At first, Carrelli explained Trouble as a kind of sociological experiment in engineering spontaneous communication between strangers. She even conducted field research, she says, before opening the shop. “I did a study in New York and San Francisco, standing on the street holding a sandwich, saying hello to people. No one would talk to me. But if I stayed at that same street corner and I was holding a coconut? People would engage,” she said. “I wrote down exactly how many people talked to me.”
The smallness of her cafés is another device to stoke interaction, on the theory that it’s simply hard to avoid talking to people standing nine inches away from you. And cinnamon toast is a kind of all-purpose mollifier: something Carrelli offers her customers whenever Trouble is abrasive, or loud, or crowded, or refuses to give them what they want. “No one can be mad at toast,” she said.
Carrelli’s explanations made a delightfully weird, fleeting kind of sense as I heard them. But then she told me something that made Trouble snap into focus. More than a café, the shop is a carpentered-together, ingenious mechanism—a specialized tool—designed to keep Carrelli tethered to herself.
I first heard this wonderful story in an episode of This American Life. [Sidenote: If you’re a fan of good storytelling, you need to be listening to This American Life. Like right now.] It begins as a complaint about how toast – like cupcakes before it – has turned into overpriced artisanal nonsense. So the writer goes on a journey to find the beginning of the trend, and he stumbles upon this amazing tale of perseverance that I dare your heart not be warmed by. Let this make you happy today.