World Ground/Ten Years Old

by Madeline Smith Moore

World Ground manager Brian Chan. Photo by Bryan Farley

Click to enlarge.

One afternoon a little more than ten years ago, Uffe Gustafsson strolled down to MacArthur from his home in search of a cup of good coffee, a cozy atmosphere, and a pleasant respite from his chores. "We moved here in '94," he says. "There was only one coffee house—Brewberry's—at the time and they only had two or three tables, and they closed at three. So I went to Montclair for coffee. And I said 'This is not right. I can't get a cup of coffee.' Martha was going to Mills and worked part time in the coffee shop at the Barnes & Noble at Jack London Square. So we decided to open a café with a little more to offer than just coffee."

Whether or not Uffe and Martha foresaw the roomy, rather funky place where people of any ilk can feel comfortable grabbing a cup of good coffee from experienced baristas or a tasty lunch or maybe a late breakfast of a decadent scone, they did it. In 1998, World Ground Café opened at 3726 MacArthur. The café lives up to its name: "World" because the owners and workers, the customers, the décor, and the food, represent a good portion of the world, and "ground" because of the rollicking good coffee.

Amble in any day of the week between 6:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.; scan the customers schmoozing with friends, reading, pecking away at laptops, or just gazing off into space. Your shoulders will unknot, and you will sigh happily while giving the menu a good going-over. In the morning you might have trouble selecting from the mouth-watering choice of

fresh scones, muffins, pastries, New York bagels, or breakfast panini. When you've made your choice and you head for the java, you will no doubt find Brian, the manager and head barista. He'll be glad to help you with your selection. Brian comes in every morning at 5:30 a.m. to get things going, and says that by the time he opens, a line of people outside is eager to be allowed in.

Some of the lunchtime favorites are sandwiches heavy on the main ingredients (no pressed turkey, thank you very much) and light on the mayo, and imaginative salads. A very happy customer enjoyed "the Tuscan salad … packed with good stuff (spring greens, olives, feta cheese, kosher salami, tomatoes, capers, and homemade pesto-pasted toast)." And the menu items are reasonably priced. Of course there is a good selection of teas, soft drinks, and a smackin' good cup of hot cocoa.

While the main purpose of World Ground is to feed people, it also serves as one of the main meeting places in the Laurel. In the past, Uffe has welcomed local politicians and community organizers. His place served as a starting location for some charter schools before they had their own building. He has welcomed Bible-study groups. "As long as they don't bring in their own food and drinks, everybody is welcome. Maybe they will get a bite while they are here. Or a cup of coffee." This is the only requirement for taking up space in World Ground.

Saturday, April 5, is the date for the tenth anniversary celebration of World Ground and, according to Uffe, a celebration of Oakland itself. The afternoon will be strictly a children's affair complete with fire-truck sitting and firemen's hats. A wine tasting is planned in the evening for those of age. The wine is being provided by local wineries, and the cost is $7, with proceeds donated to the MacArthur Metro. Not only do you get to sample some very good vino, but Uffe plans to have snacks to match the wine. Sounds good to me.