Coffee, community service with a smile
Bruce Neunzig, diverse clientele makes Johnny’s Java in Cotati a popular gathering spot in good times and bad
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By Natalie Gray  March 28, 2014 12:00 am

Bruce Neunzig, manager of Johnny’s Java in Cotati, seems able to list at least one person in his store at a given time by name or occupation. Just on the whim of a Tuesday late morning, he is able to point out two firefighters out of uniform, a local business owner and a few others waved and called him by name as they walked by, coffee in hand.

“That’s the part I like most,” said Neunzig of his connections and closeness to the local community through his café. “It’s really satisfying.” 

Neunzig noted that nothing is more satisfying, though, than on a weekend morning, when the café is packed with a colorful array of customers ranging from bikers, soccer teams, Jehovah’s Witnesses and everyone in between. Everyone stops for coffee, no matter what social ring they belong to, and Neunzig admits to enjoy witnessing those otherwise would-be separated cliques, clubs and groups merge and harmonize together over the coffee Neunzig creates.

 

Doing more than just serving coffee

The coffee shop, Neunzig’s recipes, and, of course, Neunzig himself do more for the community than simply bring it together under the roof of a brightly colored coffee-shop, though Neunzig isn’t the first to boast this. He is at first reluctant or, in his words, skeptical to admit he is worthy, saying he has done enough to be considered an influence. After discussing just a few of his charities, it’s easy to argue with him.

Johnny’s Java opened in 1996 by John Drake, and Neunzig began working there four years later. According to Neunzig, the first charity the shop donated to was the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue. The donations shifted to Neighbors Organized Against Hunger (NOAH) when the recession hit.

“I thought it was time to help the community,” said Neunzig of the change. “I wanted to help the children as much as I wanted to help the animals.”

According to Neunzig, his shop focuses its attention between the two charities now, alternating dates when he raises money for the two local nonprofits. The two are not the only organizations Johnny’s Java supports. The store also helps out a lot with local schools, allowing fundraisers to take place at the shop as well as making sure the teachers are always in supply of pastries and much needed coffee. 

 

Special attention to Thomas Page

According to Neunzig, the shop pays special attention to Thomas Page Elementary, the school closest to the shop. Neunzig said he loves watching the children grow up through their visits to the shop from the time “they can barely see over the counter to now driving mom’s car to get her some coffee.”

Sometimes watching over the customers and community or simply being the one that unlocks the door that gives them a place to gather is more helpful than raising money. 

Neunzig recounts the tragic day of Sept. 11, 2001. After the Golden Gate Bridge was shut down to avoid feared terrorist attacks, Johnny’s Java was flocked with morning commuters who had nowhere to go and were scared. Neunzig welcomed them all in, turned on the radio and together, a room full of strangers who would normally drive past each other without a second glance, listened to the news. Neunzig said he still has customers come in and mention the event, promising they will never forget it. He agrees.

To give credit where credit is due, though, Johnny’s Java has had a history of charity since its inception. Drake owns both locations of Johnny’s Java, but manages the store in Santa Rosa and, according to Neunzig, is something of a busy body for local charities himself. He currently sits as vice president of the Executive Board of the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County. It is the Sonoma Human Race, though, that Neunzig said is Drake’s personal project. Neunzig said Johnny’s Java is always present at the nationwide, community fundraising event, handing out coffee to the racers, and the dedication Drake puts into the event is inspiring. 

 

Hooked on his work

“I’m pretty proud of it all; the time and effort he puts into it,” said Neunzig of Drake’s work. 

Neunzig is a native Californian, having grown up in Monterey. When attending school in Berkeley, Neunzig fell in love with what he called the café lifestyle and, after a time holding a job that taught him to roast coffee beans, was sold it was the career for him.

“I know it sounds corny, but I’m pretty much hooked on it,” Neunzig said of his coffee work. 

Neunzig opens shop every day, except Christmas, at 4 a.m., to make sure he’s there for morning commuters. The shop always has fresh cookies and pastries, warm coffee, books and a table full of local newspapers and magazines. If you’ve never been, stop by next time your needing a caffeine fix. Chances are, you may very well become one of those regular customers Neunzig can recognize by name with a smile. 

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