‘Community First’: New Cafe Sparks Instant Popularity in Irvine

When MoonGoat Coffee Roasters started, co-founder Mark Evans never thought he would consider opening more than one physical location.

Not to mention their fourth location, which they officially opened Thursday afternoon.

The new storefront, nestled inside the UC Irvine Research Park, has been operational since February and has served more than 6,500 orders since opening the doors on California Avenue.

On Thursday afternoon, the atmosphere was full of life as baristas moved quickly behind the bar and students settled in to study as midterm exams approached. The sound of someone grinding coffee beans was in the air and Evans smiled proudly as he watched, cradling his own glass in his arms.

MoonGoat Coffee Roasters, which first established its roastery in Santa Ana in 2018, opened an outlet in Costa Mesa the following year, then expanded to Garden Grove and Laguna Beach.

Arturo Mandujano Jr., manager of MoonGoat Coffee Roasters’ new location at UCI Research Park, serves a latte during the cafe’s official grand opening on Thursday, March 7.

(Eric Licas)

“When we first started, we did a lot of events with Irvine Co. through pop-ups and catering. That kind of got us through the door with Irvine Co., and we knew (this) place was special because of our location in Costa Mesa,” Evans said. “We’ve had so many people from the UCI come to us and ask, ‘When are you going to open a place in Irvine?’ so we knew we were going to do it one day. We just didn’t know when, and the opportunity presented itself here. It used to be a Starbucks, then a Steam (Coffee Bar). As soon as we arrived, we said, “Yes.”

“I didn’t even have to walk through the door.”

Evans said the rest came together quickly within two months and the opening of the Irvine location was the most successful to date.

Barista Michelle Chen hands an iced latte to a customer at Moongoat Coffee Roaster's new location.

Barista Michelle Chen hands an iced latte to a customer at MoonGoat Coffee Roaster’s new location in UCI Research Park during the cafe’s grand opening Thursday. This is one of four physical storefronts in total.

(Eric Licas)

A former musician, Evans said he used to tour the country and visit interesting coffee shops all over the world, but when he returned to his native Orange County he wouldn’t see anything comparable to the coffee scene elsewhere. He loved the sense of community he felt at other stores and wanted to create that same vibe in every location MoonGoat eventually set up.

“There are a few mom-and-pop stores (here), but nothing like what I’ve seen on the road. And so, my dream after music was to open a café. I had never worked in coffee in my life, which is crazy, but that’s where the out-of-the-box thinking comes in. I partnered with David (Longridge), who worked for Starbucks and was at the same obstacle,” Evans said. “So, like a perfect storm, we came together and found a location in Costa Mesa, in an industrial area.

“We thought we were crazy to open there, but it turned out to be super successful.”

A poured latte sits on the counter at MoonGoat Coffee Roasters' new location.

A poured latte sits on the counter at MoonGoat Coffee Roasters’ new location. The brand began operations in 2018 and opened its first physical store in Costa Mesa in 2019.

(Eric Licas)

At least now, the business is staying in Orange County because there’s already an oversaturation of coffee shops in neighboring Los Angeles County, he explained, and because he wanted to bring something special to this particular region. Any plans for physical expansion beyond the Irvine location, he said, would have to grow organically.

He said he feels what makes MoonGoat unique is the quality of what it serves. The company sources its coffee beans from all over the world, as well as locally. Evans regularly makes buying trips to Japan because he appreciates the quality of their matcha.

The food served at MoonGoat, he said, is also prepared on site.

Customers work, study and relax at Moongoat Coffee Roasters' newest location.

Customers work, study and relax at Moongoat Coffee Roasters’ newest location within the UCI Research Park. Co-founder Mark Evans said it was important to him to provide space for the community to grow.

(Eric Licas)

“It’s a place where people can come and hang out. It’s not like a store. I’m not throwing Starbucks under the bus, but if you walk into a Starbucks, there are several places you can set up your laptop. Here I could have 60 people studying and organizing work groups,” Evans said. “What separates us is first the community, then our coffee, our matcha and our fun chagaccino drinks – the mushroom drinks, which I didn’t think would be a big hit. I think it’s a lot of that, plus the work that we’ve done.

Evans said his team is passionate about their work and that he sometimes feels, through MoonGoat, that he is still a musician, putting as much effort into performing in front of a crowd as he supplies himself with ingredients and maintains the brand. The Irvine location, he said, like the three others the company operates, is for him about providing a safe space for people to enjoy their experience.

“I’ve heard this a million times from our customers. They will come up to me and say, “Are you the owner? Are you one of the owners? and I’ll say, “Yeah.” And they’ll say, “I just want to thank you for opening a place where I can bring my family and feel comfortable.” I’ve heard it so many times that I should record it because it always warms my heart to hear it,” he said. “It means we are doing right by the community.”

MoonGoat officials and Selina Urquiza from Irvine Vice Mayor Larry Agran's office celebrate the opening.

MoonGoat co-founders David Yardley, Mark Evans, MoonGoat Coffee Director Arturo Mandujano Jr., co-founder David Longridge and Selina Urquiza from Irvine Vice Mayor Larry Agran’s office, left to right , celebrate the opening of the new café at UCI Research. Park on Thursday.

(Eric Licas)

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