A person plays the guitar to a small audience in a coffee shop
A performer plays the guitar at an open mic night at Nirvana Soul's flagship San Jose location. Photo by Kassia Bonesteel.

Nirvana Soul, a Black, women-owned business known for its vibrant pink-painted coffee shops, serves up more than unique brews — it’s a hub for local artists, poets and musicians to showcase their talents.

The co-founder/sister duo, Be’Anka Ashaolu and Jeronica Macey, whose San Jose coffee shop sits on the corner of South First Street, support local artists through “Nirvana Soul After Dark,” drawing in crowds every Friday from 6-9 p.m.  The open mic night features a melting pot of spoken word poets, musicians, singers and an often-packed audience of friends and passersby.

The founders kept the idea alive to support the community after buying the former business, Caffe Frascati. Their efforts to support the arts in San Jose also include an ongoing feature of rotating local artists along the walls of the coffee shop’s plant-filled flagship location.

Nirvana Soul’s two-story downtown location is a favorite for locals. Photo by Kassia Bonesteel.

Ashaolu, also chief marketing officer, said she and her sister’s efforts to support artists in the coffee shop was partly inspired by the movie “Love Jones.”

“In the (movie) the friends attend an open mic night that is critical to the plot of the couple ultimately coming together. We always knew that we would host an open mic night for that reason,” she told San José Spotlight.

Nirvana Soul first opened its doors to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic and has gained a reputation for being a trendy place for a daily caffeine fix in the South First Area District known as SoFa. This section of downtown is viewed as the arts, entertainment and cultural district of San Jose.

Tyler Campers, a Nirvana Soul employee and San Jose State University student, took over running the open mic nights a few months ago. Campers said that from the day he started he “just fell in love with it.”

“Open mic night is important for Nirvana Soul as a company because our whole goal is to be inclusive to everybody,” he told San José Spotlight.

Nirvana Soul displays the work of local artists such as Eve Schwartz on the coffee shop walls. Photo by Kassia Bonesteel.

“Nirvana Soul After Dark” has created quite the buzz, with the list of performer sign-ups peaking during the school year, often exceeding the allotted three-hour run time.

There is a collection of repeat performers, who chat with the baristas and fellow artists after their set. One man expertly played the coffee shop corner piano with a mask over his eyes like a blindfold, while a college student, Mia Overbo, strummed the guitar singing an original song.

“The crowd was super warm to every performer — poets, songwriters, rappers… everyone watching seemed to have a different style but collectively came together to support one another,” Overbo told San José Spotlight after her first open mic performance.

Not only is the list of performers long, but the audience and its positive energy seem to fill the entirety of the shop’s upstairs and downstairs levels. Some audience members even sit on the floor to get the best front-row seats to the small, built-in stage nestled in the corner of the large front windows.

Nirvana Soul aims to inspire its community, support the arts and help customers find their own nirvana, Campers said.

Contact Kassia Bonesteel at [email protected] or follow @kekb2004 on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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