When Ethan Ashley moved back to the East Bay in 2008, he wasn't looking to open a coffee shop. Rather, he was hunkering down on a different project, getting an old, run-down West Oakland house back into shape. The house was his, just purchased, and awaited four years of work. Ashley took it on, learning very quickly that coffee is a vital ally in a project of that size, but hard to find on his side of the freeway. The four years he spent building, he also spent driving across town to spots like Subrosa and Awaken, scheming a way to give his own neighborhood the caffeine jolt it needed.
This week, he opens Kilovolt, pushing the tide of third wave coffee into new territory (literally). The café sits inside the office sector of an old warehouse that housed a steel equipment company until the 1989 earthquake. Back when Ashley first spotted the space and tracked down the man who owned it (along with half the property in town) -- Maurice Kanbar, the entrepreneur behind SKYY vodka -- he also talked his way into a sweet deal: free rent in exchange for renovation.
To fund the work, Ashley appealed to restaurant owners, neighbors, and everyone else in the neighborhood looking for a good morning cup. He fronted the other half the money himself, and quickly took up clearing out the old liquor bottles and funny vestiges of an old space that, in the better days, used to thrum and clank.
The work of bringing the spot back to life took about eight months, and it wraps up this week. In flavor, Kilovolt doesn't stray too far -- Sightglass coffee, some Torani syrups, basic pastries -- but in theme, it takes a rather rogue turn. Ashley packages the branding as "the risk of electric shock," which turns up in the café as things like pendant chandeliers comprised of old insulators from high voltage power lines that lived through WWII, and a front sign that looks ripped from a cartoon mad science lab. From all appearances, Kilovolt aims to take defibrillators straight to the heart of the neighborhood.
Ashley has always been drawn to electricity. He is trained in a few trades, carpentry included, but an electrician's work always excited him the most. The name, Kilovolt, also furnishes a kind of continuity with FuseBox, West Oakland's darling of soulful Korean food. Ashley is hoping to open this coming Saturday, pending a few inspections week. Keep an eye on the Facebook page and the café's fantastic website for the green light.
Visit Kilovolt at 1829 Mandela Parkway, West Oakland.