By Lea Yamashiro
Daily Press Intern
On Montana Avenue, businesses come and go quickly due to the expensive and competitive fight for the spotlight in this center of high-end demand. Caffe Luxxe, however, has managed to comfortably survive 10 years in the industry, while keeping firm to their initial principles and international inspiration.
Caffe Luxxe was founded in 2006 by close college friends, Mark Wain and Gary Chau, who always knew that they wanted to create something together. Wain grew up in New York but was raised by Argentinian parents. Coffee was embedded into his cultural heritage and daily breakfasts with his family. Throughout his childhood, coffee came to represent for him a sense of familial togetherness. Chau, however, grew up in the Far East in Bangkok and Hong Kong where his childhood was filled with a large focus on tea. Later, though, after he moved to the United States and attended college, he was exposed to coffee visiting friends in Europe. He would come to associate coffee with cordial, warm gatherings of friends at each of their favorite local coffee shops.
When Wain and Chau finished college at UCLA, they went their separate ways in work. Wain worked in technology for companies such as Citibank, Microsoft, and Arthur Andersen Consulting. Chau worked in marketing at companies such as Tiffany Jewelry, Bacardi, Grey Goose, and Bombay Sapphire. In this post-college time, the two of them always managed to meet and catch up; usually, they met in a coffee shop. Ten years ago, after so many times of sitting together in local cafes and growing to significantly appreciate their connective neighborhood settings, “it just clicked,” says Chau. They had realized that their passions were for this “café lifestyle experience.”
Hence, in 2006, they opened Caffe Luxxe on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, which at the time was home to many start up coffee shops. When the café had just opened, Chau recalls that a woman walked into the café abruptly and said, “Really? Another coffee shop?” But Chau and Wain were convinced that what they were cultivating was special enough to stay afloat in this somewhat skeptical environment.
They chose Santa Monica and specifically Montana Avenue because they were searching for a certain crowd of customers: a cultural community where the common passerby was a well-versed and well-traveled person who would recognize and appreciate what they were doing. Their initial goal was to create an Italian-influenced coffee shop that would aesthetically recreate the experience of being in a café in Europe. If all went as planned, it would turn into a local coffee shop like the European cafes they visited where there existed atmosphere in which customers and baristas could create relationships and the shop would be a place of community gathering.
“What we have created is a place where it is possible sometimes that the barista knows more about a person’s life than their spouse,” said Chau.
They wanted to be attractive to outsiders while being a place frequented by neighbors and other local storeowners.
Not only does the café focus on this community cultivation, but it also takes a great deal of pride in the making of the coffee itself.
“First and foremost, we have always focused on super-high quality in everything we do,” said Chau. “We source and roast our own coffee. In fact, Mark even goes to the farms and will source and work with the farmers on bringing coffee back to the U.S. for our needs.”
The café focuses on roasting coffee that is influenced by other countries.
“We know that there are certain flavor characteristics from different countries. We roast it in honor of the flavor profile of each country,” he said.
At the barista level, there is an extensive apprenticeship-training program that lasts for six to twelve months before trainees can call themselves a professional barista.
Even despite the arrival of many different high-end coffee shops in the area, over the years, Caffe Luxxe has managed to change very little.
“We have always focused on being classic, simple, and elegant, and so we actually haven’t changed that much since we began,” said Chau. “We have added more types of coffee to the menu and more types of pastries. Overall, we’ve basically stayed the same. In our opinion, if you create an amazing product, people can enjoy that for a very long time.”
Chau appreciates how coffee shops in Santa Monica all are doing something different, and also states that other local cafes help his own business.
“What I appreciate about other coffee shops, is that everyone does a different thing. That actually educates all of our neighbors about what coffee could taste like and what it could be,” he said. “It actually creates opportunities for us. When people open across the street, we actually sell more, because we are all raising awareness about this drink called coffee.”
Since 2006, Wain and Chau opened two more cafes, one in Brentwood and one in Los Angeles, and are working on opening two more.
“We are lucky that people have embraced us and our style of coffee,” said Chau. “We are thankful that Santa Monica has been our home base. I’ve made so many friends of neighbors in Santa Monica, and also small business owners on Montana.”
To celebrate the 10-year anniversary, Caffe Luxxe has launched a gallery of photos that include lost and never-before-seen photos of the Beatles contributed by a local customer. The café will release its 10th anniversary blend, which on Wednesday, Aug. 3, the public will be able to sample. Then, on Thursday, Aug. 4, Caffe Luxxe will be serving free coffees all day long.