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OCA Mocha serves local Chesapeake Bay Roasting Co. coffee. Photo by Brent Bemiller.

OCA Mocha opens its doors to students and local community

After a series of delays, the student-led cafe OCA Mocha opened its doors at 6 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 4.

In the days leading up to the grand opening, the OCA Mocha team spent their time cleaning up after construction and assembling furniture. They installed their store sign on Halloween, which was one of the last steps to cement their presence in Arbutus’ community, and on the evening of the 3rd, they hosted a soft opening for friends and family of the staff. 

OCA Mocha began over two years ago in an entrepreneurship class as a proposed solution to UMBC’s lack of a college town. The space itself is split to have two focuses: OCA and Mocha. 

OCA stands for Opportunities for Community Alliances (initially, it stood for “Office of Community Affairs”). OCA Mocha has a large room that anyone can reserve for events or meetings with no more than 38 people. They already have plans for open mic nights, performances by local musicians and community leadership meetings. They also have designated wall space for an art gallery in partnership with Lansdowne schools and the Choice Program at UMBC. 

The main point of contact for collaboration between UMBC and OCA Mocha is the Office of Institutional Advancement (OIA). The OIA and OCA Mocha have several events in the works, which will be announced at a later date.

The Mocha side is a for-profit cafe that makes up the front of the space. Even the cafe’s decor represents the community, from the burlap sacks representing the local coffee beans to the wood paneling which was designed in part by a local high schooler. According to alumnus co-founder and general manager Michael Berardi, the student leaders chose the Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company to be the coffee suppliers because it centered its design around the community, just like OCA Mocha. 

“It was important to us to make sure our coffee costs less than the coffee from Starbucks and Dunkin’ on campus,” Berardi said. “We understand what it’s like to be college students.” 

In fact, several members of OCA Mocha’s staff are UMBC students, from the baristas to the six paid interns. One barista, Ashley Bonilla, a sophomore media and communication studies major, noted the emphasis put on the quality of ingredients. As a part of training, Bonilla, along with her new coworkers, spent three days in August at the Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company to see where OCA Mocha’s coffee comes from and how it is made. On top of that, each cup of coffee is ground to order, which is different from how Starbucks, where Bonilla used to work, makes drinks. 

Bonilla is the only experienced barista on the OCA Mocha team, but says that her teammates have been quick to learn the trade. Bonilla herself is working all five days this week, and arrived at the shop at 5:30 a.m. for its grand opening.

She hopes that OCA Mocha will serve as a respite from UMBC’s campus, which she characterizes as “kind of dry.” “I’m going to come here even when I’m not working,” Bonilla said, “to do my homework or to hang out with my friends.”

Just as OCA Mocha plans to draw students from the UMBC campus into Arbutus, Arbutians are also looking forward to patronizing the shop. One customer and local resident, Rita Cosentino, said she was excited to hear an interview announcing OCA Mocha’s opening that morning on WYPR. Cosentino said she had “been waiting for two years” for the coffee shop to open.

Arbutus business owners have also expressed their enthusiasm for OCA Mocha to bring new life to the area. “Sometimes Arbutus is a ghost town,” said Leo Beall, the manager of Universal Comics, a comic book store located down the street from OCA Mocha. “It would be great to see more UMBC students around here, especially if it helped business.”

Universal Comics, like many other stores in Arbutus, have tried to appeal to students by displaying “Welcome Retrievers!” stickers in their storefronts and giving discounts to people with UMBC IDs. OCA Mocha, too, will offer a discount to UMBC students.

Another factor in connecting UMBC students to OCA Mocha and the Arbutus community at large is a proposed bus route that will run more frequently between campus and the coffee shop. Joseph Regier, director of UMBC Transit, explained that four new buses are being acquired within the next month in order to, in part, accommodate an increase in student travel to Arbutus. These changes to the transit routes will be officially implemented in the spring, but there was a bus running every 20-30 minutes from OCA Mocha to UMBC on opening day.

Ultimately, the founders are excited to finally get the business off the ground and begin engaging with the community. “Most universities have a place for the surrounding community to engage and collaborate with students,” Patel explained. “We want to be that place.”

OCA Mocha is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., with shortened hours on the weekend.