After roughly a year of fits and starts, OCA Mocha, an Arbutus community space and coffee shop, is slated to open for business Nov. 4.

The café and meeting space is a student-led collaboration between the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Arbutus community leaders, meant to offer more engagement between the campus and its neighboring Southwestern Baltimore County community.


The concept evolved from discussions in 2016 among college staff, students and community members on UMBC’s Neighbor Relations Group, said Lisa Akchin, associate vice president for engagement at the university.

The group set out to answer “the question of, ‘how can we bring more faculty, staff and students into the Arbutus town center?’” Akchin said.

The answer to that question, in the form of the OCA Mocha proposal, came from students enrolled in an entrepreneurial class at UMBC in 2017, said Michael Berardi, a student co-founder from that class, and now as a graduate, OCA Mocha’s general manager.

The café and community hub is meant to foster collaboration between Arbutus community members and UMBC students and staff, Berardi said. Once partially named for the Office of Community Affairs, the acronym has been changed to stand for Opportunities for Community Alliances.

Office for Community Affairs “sounded a little more bureaucratic” than what OCA Mocha founders are trying to achieve, Berardi said. “It’s really a space where people can come … and innovate together.”

Deep Patel, another UMBC student co-founder, lauded the university for supporting their own students by allowing students to make key decisions in developing a business they envisioned, he said.

Patel, co-owner of a family-owned investment firm The Patel Group, is subleasing the café portion of OCA Mocha from UMBC.

Over 60 UMBC students and graduates informed the project as it progressed from classroom concept to reality, and had a hand in engineering, designing and marketing the space, Berardi said.

The café can seat up to 48 patrons, and will sell breakfast and lunch items like waffles, sandwiches, paninis, freshly baked goods and seasonal soups, sourced from food distributor Performance Food Group; the coffee will be supplied by Crofton-based Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company, Berardi said.

In the community space, a meeting room just behind the café, organizations who reserve the free area will have the option of having meetings catered by Arbutus businesses, Akchin said. Reservations for the room, which seats up to 38 people, can be made now online.

Bettina Tebo, president of the Greater Arbutus Business Association, sees the new café as a boon to Arbutus, which currently lacks a dedicated coffee shop — other than the East Drive Taste Tea shop that specializes in bubble tea, she noted.

In recent years, Tebo said businesses have vacated buildings mostly along the north side of East Drive due to lack of upkeep and maintenance by landlords. She hopes OCA Mocha will play a role in revitalizing the community’s main commercial stretch, she said.

The school’s goal was to create “more effective marketing of the Arbutus commercial district with the campus community,” she said. UMBC students “took it a big step further” with the idea of having a UMBC-affiliated space in the middle of the Arbutus town center, she said.

While UMBC has satellite offices elsewhere, OCA Mocha will be the first off-campus university-affiliated business, and the school’s first tangible presence in Arbutus, Akchin said.


Staff and student interns with UMBC’s engagement office will utilize office space in the OCA part of the meeting space, with the goal of developing “opportunities to attract students into the space and attract community participation,” Akchin said.

A lengthy permitting process, with the final permits secured just last week, and then delays with securing local subcontractors pushed back the coffee shop’s grand opening date, first slated for August 2018, then delayed again in August this year.

As work continues to rehab the interior of the 4,250-square-foot shop — formerly a hookah lounge — its aesthetic is meant to be artistically rustic and industrial, said Joe Regier, executive director of transit at UMBC, and OCA Mocha’s construction superintendent.

The school has invested more than $200,000 in renovations to the building, located at 5410 East Drive, Akchin said. UMBC is leasing the space for $1,800 a month from FSJ Inc.

OCA Mocha’s mission to facilitate more campus-community connections has been already realized, Akchin said. Much of the material to build out the café, including its tables, flooring and furnishings, and the labor to build them has been locally sourced, Akchin said.

The coffee counter in Arbutus's OCA Mocha was crafted pro-bono by local residents Bill Carter and Mike McCauliffe, president of the Halethorpe Improvement Association. OCA Mocha staff are still working to finish the interior of the new café before its grand opening Nov. 4.
The coffee counter in Arbutus's OCA Mocha was crafted pro-bono by local residents Bill Carter and Mike McCauliffe, president of the Halethorpe Improvement Association. OCA Mocha staff are still working to finish the interior of the new café before its grand opening Nov. 4. (Baltimore Sun)

Just next door, Chesapeake Bank donated 900 square feet of its parking lot to be used by the café for outdoor seating possibly next spring, Berardi said. Opinions will soon be solicited from the community on a mural planned for the side of the OCA Mocha building.

The college plans to partner with the Baltimore County Arts Guild to showcase rotating work on the café’s gallery wall, Rieger said. The café features a stage, on which Berardi envisions live music performances, poetry slams and open mic nights.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. is scheduled to attend the café's grand opening event the evening of Monday, Nov. 4, according to his office. Capacity is limited for those who want to attend.

Before it opens, Berardi said the focus will be on finishing OCA Mocha’s interior design and training eight baristas hired for the café — four UMBC students or recent graduates, and four hired from the greater Baltimore County area, he said.

“The next two weeks are gonna be a whirlwind,” Akchin said. “It’s all hands on deck.”

UMBC is considering adding a direct bus route from its campus to OCA Mocha, running every 15 to 20 minutes, Regier said. A bus stop at the coffee shop in half-hour intervals is planned for next spring, he said.

Once open, café hours will run from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays.