New to San Luis Obispo, Kreuzberg, Ca is a coffee shop located on Monterey Street. The shop is open until 2 a.m., allowing students to study in a quiet environment into the early hours of the morning with a cup of coffee or tea. Krisha Agatep – Mustang Daily

Kreuzberg, Ca, a new coffee shop and used bookstore located on Monterey Street, opened two weeks ago. Since then it has generated buzz for implementing a “pay what you feel” structure to Kreuzberg’s first customers — which continued through the week of Nov. 1.

James Whitaker created the space, which replicates his two year experience in Berlin, Germany, after partnering with his old roommate, Chris Tarcon, and three months of planning. He said it is a portal to the hip coffee shops he once read and relaxed at in the neighborhood of Kreuzberg.

“(The ‘pay what you feel’ structure) allowed us to practice and get some systems in place without getting people upset — because you can’t complain if something is free, right?” Whitaker said.

Every element of the shop is influenced by the neighborhood of Kreuzberg, from the hours to the interior. The history of Kreuzberg, however, didn’t always include hip indie coffee shops, Whitaker said.

“It was right next to the (Berlin) wall so no one wanted to live there,” Whitaker said. “But when the wall came down, all these people moved there — young people, talented people, writers, fashion designers, musicians from all over Europe like Amsterdam, Paris, London, and it became this creative hub. When I came back to San Luis Obispo, I wanted to bring a little bit of Kreuzberg with me.”

Whitaker said the two months he spent in Berlin this past summer made him fall in love with it all over again and he decided to translate his love for Berlin into a real space.

“It’s always been a dream to own a bookstore coffee shop, but the Berlin influence made it kind of the way it is now — sort of a non-traditional quirky cool coffee shop,” Whitaker said.

Falling into a category of its own, the now fully open coffee shop and used bookstore caters not only to early-morning risers but also a late-night crowd. The 2 a.m. closing time, Whitaker said, was a decision both influenced by his studying experience at Cal Poly as well as the European trend of staying open into the wee hours of the night.

“When I was at Cal Poly, I used to have to go to Denny’s to study because every coffee shop was closed; it was me and all the depressing waitresses at four in the morning trying to study,” Whitaker said. “So I wanted to make a place where you could come and stay late.”

However, the late closing is tentative and depends on whether customers utilize the coffee shop during the early hours.

“We’ll be open until two as long as people are here,” Whitaker said. “If there’s no one here at 12:30 (a.m.), then we’re going home, but if there are people here studying and hanging out, then we’re open until two.”

Whitaker’s strategy is working so far. Liberal arts and engineering studies senior Pat Robertson, who bartends down the street from Kreuzberg, Ca, said he feels comfortable knowing there’s a spot to relax after he gets off work.

“It’s so necessary — so needed to have a coffee shop open that late,” Robertson said. “As far as bartending, it’s super reassuring to know right down the street after work I can go and actually hang out and have a cup of tea.”

The interior is complete with hardwood floors, couches, chairs, dining room tables and walls covered in bookshelves and contemporary art, which is based on Whitaker’s idea of the atmosphere in Berlin coffee shops.

“When you walk in these doors, I want you to feel like you’re not in San Luis Obispo anymore — you’re in ‘Kreuzberg, California,’” Whitaker said. “You’re in a different place, a different sort of vibe, a different energy.”

Students enjoy the new elements too. Liberal studies junior Sadie Jones said she noticed the difference in ambiance from any typical coffee shop in San Luis Obispo, such as the giant menu projected on a wall.

“What caught my eye was that there was a typewriter with index cards and you can post what you type on a wall,” Jones said. “And there’s funny little quotes and little idioms.”

Jones said she has an affinity for hardwood floors and likes the whole look of the inside and the comfortable furniture.

“It was kind of like a giant living room … where people serve you coffee.”

Perhaps the most striking part of the shop is the replica of a piece done by a well-known street artist, Blu, in Berlin. Whitaker said it’s reflective of the East and West tension in Germany before the Berlin wall came down.

“It was a literal iron curtain in a city looking over the fence at each other,” Whitaker said. “So if you look at these guys, one of them is making an ‘E’ with his hands, the other guy is making a ‘W.’ So they’re kind of pulling their masks off each other and exposing that they’re really the same underneath.”

Not only are students immersed in the atmosphere the coffee shop brings to San Luis Obispo, but they’re also interested in the most collegiate element of all — the books.

Economics junior Avi Kofman is going to check out the shop to see what books he can find and potentially exchange, he said.

“I heard that you can bring a book and take another one,” Kofman said. “I thought that was a cool concept.”

The abundance of books adds an intellectual gravitas that you wouldn’t get without them, Whitaker said.

“I think books, especially used books, have a creative ambiance when they fill up a space,” Whitaker said. “A hot drink and a book are meant for each other.”

Although Whitaker is only sleeping three hours a night, he said it’s the sacrifice he makes for opening a business, at least for now.

“You give birth to this thing, then you have to nourish it, and then eventually it grows up and it takes care of you,” Whitaker said.

Join the Conversation


  1. **WARING**
    The owner instructed employees to “just cut off what was eaten and SERVE IT”!!!!!!

    I am not making this up, just want to make sure that people do not get sick!!!!

  2. **WARING**
    The owner instructed employees to "just cut off what was eaten and SERVE IT"!!!!!!

    I am not making this up, just want to make sure that people do not get sick!!!!

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