Episode 8: Robbie Roberts (Joe Van Gogh) & Leon Grodski de Barrera (Cocoa Cinnamon) (Part 1)

Toro Town Talks – Leon & Robbie (thumbnail).png

If you live in Durham and you like a good cup of coffee, you've undoubtedly visited both Cocoa Cinnamon and Joe van Gogh.

The latter was founded by Robbie Roberts in 1991, and he now owns three Durham locations as well as one in Chapel Hill, and he’s taken over two Green Bean coffee houses in Greensboro.

Behind Cocoa Cinnamnon you’ll find Leon Grodski de Barrera and his wife Areli, and their coffee adventure had its beginnings a decade earlier. After humble beginnings in the Asheville Mall and selling coffee from a bike, Cocoa Cinnamon opened its first brick-and-mortar location in 2013, which has since been accompanied by two additional locations in Durham.

While some might expect Joe van Gogh and Cocoa Cinnamon to consider themselves each other’s biggest competitors, that really doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead there is a strong camaraderie and mutual respect between the two, and they are both in the business of serving the community through the power of good coffee and physical spaces that allow people to come together.

As such, the story of Joe van Gogh and Cocoa Cinnamon is representative of Durham at its best: A city that puts camaraderie above competition, a city that treasures that which is local and independent, and a city that loves people with interesting stories.

For this exclusive two-part interview, I sat down with Robbie and Leon to listen to *their* stories and ask them a whole lot of questions about their love of coffee.

In this first part, you get to hear about what these two coffee connaisseurs prefer to brew at home, and how they handle family and friends, who are not likely to serve them as good coffee as they themselves would be able to make. We cover the topic of the snooty factor among coffee enthusiasts, which might not be so snooty after all, and we talk about if Robbie and Leon were surprised at becoming as successful as they have, and, not least, what makes Durham so special.

Illustrations by Edson Tako.