The plan began percolating in early 2017, when UMBC entrepreneurship professor Gib Mason ՚95, economics, presented a challenge to his Innovation, Creative Problem-Solving, and the Socialpreneur class. Local business and community groups had asked UMBC for ideas on how to better connect the University and its surrounding communities. That class assignment evolved into a student-led enterprise that could benefit UMBC and its neighbors for years to come.
After more than two years of planning, construction, relationship-building, and first-hand experience with the ups and downs of starting a business from scratch, the project has become a reality. The doors of OCA Mocha—a coffee shop and community gathering space in downtown Arbutus—opened at 6 a.m. on November 4, 2019. More than 100 students, UMBC faculty and staff, and members of the community attended a grand opening celebration that afternoon.
From class project to brick and mortar business
Student co-founder and recent UMBC alumna Krishna Gohel ՚18, biological sciences, called the grand opening “a dream come true.” When the project began in the spring of 2017, she and her classmates “knew UMBC needed something…and that the surrounding communities needed something…[and] we realized that [we] needed the same thing: unity.”
Gohel called OCA Mocha “the missing piece of the puzzle,” a sentiment expressed repeatedly during the grand opening festivities.
Michael Berardi ՚19, media and communication studies, student co-founder and current OCA Mocha general manager, noted that “dozens of minds” helped conceive of OCA Mocha “and hundreds of hands have touched this project.” He reflected, “It’s truly been incredible.”
Berardi and other speakers told the assembled crowd about OCA Mocha’s roots as a place where members of the UMBC and local communities could gather. This new space is now a hub for them to connect with and learn from each other, enjoy some coffee, and attend university- and community-sponsored events. It all centers around the unique core vision for OCA Mocha—creating a university-community relations effort located not on campus, but in the community.
The OCA Mocha team worked to refine its business plan and to transform commercial space that the University leased on East Drive in Arbutus. What began as an empty shell full of potential became a warm, welcoming space with a coffee bar, a community meeting room, and a stage for live music, open mic nights, and other entertainment. The space also includes a gallery for rotating art exhibits by members of the UMBC and local communities.
Renovations began in March 2019, with Joe Regier, executive director of UMBC Transit and community connections, serving as UMBC’s on-site lead and liaison with the construction crew. The team sought to support the community by using local contractors and vendors whenever possible.
The wooden detailing on the coffee bar was created by craftsmen Michael McAuliffe and Bill Carter ՚98, interdisciplinary studies. Like so many others in the community, they donated their time and talents to the project. OCA Mocha partnered with Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company as its sole coffee supplier because of the company’s commitment to giving back to its local community and to supporting efforts to preserve the Chesapeake Bay.
Where coffee meets community
OCA Mocha’s tagline, “Where coffee meets community,” speaks volumes. Bettina Tebo, president of the Greater Arbutus Business Association, is one of the project’s earliest supporters. At the grand opening event, she called OCA Mocha “just the beginning of the amazing things that can happen from this relationship…and from the connections that we’re building.”
Vrinda Deshpande ՚20, biological sciences, UMBC Student Government Association (SGA) president, said OCA Mocha is “a very special place to be”—an example of the “power that [students] have to make change.” SGA has provided funding for the project and plans to use the community meeting room for meetings and programming.
UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski told the crowd, “I don’t know when I’ve seen this kind of excitement.” He noted, “we believe in southwestern Baltimore County,” calling OCA Mocha “another step in building the partnership we’ve had for 50 years.”
Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski, Ph.D. ՚17, public policy, presented the OCA Mocha team with a citation that reads, in part, “Your determination in creating a place where the community of Arbutus can repose and meet while further advancing the overall aesthetic of the community is greatly commendable.”
The team also received a resolution from the Baltimore County Council, presented by staff for Councilman Tom Quirk, “extend[ing] its respect, admiration, and sincere congratulations to OCA Mocha upon their grand opening.” Maryland General Assembly District 12 Senator Clarence Lam and Delegates Terri Hill and Jessica Feldmark, and District 44B Delegate Pat Young, also attended the celebration.
Wrapping up the formal program, student co-founder Deep Patel ՚19, biological sciences and financial economics, who is now a co-owner of the private investment group that runs the coffee shop, led a ceremonial ribbon-cutting featuring members of the OCA Mocha team, UMBC and community leaders, and public officials.
The day of firsts continued into the evening as the SGA Senate convened its weekly meeting in the community meeting room.
Patrons viewed the inaugural OCA Mocha gallery exhibit, featuring artwork by students from nearby Lansdowne High School and students who participated in the UMBC Choice Program’s “Youth in Action” event.
As the baristas, many of whom are UMBC students, continued to serve patrons, the OCA Mocha stage featured its first live act, local musician Jeremy Gilless. He was followed onto the stage by Matt Davenport ՚18, music technology; Tyler Moonlight; and Sushito, featuring Fayo Ojo ՚20, computer science, and led by OCA Mocha student co-founder Chris Roa ՚19, interdisciplinary studies.
OCA Mocha is open daily. For information on hours, events, and how to reserve the community meeting room, visit OCA Mocha’s website.
Featured image: Adib Afnan ’19, biological sciences, prepares drinks at the OCA Mocha grand opening. All photos by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.