Coffee lovers rejoice — a day-to-night café is bringing its uniquely crafted coffee creations to Arlington starting this weekend. The founders of Lorton-based RĀKO (pronounced RAY-koh) Coffee Roasters will open its first bricks-and-mortar café in Courthouse this Saturday, Aug. 28.
Sisters Melissa and Lisa Gerben, who founded RĀKO Coffee Roasters as a wholesaler of single-origin coffee in late 2019, have tapped local talent to lead the creation of the café’s food and drink menu. RĀKO’s java program is led by coffee director Drago Tomianovic and will offer unique beverages like a baklava latte made with cinnamon, cardamom, and clove-infused honey syrup, a lavender latte made with lavender syrup and topped with a sprinkle of lavender flowers, and the Coco Spritz, a refreshing, bubbly drink made with coconut espresso and sparkling water. RĀKO will also have a rotating list of freshly roasted, single-origin coffee from around the world, like Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Sumatra.
RĀKO also recruited Stephanie Dissette of La Jambe to serve as the café’s “cocktail curator” and collaborated to create a selection of handcrafted beverages destined to impress even the most serious cocktail connoisseurs. There’s an espresso martini, of course, but, like everything else on the menu, it’s been given “the RĀKO twist” (as the team puts it), with a bit of locally sourced Cotton & Reed Allspice Dram and Civic Vodka. Another crowd pleaser is sure to be the Hue Hue Negroni, made with a 30-hour coffee-infused Campari using Txol Witz coffee that the Gerbens direct-sourced from Huehuetenango, Guatemala, last spring.
As fancy as that all sounds, the Gerbens say that with the new café they set out to make specialty coffee “approachable and not pretentious” and that every detail of its menu was intentionally designed to have something for everyone, whether they’re a long-time coffee aficionado or are new to the world of single-origin joe.
“Specialty coffee can be intimidating, but we’ve trained our team to approach everyone,” explains Tomianovic.
Rounding out the culinary craftmanship found throughout RĀKO is the food menu, developed by Kinship and All Purpose alum Marc Jaster, which will include seasonal selections ranging from cucumber gazpacho and beef salteñas to a lemon zest, pea, and whipped goat cheese crostini. RĀKO also worked with local purveyors like Pluma by Bluebird Bakery for breakfast and baked goods.
And if neither coffee nor coffee-inspired cocktails are your thing, you can still swing by for a glass of natural wine. RĀKO worked with local sommelier Woong Chang of 6ft Wine Club to be the café’s wine director and develop a rotating list of wines—some a little wilder and more adventurous than others—that will change seasonally. (I personally got to taste a lovely rosé from the Canary Islands, with grapes grown in volcanic soil.)
The team at RĀKO hopes the café can be “an oasis to help people unwind at the end of the day,” says Lisa Gerben. They intentionally built it to be open and airy, with lush, comfortable seating in a space that pays homage to coffee-growing regions via textiles and art, including a custom wallcovering showcasing a mix of vibrant florals, especially those from Ethiopia—where the inspiration for RĀKO began. The café will seat 55, including its comfortable (and dog-friendly) patio that overlooks Wilson Boulevard.
Even before the Arlington location opens its doors, the Gerbens are already planning a second café that will open in partnership with Studio Theater this winter. They say the café, which will be in the venue’s lobby and have a spacious patio, will be open to the public during the day and, on performance nights, have drinks tailored for each show. And, sometime soon, you may see a RĀKO Coffee café pop up near you, as the team is discussing the possibility of more locations throughout the District and Northern Virginia.
To celebrate the grand opening of the Wilson Boulevard café on Saturday, Aug. 28, RĀKO will offer $1 coffee drinks from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by a happy hour from 5-9 p.m. with special grand opening pricing on natural wines. The café will be open on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
After this weekend, RĀKO Coffee on Wilson Boulevard will be open at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. on weekends, and host daily happy hours from 4-7 p.m.
2016 Wilson Blvd., Arlington
Photo by Drago Tomianovic
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