Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
SUNNY BRAE – The sleepy shire of Sunny Brae daily awakens with stimulating help from its former gas station, now the caffeine-pumping Coffee Break. Starting this Sunday, the Sunny Brae Center coffee house will be “fueling your day” in a whole new way.
After three years, owner Michelle Greenway is giving the business a tune-up. A fresh paint job and new logo on the signs outside invites one to a refurbished al fresco noshing area, while the interior is getting new furniture and a retro-themed renovation.
“It took me three years to save up the funds and work out the floor plan,” Greenway said. But most important to her is maintaining high standards for the Coffee Break’s fare – organic Kinetic Koffee, fresh-baked pastries and now, grab-and-go sandwiches and salads from the Co-op.
“Now you can pick up a pastry that we make, plus lunch,” Greenway said. “I just want to provide a good product for the community, in a good atmosphere.”
After work, you can still swing by for a beer. Now, you can savor a mimosa as well. The expanded approach is embodied in the shop’s new slogan, “Fueling Your Day,” coined by Greenway. It builds on the host structure’s historical roots, all the way back to the 1950s, when it was Sunny Brae Chevron.
Greenway knew it had first become a coffee shop in the 1990s, when the Java Garage was installed in the defunct filling station, later to be succeeded by the original Coffee Break in 2000.
But to reach further back in time, a group of experienced gentlemen who gather at the coffee house on Fridays helped Greenway contact a relative of the Sunny Brae Chevron’s former owner.
She learned that Roy Macklin had been the proprietor, and even obtained photos of him and the station from the era when Sunny Brae was still rising up out of what had been cow pastures.
In an undated shot, Macklin, in his pristine white attendant uniform, is standing near what is now the Coffee Break’s outdoor seating area (where, in 2015, a new planter has been installed as part of the renovation). Behind him are some partially seen children who may have just had their bike tires filled, while a gas pump appears to display the price of a fill-up: $5.45.
"Roy fixed many a flat bike tire for me at the Chevron," remembered Patty Choate Peterson on the Facebook page, "Remember in Arcata When..."
Another photo shows the station when it was new, amid the emerging shopping center. Aerial photos by legendary photographer Merle Shuster, now stored in the Humboldt State Library and available online, also document the station's early beginnings.
Marian Barnes Hancock, who grew up in Sunny Brae, remembers her mother getting gas for the family car there. “My mother would always say to the attendant, ‘Fill it with ethyl’,” she reminisced.
Former Arcata City Councilmember Paul Wilson recalls the station moving to Westwood Center in the early 1970s, and the Sunny Brae Chevron then morphed into a Shell station.
With the service side shut down during the new era of self-pumped gas in the 1980s, Helen Atkins, a relative of Wilson’s, served as cashier at the walk-up window.
The old Sunny Brae Chevron photos will be framed and displayed as part of the remodeled shop’s retro decor.
“What a good way to tie the old in with the new, and with the history of Sunny Brae,” Greenway said.
That history is still being written, with the Coffee Break’s grand re-opening set for this Sunday, Aug. 2 at 7 a.m. It had been scheduled for this past Sunday, but construction complications pushed things back a week.
The Coffee Break is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends. (707) 825-66852