In planning the look and feel of Cloud Cafe owner David Aitken kept it simple.
"I just sort of made it a place I would want to be," he said.
Aitken, who also owns an online communications and support company that caters to public sector businesses, has some of what he calls "nerd" tendencies.
He has long been a computer gaming enthusiast—in fact, Aitken owned a gaming center in the same location years ago.
"There's sort of a headnod here to gaming. I grew up playing video games and, even though I don't have the time to do it anymore, I still follow art and gaming," he said.
The digital influence is subtly present. The electrical outlets next to each table have USB slots; some of the original artwork from local artists hanging on the walls features gaming or anime
characters. The ambiance hints at a clientele that might think of a "notebook," first as a thing with a screen.
"There has always been a tie to the gaming community," Aitken said. "I am from an IT background, so I kind of wanted to do a nerdy spin on it."
But there is little that is digital about the products. The caf's baristas make a variety of drinks by hand—one at a time. That includes a full menu of espresso-based drinks, caffeinated teas and herbal teas, Italian sodas and Taiwanese-style tapioca pearl bubble teas.
The attention baristas pay to the drinks is meant to counteract the mechanized tendency in other coffeehouses—a process that often yields scorched and bitter espresso, Aitken said.
"Those places often just lack that handcrafted finesse," he said.
The beans themselves come from Houston-based Katz Coffee, which is a small-batch, custom-roasting company. Cloud Cafe also offers its own signature small-batch roasts periodically—primarily when Aitken travels to Nicaragua.
"We'll showcase it when we have it," he said. "It generally goes pretty quickly."
The other items on the menu are always evolving to keep up with what customers want, he said.
Aitken said people are slowly beginning to discover the cafe. It is tucked away behind a Shipley's Donuts on South Mason Road, just north of Highland Knolls Drive.
While the location has presented some challenges because it is difficult to see from the road, it also provides a quiet and laid-back atmosphere, Aitken said.
Aitken's family owns the shopping center but, he noted, that does not mean he gets a break on rent.
He and his girlfriend, Sheysa Padilla, who is also a barista at the caf, did much of the construction themselves. Aitken said they are now considering an expansion to better accommodate groups.
"Coffeehouses are very popular in big cities but when you live out here in the suburbs, you kind of get cheated," he said.
1131 S. Mason Road
Hours: Mon.–Thu. 8 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 8 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.–7 p.m.