Trouble Coconut and Coffee


Of late, I have found that I had become captivated by the story of one woman; a woman named Giulietta Carrelli.   Her story was on NPR, and it was there that I learned of her story.   Because of that story, the world has given her a nickname; Trouble.

Over the last few years, she has developed a rule of life that is pretty straight forward. She says the answer to any and all of life’s challenges is to simply hold a coconut.   She says that it can fix anything. In the end “If you walk down the street holding a coconut people talk to you…” and she says that’s the first step to fixing everything.

Stand on a street corner drinking coffee and people won’t notice.   Eat a bagel, and no one cares.   Stand at the bus stop, eating a coconut, and you are guaranteed that people will stop.  Simple as it appears at first glance, she may be on to something.

See, Giulietta or Trouble, has actually gone further and built an entire business on this idea. Honestly, her idea is so much more than just a coconut. Her story and the story of her business has captivated me since I first heard it during a commute to work.

So after turning to the internet to learn more, the creative juices for this message were released. With the appropriate credit to NPR front and center, our message begins with the incredible story behind a fad that she appears to have created. It seems that for those in the know, Trouble is credited with creating what Californians know as the Toast Bar.

On the west coast, cafes are springing up that serve nothing but coffee and artisan toast.   Gourmet Coffees and breads – toasted – are the only things on the menu and they have lines that stretch around the block each and every morning.   In an echo of the massive price tags at places like Starbucks, one can buy that toast and coffee, and maybe a wedge of orange if you are lucky, for the low, low, price of $15-20.

Some folks out there believe it’s only a matter of time before Toast bars show up on the east coast.

I tend to disagree.   I believe we are too frugal to spend $20 on toast.   I enjoy toast as much as the next guy, but at the price of Filet Mignon?   Most of us would say they are out of their mind, as we believe Californians typically are.

(Minus of course the very reasoned and well adjusted family that – at least for the time being – calls Cali home)

With the ridiculousness of toast bars aside, the story that is more important to hear is how the fad started.   Everyone points to Giuilietta as toast bar ground zero.   Dig even deeper and you’ll realize that her story revealed so much more than an obscene desire to overspend on Toast.

At her café, named the Trouble Cocounut and Coffee Club, uniqueness comes across in everything.   Right there, in the heart of San Francisco, you can go and buy, for $7.00 her “Build Your Own House” Special which includes, a cup of coffee, a whole Thai coconut and a slab of insanely indulgent cinnamon toast. It comes with a shot glass of grapefruit juice which they affectionately call the “Yoko-Ono” for reasons none of the articles mention.   Let me say it again; a whole coconut is included in your order.

Here is the most bizarre part of her business model; this is all she sells.     No Danishes, no brownies, no bagels, and no tea.   Coconut, Cinnamon Toast, Coffee, and Grapefuit Juice is all that is on her menu.   Although any reasonable individual east of the Mississippi River would clearly proclaim her nuts, the locals go mad for her café.

Now here is crux of the story hidden in the story; If you are one of those brave enough to tell this beautiful woman that she was crazy, she would respond in a manner that has become almost a motto.   She would offer a perplex reply of “Crazy? Of course I’m crazy… but I don’t like that word.   I choose schizoaffective.”

See, Guilietta has what is referred to as a schizoaffective disorder—she is part schizophrenic, part bipolar.   The condition hits her with debilitating psychotic episodes. These episodes are characterized as bouts of mania or depression, with Psychotic disorders that tag along for the ride.   For her, Psychotic disorders mean delusions, hallucinations, voices in her head, and complete lapses in the psychiatric control of her life.

She might tell a story about the time at school when an episode hit and she would feel as she left her body. She might have seen herself standing in the center of the classroom looking at herself in her chair, and be overcome by the massive volume of the sounds around her.   Someone off to her right would crumble up paper and it likely felt like a freight train was passing through the room.   Another would be chewing gum, and with each chomp it echoed like shotgun was fired inches from her ears.

The only coping tool she had was to run, and run she did. She ran away and was never in the same spot for long. As a young adult, she spent time in and out hospitals.   She had extended periods of homelessness.   She admits that she even lived in a tree for a while. Her episodes could last for hours, days, weeks, and even months.

