Opening during COVID-19: A glimpse into Paper Moon Cafe


Wendy Warren

A drink selection from Paper Moon’s Halloween menu

Diana Piper, Staff Reporter

The day Jerry Wang, owner of Paper Moon Cafe in Downtown San Jose, got the keys to open his business, his investors and partners pulled out. It was March, COVID-19 was looming, and Santa Clara County was about to announce a shelter-in-place order. 

Now, six months later, the cafe is flourishing. It boasts signature boba and coffee drinks, like Lynnie’s Lavender Latte, a coffee infused with lavender, and is oriented toward innovation. 

“We’re the first ones to pioneer [coffee and boba], to blend those two different cultures together,” Wang said. “We feel like, in downtown San Jose, the two of those combined together will offer something unique.”

The cafe spurs innovation within its staff, as well. The bosses have encouraged barista Anais Salazar to experiment with the menu, including Betelgeuse, “Beetlejuice”-inspired drink of pea flower, earl grey and matcha lemonade.

“They give me creative direction to do whatever I want with the menu, because I think they believe in me,” Salazar said. “I really appreciate the support that I have here in making my own decisions.”

Salazar is one of three women of color training to be a coffee roaster, a precise and skillful position in coffee making. Co-owned by a woman and a person of color, the business emphasizes communal empowerment.  

“We’re really excited; we’re training three up women roasters,” said Wendy Warren, co-owner and CEO of Paper Moon Cafe. “There’s a lot of people who are really smart and really passionate about coffee, so we want to use all their wisdom. And that gets them really excited.”

This community focus extends to local artists, as well. In May, a time of boarded up windows due to racial justice protests, Wang commissioned local artist J. Duh to paint a mural reading “Tough Times, Tougher People.”

“We felt like that struck a chord,” Wang said. “We’re obviously all facing tough times, but one thing that’s great about San Jose is that we’re all together. We can all overcome that challenge.”

The cafe also applies this philosophy to charitable practices. Warren runs a non-profit called Coffee Housing, aiming to defray residential costs for coffee workers in the Bay Area, and Paper Moon has donated over $6,000 in drinks to healthcare professionals.

Warren said that, even before buying the cafe, her focus on community has always been her aim, calling coffee a “very inclusive” space.

The cafe aims to monitor its community connection along with economic growth, as it moves into next year.

“How you measure that is going to be a challenge, whether you measure it by sales dollars, by people succeeding, or by people smiling,” Wang said.

“We have to do all of it,” Warren said, with a laugh. 

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