with a ghee bullet.
After the six-week mandated closure to slow the spread of Coronavirus, Mimosa reopened with new hours (7a.m.-2 p.m.; 7 a.m.-4 p.m. on the weekends) for take-out and al fresco seating on the front deck.
The quaint, cozy, mismatched French farmhouse furnishings have been cleared out. Instead, the open interior socially distances a limited number of masked patrons waiting to order, and shows off wares of the local creatives. Gone is the self-serve coffee bar, replaced with a big vase with flowers, compliments of regular customer Michael Green.
“People are buying a lot of gifts,” reports Claire Denis, who has had to adapt her business model to pandemic constraints. Her mother’s hand-sewn aprons from France are hot items. She carries Ethiopian artisan textiles and jewelry, essential oils and soaps, Topanga stickers, key chains, bandanas, license plates; books by local poets and authors, including the iconic Children’s Guide to Astral Projection (James Mathers), and Poems from Café Mimosa in Topanga (Jane Marla Robbins).
Claire and her Café have adapted to the necessity of social distancing, but have her sofa-sharing customers? What happened to everybody who nursed a coffee for hours while toiling away on the novel, plotting the revolution, pitching the screenplay, and practicing with the dialect coach? Where are all who sketched and strummed and dreamed, ate delicious food, and sought a moment’s sanity after the morning elementary school drop off?
Certain regulars, for whom the Café meant “home,” are in the wind since the initial closure, and Claire would like to know that they are okay. Others still come in almost every day. How are the Mimosa homies faring during the pandemic?
Lori Precious launched her socially-conscious import-export company Ethio Sky largely on the tables at Mimosa. Her textiles and jewelry feature motifs from tribeswomen of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley. The business model supports the artists as well as their communities by, for example, funding and distributing “aqua packs” to women and girls who struggle to carry heavy loads of water every day.
“Café Mimosa is more than just the caffeine I need to fuel my day,” says Lori Precious. “It’s that Third Place I go to converse with my friends before the isolation of working in my studio. In the early days of the pandemic, when everything was shut down and I was not able to have my morning coffee with my buddies at Mimosa, life felt a bit lOpSiDeD and lonely. …On the up side, I am getting more work done.”
In community-building, the Third Place is the barber shop, church, Café, tavern, library, bookstore or park—separate from the two usual social environments of home (First Place), and the workplace (Second Place). Coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, Third Places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing a sense of place. For many Mimosa patrons, the cafe is that special Third Place.
“Everyone needs a magical mirror to look into to see who they are and the Café for me was the mirror of Topanga … and now I’m missing it horribly,” said musician and editor Tom Mitchell “Having to accept these times of separation is not easy. Staying safe at home is my way of saying ‘I Love You.’ Let’s pray that this nightmare will end soon.”
“I wrote a book at Café Mimosa. With the lockdown, I am busy doing the illustrations phase at home,” writer, filmmaker, and artist Timothy “Pidge” Shay said. Shay and “Mouse” the Chihuahua are Mimosa regulars. Shay shared that his favorite Café Mimosa treats are the French vanilla coffee, the almost croissants and the chicken curry burrito. “I couldn’t have done these oversized paintings or page spreads at Mimosa,” he said. “So the timing has not hindered forward progress on my project.
“At Mimosa Café I’m transported back to Paris and I long for the European lifestyle we Americans have rarely experienced as we all work so hard to survive, said Tanya Starcevich, an actress and local Realtor. ”Mimosa has long been a haven for the locals, where we can listen to poetry, read tarot cards, collaborate and network on projects. I love running into so many friends there—even if it’s just for a fleeting moment.”
“We miss Sundays at Café Mimosa and Claire’s quiche; the relaxed boho vibe of Mimosa and anything baked by Angel in the Kitchen, especially the grilled cheese,” filmmaker and author Coco Blignaut shared.
“Her French living-room style country café is quintessentially Topanga. It is the first place I take out of towners! [During the pandemic] the creative process is more intense, more urgent, because I have no distractions. I am not complaining.”
“Of course I miss hanging out at Mimosa,” poet and playwright Jane Marla Robbins said. “I live alone, but at Mimosa, I have my pseudo-family if you will, and the Café is warm, cozy, charming, even stylish and elegant, with its wild variety of customers, people with brains, or originality, or both, the essence of our Topanga. I’m longing for when it’s safe to return.”
To those who contributed to this article, thank you. And to the many Mimosans who didn’t have an opportunity to connect, you are remembered too. Nothing will say “post pandemic” more than walking through Claire’s front door on a Topanga morning, and sharing a table and avocado toast with a kindred spirit. Be relieved to know that, despite cutting 23 hours of business per week, Café Mimosa is doing fine. Hold tight, everybody. Claire Denis and company will be there when this is over.