Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Tour De Roast: Behind the Scenes at Caffe Luxxe

It's not everyday that you receive an email from a coffee shop owner who read your blog and invites you for a private tour of their roasting facility. Let me back up a little bit...

Back in April this year I went on one of my coffee shop visits at Caffe Luxxe in Brentwood, CA. Like I do with all my coffee outings, I wrote about it on this blog. It was about a couple days after I wrote my post that I received a message in my inbox from a gentleman named Gary Chau, Co-owner/Creative Director of Caffe Luxxe, explaining how he had enjoyed reading my review of their shop and my other posts as well (which, in and of itself, was exciting to hear). That being said, Gary was nice enough to extend an invitation to me and a couple of my friends to visit the headquarters/roasting facility of Caffe Luxxe. Honored and excited, I jumped at the opportunity to take Gary up on that offer, thus leading me to one of the most exciting coffee experiences I've ever had to date.

Driving to Gardena with my brother and meeting my good friend Terry at the roasting site, we all had been very excited to be able to meet the creative entrepreneurs behind the coffee that we had grown to appreciate so much. Terry had been a long time Luxxe fan (and the person who turned me on to checking out Caffe Luxxe to start) and my brother is a math and science brain who enjoys the math behind the coffee cup, probably more than he likes coffee itself. We walked into the doors of the facility and was greeted by the co-owner Gary.

We walked into their barista training area and were served amazingly creamy, dark chocolaty cappuccinos by Gary. My brother Joey was welcomed as he sat down by Caffe Luxxe's fluffy mascot, Sammy, who warmed his side as we sat down and just talked coffee. Gary introduced us to the other Co-Owner of Caffe Luxxe, Mark Waine, and together we sat and talked about life and some coffee (see how I did that...that's the name of my blog...never mind). I say that tongue in cheek, however it really was the nature of our conversation. Mark talked of his previous work at Microsoft and Gary's work in marketing for Bacardi and how their experiences during those times led them to where there are now at Luxxe. The conversations were so candid and free flowing that this hardly felt like a tour as it did a meet up between friends over coffee.

So now, I see this post going in two different ways. Either...

1) I tell you exactly the nature of our conversations, talking about their roaster, boring you with coffee nerd details and leaving you with a sense of, 'oh, that was nice,'
2) Tell you about Gary and Mark.

Let me tell you about Gary and Mark.

Gary explains the science mechanics behind the roaster.
The fact that I was invited for a private tour can give you an idea on the type of owners Gary and Mark are. They care. They care about their product, their customers, and their business as a whole. I can't look over (and I realize that I keep coming back to this point) the fact that these busy people were so personable and took time to make me and my friends coffee and just sit and talk with them at their roasting facility. Everything from coffee, business, life; all subjects were on the table and with such smooth candor. I've been to many shops, talked to many shop owners, and have met some very nice guys, however these guys definitely took the cake in 1-1 interactions with their customers. It was such a refreshing experience.

While being very nice owners, I realize that being nice can only get you so far, particularly in the business world. Particularly in food service business world. Particularly in the food service business world that is currently undergoing one of the worst economic times since the Great Depression. All of that being said, Mark and Gary of Caffe Luxxe know what works in this business. They've been doing speciality coffee here in Los Angeles before Intelligentsia opened in LA and have had to work from the ground up in educating the community (and even their own baristas when they opened) in what specialty coffee is all about. "We actually preferred people with no previous barista experience back then because they were more difficult to retrain," explained Gary. This segued into their explanation of their 6 month internship process that they have their employees go through before they even get behind the espresso machine. One thing after another, a common thread was evident in the explanation of their best practices....professionalism. One of the things I enjoyed most about this conversation with Mark and Gary was how professional they are in their business yet still be user friendly, so to speak. They have found that fine balance between customer satisfaction and maintaing their high standards for coffee without the pretentiousness that many shops have poisoned themselves with. They give quality coffee without any trendy strings attached.

The last thing I want to mention of what I appreciated about this experience was how much goes into the ambiance of their shops.They realize that coffee drinkers, especially in the LA areas where their shops are located, care about not just coffee, but the ambiance. As mentioned in my review of their shop, Caffe Luxxe definitely has that Italian caffe feel that makes Luxxe a desirable place to meet up with a friend, enjoy the weather, and unwind from the busyness of life. It was something that Gary was very passionate about, as he explained his fond memories of the European coffee shops he had visited in the past. "I really want this to be a place where you can meet up with a friend during the day and have a cup of artisanal coffee."

ALL of this can be summarized with this: I truly have much respect for both Gary and Mark. These guys are both coffee lovers and smart businessmen who know what it takes to not only survive in a not-so-good economy, but to thrive and still enjoy what they do. "I get to do this everyday," was what Mark said as he showed us their coffee roaster with a smile that read of contentment and satisfaction. Everything from customer relations to best business practices these gentlemen have down and are always striving to improve on.

All of this, and a parting gift of a bag of Testa Rosa. Thank you Mark and Gary.
Joey, Terry and I walked out the doors of the roasting site and looked at each other in this awkward silent giddiness, as if we had just walked out of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. "How do we explain this visit to our friends, they're not gonna understand how awesome this was!" It's true. Since this visit I've explained it to some of my friends who enjoy coffee but they really didn't understand what made this tour so interesting. It was even hard for me to put my finger on it. Looking back, what made this visit so memorable to all of us (again, repeat from what was said earlier) was how decent and pleasant Mark and Gary were.  It all really comes back to that.

I've already told you how much I enjoyed going to Caffe Luxxe in a previous post, but if you still haven't had the privilege of visiting this shop, you owe it to yourself to head on over. You won't be disappointed.

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