It’s almost 10 in the morning and the space is brimming with people in conversation over coffee. I am standing in line to pick up a cortado and to meet with Gary Chau—one of the founders and visionaries behind Santa Monica’s Caffe Luxxe.
As timing so has it, Gary and I connect moments after I receive my masterfully prepared drink. Since the queue has grown substantially, Gary’s respect for the order of things places him at the back of it line—patiently waiting for his cappuccino like any other cafe patron. This is not the expected behavior of a co-head-honcho, but it's my first insight into understanding why Caffe Luxxe is a successful operation.
Started by friends and entrepreneurs—Gary Chau and Mark Wain—Caffe Luxxe is coming upon their 8th year of serving hand crafted coffee to Los Angeles. In fact, Luxxe was one of the first 3rd wave shops in the city. Today, with three cafes between Santa Monica and Brentwood—and an eye on a fourth location—Luxxe continues to engender a steady growth surrounded by some of the West Side’s most luxurious retail.
Given the influx of specialty coffee shops to LA over the past few years, Caffe Luxxe has maintained it’s foothold in the local coffee scene without being swayed by fickle industry trends or sacrificing their vision of a luxurious European style cafe sans pretension.
As Gary and I sit, chat, and enjoy our coffees, it is hard not to notice how lively the crowd in the cafe is. In the never ending coffee shop debate; to have, or not to have internet, Gary explained how Luxxe has chosen to take a definitive stance. They do not provide wifi for their patrons. Though this has probably ruffled a few feathers, the real fallout from their decision to disconnect is that people in the space are actually engaging with each other. Luxxe is a caffeinated and unplugged oasis.
2013 was one of the most exciting years to date in the evolution of Caffe Luxxe. After opening their own roasting facility in 2012, Luxxe spent the past year pushing their program into high gear. Headed by Mark, their roastery produces two espresso blends: A Capella and Testa Rosa, as well as a single origin. Their current Guatemala El Tambor received a 93 point rating from Coffee Review.
Gary explained how Caffe Luxxe roasts in the Northern Italian tradition. That means Luxxe's beans are heated until rich chocolate and caramel flavors are revealed. If you’ve ever heard master roaster Michael Shchoemer of Seattle’s Vivace roasters speak about roasting, he’d tell you there is no other way. Roasting any lighter is considered an injustice to the bean.
Il Laborotorio di Caffe is the official name for Luxxe’s roasting and training facility. Gary likened the space to Walter White's secret laboratory in Breaking Bad. I could see the parallels given the spotlessness of the space, the tireless dedication to the craft, and the persistent production of our favorite socially acceptable drug—caffeine. However, Luxxe's laboratory had a much friendlier feel than that of the infamous show.
Welcomed by their fluffy mascot Sammy the Samyoed, and a rich soy cappuccino prepared at the hands of Gary himself, Il Labratorio is anything but menacing. Their vintage Probat coffee Roaster is housed in the center of the main room beneath a tall ceiling and skylights, as if it were a revered statue. Il Labratorio also has a state of the art educational facility equipped with all the tools to help their master roasters and baristas in training achieve excellence.
During our visit to Luxxe's Montana Avenue cafe, Gary and I talk a lot about ideas of neighborhood,‘local and community. While we are chatting, a steady stream of regulars interrupt to greet him. Whether he knows it or not, Gary is an integral part of Caffe Luxxe’s mission to be a place where people can connect.
One of Caffe Luxxe's tenets is to be supportive of their employees whether they are interested in pursuing a career in coffee or are working to nurture other passions. It's not unusual to see art displayed on the walls by their resident baristas.
Luxxe’s retail shelves are stacked with luxury goods like olive oils, jams, vintage stamps, soaps and letter-pressed greeting cards. They sell products alongside coffee that represent a luxurious and comfortable lifestyle.
After covering the gamut of conversational ground, Gary and I realize we are connected through his previous career in the Spirit business—its a small world. It is in instances like this I am reminded of the value of Caffe Luxxe. A place which offers the opportunity to disconnect from our screens, savor a cappuccino, and comfortably converse with one another. A space to recognize our community and commonalities.
Thank you to Gary and Mark of Caffe Luxxe for graciously taking the time to connect.