The Next Wave of Coffee Is Candy-Coated at This Inland Empire Favorite
Juliet Bennett Rylah
Rad Coffee sits on a pleasant street not far from the Metrolink station in downtown Upland, among antique shops, pubs and a massive pet food store. It's not far from a quaint white gazebo that sits in the center of a roundabout on a brick-paved street. But Rad Coffee has its very own atmosphere, drawing from punk rock and horror movies. People from all stripes line up out the door for their caffeinated beverages and eye-catching blended drinks topped with brightly colored whipped cream.
Rusty and Jade Valore, self-described "misfits of the coffee world," met when they were both working at a Starbucks. As far as coffeehouses go, the massive chain is about as far removed from punk as one gets. But the Valores' love of coffee proved enduring enough that they decided to gamble: They'd use their financial aid to start a business.
The pair always liked specialty coffeehouses and made a point of visiting shops in Pasadena and L.A. on a regular basis. Jade had always wanted to be a business owner, and after the couple's daughter, Ivy, was born, they decided they should pursue that dream in order to spend more time with her. Even as Jade recounts their origin story, Rusty stands outside in the perfect weather, holding Ivy, just shy of 2 years old, in his arms.
The couple initially thought they'd get a coffee truck, and they created the brand Rad Coffee, which they named after Rusty's favorite adjective.
"He always said 'rad.' Of course, we don't say it anymore because it's so awkward," Jade says.
But when a space on Second Avenue in Upland became available, they took the opportunity and opened up a brick-and-mortar shop in October 2015.
"I never in a million years would have thought downtown Upland. There were no specialty coffee shops and there's not a lot of places like this in the Inland Empire at all," she says, though she does like Dr. Strange Records in Alta Loma, which has been selling punk vinyl since the 1980s.
To get their name out, the couple handed out free cold brew at skateboarding events, and Jade said she spent hours posting to Instagram and social media. Eventually, their efforts paid off enough to build a steady clientele.
Inside Rad Coffee, you'll find two intertwined aesthetics that each point to one half of the Valores.
"Everyone refers to it as what their bedroom looked like in high school," Jade says.
The shop is long and narrow with hardwood floors. In a previous life, it housed a dance studio. The wall that held the studio’s mirror is now plastered with punk rock fliers from shows past, while photos from other shows hang over the doorway. In one of them, a teenage Rusty can be spotted. Lifeblood Skateboards painted with coffee motifs are hung throughout, pointing to Rusty's affinity for the sport. Elsewhere are nods to what Jade calls her "love for the weird and strange": classic horror posters of Frankenstein and Dracula, and plastic skeletons, interspersed with macabre, coffee-themed art.
Juliet Bennett Rylah
"I used to want to direct horror movies. That was my dream in high school," Jade says. "I would go to horror conventions, and I collect stuff. I just love horror movies." If you were wondering, Halloween is her favorite film.
The music in the shop is, as one might imagine, a steady rotation of punk — Black Flag, Descendents, The Dead Kennedys, The Misfits — with the occasional underground or indie band thrown in the mix. Many of the shop’s employees play in bands.
They serve Santa Cruz's Verve coffee and make all the standard espresso drinks, but people often come in looking for one of their blended or cold brew concoctions. The cold brew is made with Verve also, and they make a chocolate milk drink that'll keep you up for hours. Equally potent, the Bonesbrew is two shots of espresso, cold brew concentrate, organic vanilla and a hint of cream, served in a glass shaped like a skull.
Then there are the Monster Mashes and Cereal Chillers. The latter are blended drinks topped with cereal, such as the popular Cookies ’n’ Scream: coffee and cookies blended together, then topped with blue whipped cream and a crunchy cookie cereal. It's just like sipping chilled cookie butter through a straw, with the added bonus of a coffee pick-me-up. Other Cereal Chillers include a Cinnamon Toast topped with purple whip, a Cap’n Crunch made with fruit and chocolate syrups, and a mocha Peanut Butter Crunch.
The Monster Mashes are fun, too. The Frankenstein is made with matcha green tea, blended with vanilla and mint chocolate chips, topped with Oreo crumbles. The Dracula is a red velvet shake, topped with black whipped cream, for a perfectly eerie look. Jade says Rusty created the flavors, while she determined the appearance of the drink.
"Everybody comes for these drinks, because you can't find them anywhere else," she says. "We always talked about how cool it'd be if Starbucks had colored whipped cream, and then we decided to just do it ourselves."
Juliet Bennett Rylah
Of course, most of the menu can be made vegan.
For business owners, they're quite young. Jade is 25, and Rusty is 27. They're notably proud of their DIY attitudes and stand firmly against adding investors or franchising. They'd love to bring their earlier coffee truck idea to life — the truck is currently sitting in their driveway — or open a second location, either in Los Angeles or near the beach. Jade also says she'd be interested in collaborating with Voodoo Doughnuts, the Portland icon known for its doughnuts shaped like voodoo dolls and, well, penises. The offbeat shop was a big inspiration for the Valores, so much so that they tied the knot there.
"We thought we should get married, because we have a baby and a business, and so we eloped in Portland at Voodoo," Jade says.
Despite the commitment to their punk aesthetic, don't feel as if you need to pass some kind of punk gatekeeper test to stop by. Being amicable is just as important to the Valores.
"The pretentious, snobby aspect that you'd get from some specialty coffee shops — you will not find that here," she says. "Everyone feels welcome here. We get high school cheer teams, and dudes who went to these [punk] shows in the ’80s."
232 N. Second Ave., Upland. (909) 451-3010, radcoffeeco.com
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