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MUSIC

Semi-pro

Through thick and thin, Austin's Coffee's open mic nights carry a lovely tune

In 2005, Sean Moore, his brother Steve and Jackie Oswalt scrounged up enough money to buy a dodgy coffeehouse at 929 W. Fairbanks Ave. Only a year after rescuing the place from bankruptcy, Moore opened shop one morning and pronounced the Austin's Coffee experiment dead. A late-night burglary had stripped the countertops and cupboards clean, and there was ano recovering.

“They took everything. I was done,” Moore says. “And the building couldn't have looked any shittier than it did before, because we'd lacked the capital to fix it in the first place. I called my brother to help sweep up, and we were high-fiving and saying, ‘This is it. Our hands are washed of this now.'”

But then an Austin's Coffee regular read about the break-in on Myspace and stopped by to donate a pair of laptops. Another customer arrived shortly thereafter with cutlery and glassware. Next was the spare cash register, then the rolls of coin to feed it. By day's end, Moore had everything his café needed.

“The [local] community is the reason we're open, and it humbles me everyday,” he says. “I'm a coffee guy, and I'm telling you, coffee is not what we do here. We want to build a place for people to feel welcome and safe, and we want to give back.”

Roasting all-organic, fair-trade-certified coffee grounds in-house certainly helps. A bin stocked with beans from Nicaragua's Segovia region perches in front of the espresso machine. Blends of tea with names like “Iron Goddess of Mercy” are displayed in tins that customers can sift through while waiting in line. The decor entails a lovable scatter of furniture – old movie theater seats, hand-painted chairs and tables, a purple Willy Wonka-esque sofa for lounging.

But Austin's Coffee gets as much love for their open mic amateur nights, which fill most evenings with a different flavor of music or spoken-word performance every week. (Orlando Weekly recognized the series as the best around in 2009 and 2011.)

“It's like a carnival here on Tuesday nights,” Orlando resident Taylor Tessitore says. She's performed at Austin's singer-songwriter night, the “crown jewel” of the series, for almost three years. “There's so much energy and so many people. Some weeks, I'll arrive two hours early to sign up and all the slots will be full. It's crazy, but everyone is always so friendly and supportive of everyone.”

The wealth of local talent that's budded there over the years is noteworthy. While most open mic nights devolve into a DIY karaoke groaner, these backyard artists – like singer-songwriter Drew Yardis and The Glee Project season 2 contestant Dani Shay – have elevated Austin's Coffee beyond that. A crummy 10-channel mixer and speaker become an easel and canvas on Austin's window-front stage.

“My buddy was working [at Austin's] back in the day, and there was a lot of live music that was coming in and out of there,” Yardis says. “I felt like it was a good spot to start playing.”

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