Love is in the air

When Kevin and Allyson Seconds launched their True Love Coffeehouse in Midtown one year ago, who knew the place would be such a runaway success?

Kevin and Allyson Seconds: American coffee achievers?

Kevin and Allyson Seconds: American coffee achievers?

Photo By Larry Dalton

One year ago, Sacramento’s music community received an early Valentine’s Day present. The capital city got a new venue for music and art, along with what’s simply an excellent place to hang out and imbibe caffeinated beverages.

The True Love Coffeehouse, located at 2406 J St., is the bottom floor of a renovated Victorian, and is more often than not full of folks who like their music and coffee offered up in a warm, inviting atmosphere. Monthly art shows adorn the walls, gently illuminated by various Christmas lights and track lighting. Even the furniture is artistic, with tables and chairs featuring the work of various local artists, many of them musicians.

The proprietors of this recently established venue are Kevin and Allyson Seconds. Both have been known for their untiring support of the local music scene, including currently playing together in their band, Go National. But, besides playing music, for years the two harbored a dream to open a venue that would support music and art in the way they thought it should be done. Finally, last year everything fell into place and the True Love Coffeehouse was ready to become a reality.

“Doing this with Al, it really is a dream that we’ve had for a lot of years,” Kevin says. “At some point you say, ‘We can sit and talk about having our little dream café forever, or we can try to actually do it.’ ”

More than a mere café, the True Love is also a true music venue. Music is offered Thursdays through Saturdays, with a decided leaning toward pop acts. The club will not accommodate very loud music, but it can get quite noisy at times. Kevin says they kept things on the quiet side so as not to get on the nerves of their neighbors.

“[But] as loud as it’s gotten in here, you can’t really hear it outside,” he notes. “Plus, we don’t do loud music past midnight. We’re still keeping things quiet and stripped down.”

Quiet and stripped down, yes, but a haven for folk artists? No.

“The one thing I never wanted to get a rep for was being the place where folkie cover acts play,” Kevin says. “It’s great when the original [folk] stuff is good, but it seems like more people are getting into doing Dave Matthews covers or whatever, and I can’t handle that. We know what works here and what doesn’t, and I don’t think we ever want to become a hippie-dippy place.”

Inside the True Love are the kitchen, ordering counter and pickup window, and for music lovers, the room in which local and touring performers do their thing. The inner room where performers play has a hushed feel; patrons tend to pay attention to the music they’re hearing.

Besides the regular music shows, the True Love features a variety of recurring shows Monday through Wednesday. Kicking off the week is the unforgettable experience of Monday Night Crudo, in which professional wrestling fans gather to watch televised wrestling and listen to between-match banter between local wrestler host El Flaco Loco and his sidekick, Tommy Tsunami. The proceedings can get quite lively, to say the least.

Tuesday’s feature is the popular Open Mic Plus, hosted by the monstrously monikered Godzilla, a host with an edgy sense of fun. Wednesday is film night with the True Love Science Theater, hosted by Dana Gumbiner. Each month is organized around a theme—for example, films by Woody Allen, Steve McQueen, the Coen Brothers or Hal Hartley.

The local music-scene connection is enhanced by the fact that Gumbiner sings for Deathray, El Flaco Loco has been known to sit in on guitar for the Knockoffs, and even the Waffle King—who shows up weekends after midnight—bears an eerie resemblance to Knockoff frontman Tom Hutchison. During this late-night waffle time, there is often “waffletainment,” usually low-key music to help patrons wind down their evening.

The True Love has a unique style created by Kevin and Allyson. The art, the music, the lighting and the hand-lettered signs adorning the walls all come together to create a vibrant atmosphere.

“There was no plan; [the look] just kind of evolved,” Allyson says.

“Whatever we found that we thought was cool, we’d just throw it in there to see if it works. People seem to like it. They say it reminds them of their own homes.”

David Houston, singing a sunny tune that belies his “Dark Lord” sobriquet.

Photo By Kevin Seconds

Kevin and Allyson enjoy the fact they’ve created a coffeehouse with a unique ambience.

“People walk in here and think it’s the craziest thing they’ve ever seen,” Allyson says.

“But,” Kevin adds, “it just proves that people will like something that’s a little different.”

The mix of patrons is wide, tending toward a younger clientele. That’s not to say this is a hangout for the young set.

“It seems like now, more than ever, on the weekend shows we see a lot of newer faces that are older people, which is really cool because it makes a nice balance with the kids,” Kevin says.

The majority of patrons are regulars, although a significant number are newbies. Upon entering the wrought-iron gate surrounding the building, one might be greeted by the FPHC, or front-patio hard core, a group that regularly sits at tables just outside the entrance, no matter how cold a particular evening is. It’s just one sign of the extreme loyalty the True Love engenders.

But the front patio isn’t even half the patio story at the True Love.

The Killer Back Patio is a covered, parking lot-sized, latticework-enclosed area in which several dozen people sit and drink coffee, eat food, play board games or just enjoy the outdoorsy feel, without the inconvenience of raindrops falling on their heads—with apologies to Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Although the True Love’s success thus far has exceeded Kevin and Allyson’s expectations, life has not always been a bed of roses, especially for a couple running a coffeehouse by themselves for the first time.

“The amount of paperwork is definitely something I did not bargain for,” Kevin says. “I had no idea how much there would be.”

That’s not to mention becoming handypersons at repair and the other sundry tasks that come with business ownership. But those are minor quibbles compared to the satisfaction the two have received from starting up their own venue.

The True Love features a list of over 20 specialty drinks, caffeinated twists on mochas, lattes, cappuccinos and others. Many of these are named after local performers in keeping with Kevin and Allyson’s involvement with the local music scene. For example, the Kepi-ccino, in honor of the Groovie Ghoulies’ manic frontman, is a cappuccino with extra chocolate and caffeine, while the Dark Lord Mocha, named after David Houston’s nickname, features an extra shot of chocolate.

For now, the True Love is only open in the evenings. Monday through Thursday the hours are 5 p.m. until midnight. On Friday and Saturday, the place is open until 2 a.m., and in the summer until 3 a.m. It’s closed on Sundays. Recently, the establishment began opening on Saturday afternoons. The True Love hopes by their example to inspire other Sacramento businesses to stay open later as well.

“We are [also] contemplating opening up during the day during the week and on Saturdays, due to the many requests we’ve received,” Allyson says. “But I don’t think we’ll ever be an early-morning place.”

For now though, the couple hopes that people will simply appreciate a venue that’s a little different and off the beaten path. Not just another corporate coffee place.

“I hope that people describe it as a social place that’s real and has nothing but the best intentions,” Kevin says. “Sure, we have to make money to keep the doors open, but still money isn’t the main driving force.”

“I hope it’s something that stands out in people’s minds as a unique place among all the cookie-cutter, corporate places,” Allyson says.