by Laura Dooley [Email address: lkdooley #AT# gmail.com - replace #AT# with @ ]
You’ve probably seen the brightly colored sign with the cute name beckoning you from the 5300 block of Burnet Road. My six-year-old daughter Kathryn wanted to know if there really was a nest of monkeys that lived in that building. I assured her that no, monkeys didn’t live there, but that I was going to find out about Monkey Nest. It’s a new coffee shop in the ‘hood (ok, it’s technically in Brentwood, but close enough to Allandale to call our own) that serves organic, fair-trade coffee in a hip and relaxed atmosphere.
I met my friend Heather there on a recent Thursday afternoon before picking up our kids at Gullett. She and I walked in and were welcomed by a modern ambience with comfortable-looking sofas, chairs, and barstools. Even though the weather is rapidly warming, I was happy to see a fireplace and imagined drinking a hot chai tea by the fire in the winter.
The place was about two-thirds full of people working on laptops (there seemed to be plenty of electrical outlets), reading books, or simply enjoying coffee with a friend. The vibe was definitely upbeat, with good music playing in the background.
As Heather and I pondered what to order, the owner of Monkey Nest, Koros Derakhshani, came over to greet us. He’s a mechanical engineer by training, but for years dreamed of having his own coffee shop that was unique and original, not like the chain coffee shops seemingly springing up on every corner. For him, the opening of Monkey Nest in February was the culmination of 15 years of thinking and planning.
“We are passionate about coffee,” he said. All of their coffee is organic, and he and his staff buy from local producers as much as possible, including organic tea from Zhi and pastries from Russell’s Bakery. (I can attest to the yumminess of the Italian Cream Cake; $3.73 per slice). Breakfast tacos are also served daily, courtesy of Elsi’s, just up Burnet Road.
Derakhshani’s emphasis on keeping things local isn’t lost on his customers. Heather and I ran into a friend and fellow Gullett mom, Glenna, who raved about her coffee drink. “The caramel macchiato is much better than Starbucks. I love local places like this. When you shop in Austin, your money stays in Austin. You’re not feeding the corporate machine.” Well said, Glenna.
Derakhshani clearly takes a lot of pride in Monkey Nest, both in the environment and in the food and drink offered. “We did our best to create a warm, friendly environment,” he said. He emphasized that he wants all groups and types of people to feel welcome. He also wants to be involved in the community, and has agreed to be a Partner in Education for both Lamar and Gullett.
For you business-types, there’s a small meeting room at Monkey Nest that you can reserve for $25 – and get a $25 credit toward coffee and food. The meeting room has audio/visual capabilities.Derakhshani’s son, Arash, had the misfortune of having to help me order a coffee that day. See, I’ve been in a chai tea rut for about a year, partly because I love the chai spices, but mostly because I’ve been nervous to spread my wings and try something new. So, I told him that I wanted to try a coffee drink but that I was new to the coffee world. He expertly asked me a few questions, then presented me with a spiced brown sugar latte with a shot of espresso ($3.90). It was fantastic. Heather enjoyed her skim latte ($2.70).
That same evening at about 5:00, I decided to take Kathryn and her eight-year-old brother William to Monkey Nest for dinner. At that time of the day, there were about eight other people in the place. Most were working on laptops, and one had several textbooks spread out on his table along with a French press pot of coffee. He seemed to have a long night ahead of him. The environment seemed conducive to quiet contemplation. Unfortunately for them, my two kids were hungry and in complaining mode. We took a table and studied the menu. Kathryn is easy to please as long as there’s some form of bread and cheese on the menu, so the “Kid’s Grill Cheese” ($3.50) was a natural choice for her. William was harder to please: he didn’t see anything among the 10 sandwiches offered that suited him. I told him he had to choose something. His frustrated response was that he wanted a turkey sandwich with mayo and red onion and nothing else.
Ben and Claire, the baristas working that night, took William’s request in stride and made him the sandwich he’d wished for. It came on whole wheat bread and included chips and salsa ($6.95). I ordered a full cup of the tortilla soup ($3.95) and found it to be perfectly spiced and delicious. I asked Kathryn what she thought of her grilled cheese. She replied, “It’s 200 percent the best.” I’m not sure what that means, but I’m pretty sure she liked it!
William was taking his own sweet time eating. When I asked him to keep at it, he told me, “The reason I’m eating slowly is that it’s so good, I want to save it.” And save it we did. We brought half of it home and put it in his lunchbox for the next day at school. Win-win.
Derakhshani told me, “Our business model is that we are a local company, but we create an environment where we compete with the best in the world.” I’d say that Monkey Nest is off to a great start.
5353 Burnet Road
Hours: Monday-Thursday: 6:00 am – 9:00 pm
Friday & Saturday: 6:00 am – 10:00 pm
Sunday: 7:00 am – 9:00 pm