People in La Jolla’s Neighborhood: Meet Pannikin Coffee’s manager, ‘Johnny Angel’


Editor’s Note: Welcome to La Jolla Light’s latest feature, “People in the Neighborhood,” a series that shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about! Light staff is out on the town talking to familiar, friendly faces to bring you their stories. If you know someone you’d like us to profile through “People in the Neighborhood,” send the lead via e-mail to or call us at (858) 875-5950.

If you’ve been to Pannikin Coffee and Tea before noon over the last nine years, you’ve probably got your cup of Joe from Johnny Fraher. The North County native, who laughs that he has been fired three times from the 7467 Girard Ave. coffeehouse, is the manager. He boasts that he knows the name (and drink) of about 150 people he’ll see in the course of any given weekend.

How is it that you’ve been fired three times?

“When I first got hired here, it was as the baker, and I was in school and playing in a band at that time, so I was awake all the time and had a hard time making it here it at 4 in the morning. Two of the three times, I got fired was because I didn’t show up for work. Another time I was glazing scones and fell asleep standing up with a spoon in my hand. ... But the owners said I could come back as a barista so I didn’t have to report at 4 in the morning, and that worked out great.”

What’s your favorite thing about working here?

“There are so many interesting things that happen with people every day. You get to see people before they take on the rest of the world, and you get a vision into who they are when they are still half asleep versus when they are ready for the day. You get to know the soul of the person. And there are so many people who come here from all walks of life – homeless people up to millionaires. I think it’s so weird that this place is next door to a Maserati dealership. There is a weird juxtaposition.

If there was a school for extra-terrestrials when they first inhabit human bodies that need to learn how to use them, they would come here to practice because you see the strangest things happen here. Sometimes that’s only explanation I can think of for some of the strange things that happen here.

It’s gotta be aliens! They practice using language and socialization and how to use this new physical form. There is also extreme rudeness, like cutting in line. I see 45-year-olds try to cut in line and I think, ‘this is not middle school, you are an adult, you can’t act like that.’ That’s not going to work here, and I see people change their attitudes after coming here for a while.

Plus, we have the coffee, you can’t have it unless you’re nice to us.”

How is working here different from a chain, like Starbucks?

“I’ve never worked at Starbucks, but I think with any small business verses a corporation, we can be more individual and have our own character. If someone comes in and is being rude, we can tell them, ‘stop, check yourself, everyone else here is having a nice time, you don’t need to mess it up.’ But this place specifically has a lot of magic. It’s been here for a long time and there are people who have been coming here since before I was born and still come here every day. I don’t know of any Starbucks that has that kind of magic.”

When you are not here, what are you doing?

“I’ve been in a few bands over the years. I’m in a band now that used to be called Soul Critters, but we’re changing the name. I also like to garden. My girlfriend Natalie and I live in Clairemont and we have a big backyard. We had chickens, but we went out of town and while we were gone, an animal got to them, so now we don’t have chickens.”

What’s the secret to a perfect cup of coffee?

“Like anything in life, if you put your heart and good energy into it, it makes a big difference. If you think of things from start to finish — where the beans are sourced, the temperature of the water — you can see what a good cup of coffee is like. If you put positive energy into something, it gives it a notch up on anything else.”

NEXT WEEK: Meet Susie Nguyen Grafte, dance teacher and owner at Ooh La La Dance Academy.