“If more of us enjoyed food, joy and song above hoarded gold, it would be a happier world.”
Heidi and Ross Rojek’s new downtown cafe in Sacramento, There & Back Again, aims to test this quote from dwarf Thorin Oakenshield in “The Hobbit.” The Rojeks envision There And Back Again not just as a cafe, but as a communal gathering place for fantasy fans, settlers from Catania, and anyone who might need a friend.
“We want it to be a welcoming space for people who may not have a place to go out and be themselves,” Heidi said.
The owners have a long way to go to convert the former Oblivion Comics & Coffee at 1020 11th St., Suite 100 into the cafe they envision.
A rear area will eventually house rental movies and video games, with big-screen TVs and PlayStations for customers to try out games before they buy. It will also be a place for karaoke nights, quizzes and poetry readings when complete, COVID-19 numbers permitting.
Customers can bring their own board games or rent them. They will soon be able to play on custom tables from a local carpenter, Heidi said.
Ross is working on setting up a giant chess board outside Cathedral Square. There & Back Again will be making calls for customers to come and play the pieces. The cafe also aims to provide a similar sized Catania settling board, of which there is already a smaller version painted on the wall behind the bar.
An $8,500 hand-drawn linoleum map of Middle-earth greets patrons as they enter, followed by a giant poster of Gandalf the Gray courtesy of the nearby Esquire IMAX theater. Culinary specialties will riff on this week’s featured book: During ‘Lord of the Rings’ week, Heidi prepared ‘Shire-cuterie’ boards with a nest of quail eggs, ‘Frodo’s mushrooms’, charcuterie and Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op cheeses.
There & Back Again also sells homemade pies and avocado toast topped with halloumi. The coffee and espresso drinks come from Reno-based Old World Coffee Lab, and the Rojeks plan to eventually apply for a license from the California Department of Liquor Control to sell beer and wine.
Owners of Capital Books a block and a half from There & Back Again, the Rojeks have had a front row seat to the decadence of downtown Sacramento during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the K Street Bookstore doubled in business during this time thanks to community support and innovations such as “Feast and Fiction,” a private party where couples dined and browsed the otherwise closed store.
Downtown restaurants have struggled since their typical lunch clientele shifted to working from home. But the Rojeks aren’t counting on state workers to make up the bulk of There & Back Again’s clientele, and they aren’t deterred by recent tough times.
“Ross and I really believe in downtown, and we wouldn’t have opened the bookstore even before COVID if we didn’t,” Heidi said. “That’s not to say it hasn’t been difficult for the past two years, but we’re still here.”