Groovin’ to the Grind

Words by Jennifer Jory

Photos by Paulette Phlipot

Words by Jennifer Jory

A disco ball sparkles against a yellow ceiling, the aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans hangs in the air and canary-colored chairs greet me as I step into a cafe in San Carlos. This is not your monochromatic, subdued coffee shop. Groovy Goose brings a lively and playful twist to the independent, craft roasting genre. After opening in August, 26-year-old owners Nathan and Siera Conte’s passion and learning curve are through the roof. “There is no way to get experience in owning a business,” Nathan confides. “It’s sink or swim—and we are swimming. We are going to do whatever it takes.”
The line out the door on the weekends suggests Nathan’s all-night roasting sessions have paid off. “It’s fun to see people really like the beans and come back every few days,” he beams. With limited kitchen space, Nathan roasts the eight varieties of light to medium-dark blends through the early morning hours. He says bags of beans are flying off the shelf. “There has been no shortage of challenges,” Nathan confesses. “Keeping up with coffee production and making steady, consistent batches is just one example.”

The husband-and-wife team met during a college gap year program at Joshua Wilderness Institute at Hume Lake, California, where they began going on coffee dates, driving over an hour to a cafe to sample their favorite blends. Siera, a veteran barista, convinced Nathan of the importance of the taste of each cup and introduced him to coffee culture. “Siera opened my eyes to compare and realize that quality matters,” Nathan says.

While Nathan and Siera may be young entrepreneurs with a whimsical brand, they are serious about coffee in all of its complexity and are on a mission to make their mark in the roasting world. “Coffee is kind of like wine,” Nathan describes. “There are so many nuances, from growing, harvesting, roasting and serving. I enjoy the detail. When I am roasting, my goal is to perfect the beans, duplicate it and be able to share it. I want people to enjoy quality from farm to cup.” Nathan feels fortunate to source beans from all over the world that come into the Port of Oakland, including countries in Africa, South and Central America. “I appreciate all of the hands that have touched the beans,” Nathan stresses. “There’s a worldwide effort to get a cup of coffee to you.”

The house blend, Golden Hour, ranks among regulars’ favorites, which Nathan describes as having flavors of graham cracker, honey, brown sugar and blueberry in a medium-dark roast. They offer pastries baked fresh daily as well as breakfast and lunch sandwiches made to order. One popular option, the High Roller, comes on a freshly baked English muffin with tomato, pesto, scrambled egg, arugula, prosciutto and crème fraîche. The cafe also offers a variety of fresh fruit smoothies, inventive toasts and creative seasonal drinks such as a lavender honey oat latte and strawberry matcha.

Born and raised in San Carlos, Nathan feels a strong loyalty to the community and benefits from family members nearby who rolled up their sleeves and swung hammers to completely remodel the cafe space before opening. Last summer, the couple took the San Carlos Avenue store down to the studs to transform the property and add a second story. “We worked with a contractor,” shares Nathan. “However, my dad Tony and I ended up doing almost all of the work. My mom Gina and Siera designed the inside.”

Nathan got his start in the restaurant business at Sneakers in San Carlos where he worked his way up to assistant manager and head bartender. “A coworker noticed how hard I was working,” recalls Nathan. “She told me that if I continued with my work ethic, I might own my own restaurant someday and it stuck with me.” Later on, while living on Maui, Nathan and Siera dreamed of opening their own place. Nathan honed his roasting skills, while Siera worked at a nearby craft coffee shop. Returning home to the Peninsula several years later, Nathan stepped into the general manager role at Drakes restaurant, owned by his brother Christian Conte—just a block away from where he would soon open Groovy Goose.

The coffee shop’s walls are vibrant with brightly-colored murals that splash across the walls. Smoothies with playful names like Groovy Greens and Purple People Eater show Nathan and Siera’s desire to add whimsy and a unique branding to their menu and signature roasts. “We love that coffee is approachable for everyone,” Nathan says. “Almost anyone can afford a cup of coffee.” Nathan believes that they are in the business of creating community. “We want to offer a place where people can let their guards down and be seen,” he adds.

With ambitions to open more craft roasting locations, the couple’s dreams fuel a growing business, while managing a growing family as well. Their three-year-old son Theodore, nicknamed Goose, inspired the cafe’s name, enjoys visiting his parents at work with his one-year-old sister Magnolia. “It feels very deeply rooted, being born and raised here,“ Nathan concludes. “I feel I owe the city this. I enjoy serving and it is an honor to be a part of the legacy of this community.”

feelin’ groovy –