Cocoa Cinnamon: Community based coffee shop holds historic roots

In addition to a warm drink, Cocoa Cinnamon is a favorite spot for locals to get some work done. (Photo by: Trevor Barnes)


Designed with unique renovated urban architecture, customers can walk in, smell the satisfying aroma of espresso, and enjoy the experience of this award-winning coffee shop.

Located on West Geer Street, near the old Durham Bulls stadium, Cocoa Cinnamon has received many accolades including the Durham Weekly’s 2014 Winner Platinum award for best coffee shop. Though known for serving award-winning coffee, the shop founded in 2010 is also a community staple.

 Customers flock to Cocoa Cinnamon on a rainy Monday in Durham. (Photo by: Trevor Barnes)

Customers flock to Cocoa Cinnamon on a rainy Monday in Durham. (Photo by: Trevor Barnes)

“We want everyone to feel welcome at Cocoa Cinnamon,” says co-owner Areli Barrera de Grodski. “And we wanted to be located in Durham for that reason.”

Barrera de Grodski also stated that Durham was compatible with her “mission”. “We (including her husband Leon Barrera de Grodski) just fell in love with the city of Durham, and we thought this was the right place to start our shop.”

Cocoa Cinnamon gives a pleasant experience to all customers, regardless of economic background. The coffee shop has unique community coffee program where a customer who cannot afford a drink can simply ask for a “community” coffee, and receive a drink on the house.

“If someone wants to enjoy the free wifi but doesn’t have the money to pay for coffee, they shouldn’t feel excluded,” says Barrera de Grodski.

Cocoa Cinnamon doesn’t just support the customers; they support their employees as well. The shop is a part of the Durham Livable Wage Program, where all employees receive a minimum of $13 per hour after completing their training.

“I love working here. I love the attention to detail when it comes to our drinks,” says Cocoa Cinnamon barista Natalia Anzola. “I enjoy being a part of the community. I’m not just serving people; I’m interacting with them.”

“We want to insure that our employees are motivated to work for us,” says Barrera de Grodski. Cocoa Cinnamon is a business that supports their customers and employees to the fullest. The name of the shop is trendy and modern, but it also has historic ties.

The name of the coffee shop is inspired by the spices (Chocolate and Cinnamon) that lead to the rise and fall of civilizations.

The menu items at Cocoa Cinnamon also have historic background as well. Each of the items have unique names, regarding the origins of the ingredients. One of their popular lattes is called the “Moctezuma”; containing dulce de leche and cayenne pepper, the drink is named after the last ruler of the Aztecs.

The coffee shop has culture that can subtly go unnoticed, but authenticity and community service have made this business thrive.

“We started with $75,” says Barrera de Grodski. “We started Cocoa Cinnamon on a bike. We would peddle around Durham and a serve coffee.”

From manually serving pour-over coffee on a bike, to soon opening a third location, Cocoa Cinnamon is a flourishing business native to Durham.

“I fell in love with the beauty of Durham and its diversity,” says Barrera de Grodski. “We knew our company would thrive here.”

Cocoa Cinnamon was a dream that, with hard work, became a reality. Literally built from the ground up, the coffee shop has positively influenced the Durham community.

One thought on “Cocoa Cinnamon: Community based coffee shop holds historic roots

  1. Sandra Braxton-Riley says:

    Interesting article. Next time I’m in Durham, I’ll stop by. I especially like the idea of a community cup of coffee. Thank you Trevor Barnes for using your journalist and photographic skills to share this story.

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