Roasters of Fine Coffees in beautiful Santa Cruz, California

Closing a Chapter


My life's path it seems, has been a steady stream of business and personal endeavors, punctuated by regular and frequent periods of ennui and existential angst, brought upon me by either accomplishing an objective to my satisfaction, or failing to do so. The result in either case is remarkably similar, something pilots call a falling leaf stall, wherein a wing stalled by a too-steep climb falls and, gaining speed, rises again, much like a leaf falling from an autumn tree. 

In late 2005, having arrived at one of these junctures, and recognizing that I had run out of ideas for what to do next with our business, I embarked on trips first to Australia and then to the Pacific Northwest, seeking I don't exactly know what. Some people go to Joshua Tree, Badrinath or Burning Man to find themselves. I went to Sydney and Portland. 

What I found in Sydney was a deep-rooted culture of craft coffee, a culture given over to coffee as a simple artisan experience, free of the layers of marketing schlock and tortured attempts to make bad coffee palatable using sugars, flavoring additives and crushed ice in 24 ounce cups that had come to characterize American cafe culture. Aesthetically, it was a liberating departure from our Stateside paradigm. More importantly to me, it represented a step backwards into the future of our industry. 

Returning closer to home, to Portland, I chanced upon what was then a relatively small roaster-retailer named Stumptown Coffee Roasters. In the best American tradition, they had drawn on elements of the down-under coffee experience, and formed and molded them into a uniquely West Coast take on the craft. One of the more audacious things they had done was to build something they called the Annex, a sort of bookish emporium of coffee tasting setups and consumer education, clearly not intended for a mass audience. And chatting with their head roaster amidst the cupping tables, TV screens showing looping videos of trips to origin, and an electronic siphon machine I'd never seen before, called the Clover, it came to me that that this was the future of our industry, and so was born the concept of the Lulu's Annex. 

Coming back to Santa Cruz, we scouted around for a good space in which to build a next-generation cafe, at once compact and expansive, a place to experiment with new technologies and paradigms, to hone our craft and chart our course into the future. And when a vacancy at the Octagon building came to my attention, we jumped at the chance to take it, as perfect a fit as could be imagined for our Annex concept. 

Lulu's at the Octagon (I was persuaded by wiser folks than myself that it was folly to call a building as significant as the Octagon an Annex) opened April 6, 2007, and right away captured the imaginations of our staff and clients. It was a first-in-it's-class operation, and the first third wave cafe in Santa Cruz. As such, the Octagon moved the ball forward in the local coffee industry. Over the years it has served as a training ground for us and, true to its mission, a proving ground for innumerable product and equipment concepts. Much of the Lulu's brand has been built upon the work that we've done in that store. Such has been the impact of this work that today, the quality paradigm in our other stores surpasses what we started with there in 2006. It has served us well, indeed. 

All this to say that the time for the Annex concept we started with has now passed, and the rationales and lines of professional query that put us in that building a decade ago have largely morphed into new ones that require a different set of solutions. So we're going to close the Octagon in October, with few regrets, and with much gratitude to all of our clients and crews who made it what it's been. We're going to continue growing our full service cafe up the street on Pacific Avenue, as well as our other businesses, and we hope that you will join us there. Happily, all of our Octagon crew will be relocated to our other stores, so there will be no job loss for anyone.

We have new projects in the pipeline, involving both current store development and perhaps a new operation or two. That, of course, is hardwired into our mitochondrial DNA. So yeah. 

I want to express thanks to Mark Primack for designing out the Octagon and staying so faithful to the design values of the building, while giving us a stunning space to work in, and to Bill Schultz for his incredible attention to detail in the buildout.

Finally and most importantly, I also want to thank all of our current staff as well as some notable management and crews who have passed through the store. Julia Mayer, Joe Carlson, Alisa Melville, Allie Rothenberger, Ethan Ducker, Sam Bacal-Graves, Claire Giroux, Emily Warfield and really, every single other crew person who came to work there each day and made this little cafe on that corner the special refuge it was for all the folks who visited. I will always be grateful for all they did to help us find our path, and for bringing us to where we are today.

As always, thanks for your patronage. We'll see you down the road!