Meet the Duo Supporting the WGA Strike with Some Much-Needed Coffee

Dean’s Coffee is staffed by TV production workers who know the importance of caffeine on the picket line.

On her regular coffee runs during her time as a Writers’ Production Assistant, Andrea Alba-Von Buren often thought it looked fun to be a barista. There’s the blur of action, the community of coworkers and regulars, and the creative artistry behind specialty coffee drinks. It was always an idle observation, though—a fun daydream, until the WGA strike began and TV production shut down across LA. Suddenly she was out of work and searching for a way to support the writers’ strike in solidarity and a way to support herself, too. And so Dean’s Coffee was born, a strike-time stand that sets up on the picket lines selling cold brew and creative coffee drinks to striking writers and their allies.

Of course, that’s an oversimplification of the story. First, Alba-Von Buren applied for jobs outside the TV industry in all sorts of relevant and tangentially relevant fields. But she found herself largely ignored. Even in LA, where everyone knows someone in show business, an aspiring TV writer’s resume reads a bit bizarre. There are tons of short-term jobs with long gaps in between, sometimes for production companies that are intentionally anonymous or on shows that never make it to air. This weird workflow is an overlooked byproduct of TV’s new era of mini-rooms and shortened contracts, two practices at the center of the WGA writers’ fight for a fair new contract.

And another job would have taken Alba-Von Buren away from what she wanted to do anyway—getting out on the picket lines, showing solidarity with the writers’ strike, and helping to re-establish the future of the film and TV industry. She’s a member of IATSE from her time working in TV production offices, but she found the idea of just showing up to picket as a non-WGA member a little intimidating. So she brainstormed and hit one of the things writers need most—coffee.

She looked up recipes, focusing on cold brew and iced coffee because it’s looking like a long, hot summer for writers marching back and forth on the sidewalks and crosswalks of the Valley. But it still felt like a lark, the kind of thing you always think about but never actually do, until she brought the idea to her friend Olivier Alerte, a production coordinator. Together they tested out recipes for cold brew and specialty drinks, and when it turned out pretty well, they decided to go for it. Alba-Von Buren came up with the name, a tribute to her dearly departed hedgehog Dean, and she created a graphic menu using him as the mascot and design inspiration, too.

Dean's Coffee stand set up at a Disney picket
Photo by Ben Mesirow for Thrillist

She and Alerte set up for the first time on May 25th, and things have only grown over the last few weeks. Now they’re regularly getting sponsorships from upper-level writers, which allows them to give away free coffee to anyone who happens to be on the picket line that day. They’re also coordinating with the organizers of special themed pickets, making unique drinks designed to pair with the shows or fandoms having special events.

At a recent picket for women writers of genre shows, they had a stunning purple and blue sparkling tropical lemonade called The Sci-Fi Writer and an iced macchiato with sinister-looking strawberry puree called The Horror Writer. For the Grishaverse picket, they created a Crow Club Chocolate Cherry Latte and The Black Heretic Cold Brew with black sesame sweet cream. Coming up with themed drinks provides a creative outlet for Alba-Von Buren, and those pickets tend to be the most fun, enthusiastic, and crowded. In the next few weeks, they’ll be at a Selena-themed picket and one for Taylor Swift fans, among others.

It is easy to look at the WGA strike and mostly see a disruption or a burden on the local economy. TV production is not just about the writers, actors, and directors; it’s an entire industry, a load-bearing pillar of LA life. That includes the glamorous jobs above the line and also the crew members, support staff, local coffee shops, and every single restaurant in Toluca Lake. When show business grinds to a halt, it changes the calculus for people all over the city. But that only underscores how vital the WGA strike is. In fighting for the future of their craft, the WGA is setting a precedent for the strength of labor and what fair treatment and appropriate value for workers of all kinds means in the modern age. In so doing, they’re fighting for the future of LA. And they’re going to need a lot of coffee.

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Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.