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A Profound Piece of Toast

A Profound Piece of Toast

This week’s This American Life reminds us of the people behind the food trends.

In Act Three: The Hostess with the Toastess, John Gravois sets out to understand why toast has suddenly become a foodie phenomenon in the Bay Area. New to San Francisco, Gravois initially seems skeptical of the city’s insatiable quest for the new best bite. He begins his quest by asking the perennial, millennial question: How did a mundane foodstuff – toast – become elevated to such hipster heights?

In search of the source, Gravois turns to The Mill in Nopa, an artisanal bakery and café helmed by Josey Baker (yes, that’s his name), a chic spot selling $4 toast slices topped with housemade spreads that has been pilloried by the press for being the epitome of everything that’s wrong with tech-inflated SF. Deflecting credit for the craze, Baker points him in the far-flung direction of a shoebox storefront in the Outer Sunset.

As soon as Gravois spotted The Trouble Coffee & Coconut Club – most commonly referred to as Trouble – he knew the story had taken a turn toward the unusual. A tree trunk took up the bulk of the front sidewalk, leaving no room for tables and chairs, so people perched themselves on the barky bench instead. A manifesto, tacked to the door, greeted him with (among other sentiments): “We are local people with useful skills in tangible situations… Drink a cup of Trouble. Eat a coconut. And learn to build your own damn house. We will help. We are building a network.”

Next to the cash register sat a single steel toaster. And coconuts and grapefruits lined a refrigerated case. Coffee fumes filled the space, no bigger than a single-car garage. These four ingredients are all Trouble serves: coffee, fresh coconuts, grapefruit juice and cinnamon toast.

And yet, Trouble offers so much more. Trouble is Giulietta Carrelli, a woman living with a schizoaffective disorder, a combination of bipolarity and schizophrenia. Her menu reflects her life; each item has been a lifeline for her when she is unmoored by a psychotic episode. Always dressed in a crop top, ripped jeans, head scarf and tattoos (including freckles dotting her cheeks), she has engineered a community for herself, a community that recognizes her when she is unable to recognize herself. Trouble is how she stays out of trouble.

Averse to revealing too many of the heart-wrenching twists and turns of Carrelli’s story, we’ll leave you with this idea. “My mom used to make me toast,” Carrelli said. “And so when I was first opening up Trouble, I wanted to feel safe. Toast was that for me. And I also knew it was going to be that for a lot of people. Nobody can be mad at toast. It’s toast, it’s cinnamon toast. Everybody’s stoked.”

PS: Beyond the This American Life episode, Gravois wrote a full feature on Carrelli and Trouble for the Pacific Standard. Read it here.