She couldn’t keep a job, or friends, and as soon as things started to get bad she would move rather than hurt her friends.   By the time between 20 and 30 she lived in 9 cities. She also self medicated.

But everything changed for her one afternoon, when she was lost in a psychotic state, and she saw two men swimming in the frigid winter waters of San Francisco Bay.   She watched them half aware, and became convinced of some delusion occurring in that water.   She decided to jump in herself.   As soon as she jumped in, she was met with what she called a frigid slap in the face, which instantly stopped the episode.   Somehow jumping into the frigid water brought her home.

From that time forward, each time she felt herself going she would jump into the bay which was frigid all year long, and within minutes she would be better.   It worked better than the self medication. The swims eventually lead to enough lucidity to finally decide she needed professional help controlling the episodes.

She got clean.   She got on medicine.   She got as much control over her episodes as she could.   She also started to establish a community.

As she was cleaning up, those newly found friends suggested that she grab a hold of a skill that could keep her employed. She knew she was good at making coffee and loved to talk to people so she decided a coffee shop was as good as any other idea.     With $1,000 borrowed from friends, she bought cups, a coffee maker, and served coffee until the cups ran out. When they did, she closed the shop, walked to the store and bought more with the profits.

Soon the business, the daily dips in the ocean, the lack of illegal drugs, and true psychiatric help, helped her get her feet under her.   As fate would have it, her toast was pretty good too. Today, her store is thriving. Imitators sprung up everywhere, minus the coconut.

Soon she went from just barely making it to an local icon of sorts.   Today she is 34 years old, and she is beautiful in her own right.   She has mesmerizing blue eyes, and she is covered in countless tattoos.   Each and every day she walks to and from her apartment wearing the exact same outfit. She wears jeans, and a grey tank top, which shows off her the aforementioned tattoos.   She finishes the ensemble with the same bandana like scarf on her head.   That is her outfit.   That is her only outfit.

Truth be told it was hearing the story of her clothing choices that I realized that there was a story of faith in her story.   That’s when I realized there was a story hidden in the story.   It was an ‘aha’ moment.

See, when it comes to faith we talk about our journey. We talk about those things we do that can bring us closer to God.   We need to be clear; the purpose of our journeyt is to bring us to that point, where we realize the very simple promise; There is nothing that separates us from the presence and Grace of God.   There is no moment, no darkness, no hurt, and no mistake that negates his love.

That is the Good News. Yet, sometimes we need reminders.   Part of our faith journey is learning to grab a hold on those reminders.

See, the true message here rests on the reality that Trouble is not miraculously healed or no longer fighting with mental illness or the parts that aren’t working right.   She fights every day. Trouble still fights with those psychotic moments, when she doesn’t realize who she is, or what she is doing and she is terrified.   Sometimes the pills only last so long, and the voices come screaming back and bounce endlessly in her head.  She loses her way. She forgets.

But Trouble is known everywhere in her community.   By wearing the same outfit every day, and taking the same routes to work every day, people in her community recognize her face.   They can help her.   They know her and they realize when things are not working. She finally has come to the point where she realizes that the more people who recognize her, the greater the chance that she might be able to recognize herself.

All too often, when I preach I call out those voices in our heads that try to convince us how fake we are, or how close we are to having everything around us crumble. As I remind you of those discussions, let me be clear; In no way am I equating those voices to what arrives with the nightmare of schizophrenia.

Instead I would rather you look towards the truth that Trouble’s solution may just hint at a solution for us to. Trouble’s reminder may be ours too.

We fight every day. Perhaps we fight in subtle ways, but we fight. We find ourselves in those moments when we have no idea where we are going – or – who we are.   Sometimes the doubt and the ugliness in our own head screams incredibly loud. We lurk in dark places full of doubt and question.

In those dark times, we need help remembering and recognizing who we truly are. Just like Trouble finds her way back through her neighbors, we can find a way back too. We also need the strength of community.   We need the strength of place.   We need that reminder today, and we need it in a month when the weather gets nice and there are a million and a half excuses to be anywhere but here.

Make the decision to see part of your journey as a quest to hear God more clearly by recommitting to your place in the family of faith. Find your pew and stake your claim. Make this journey be about stopping long enough to listen to the call to come home, that is expressed both individually and communally. Look to this place as one more way of recognizing the person you are.

(CCLI, Photo by Hafiz Issadeen, 2008,

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