If there’s anything politics and coffee shops have in common, it’s that they both encourage long conversations that never seem to end.
In 1990, Gary Chau graduated from UCLA with a degree in political science. Now he is the co-owner of Caffe Luxxe, a high-end cafe located in various parts of Los Angeles.
Ironically, sharing words over coffee was the initial inspiration for Chau to start his own line of cafes.
There are currently four different locations in Los Angeles, including one in Santa Monica on Montana Avenue, along with the new roastery called Il Laboratorio located in South Bay.
“I really like the idea of people coming together over drinks and being able to talk to each other in a cafe setting. If you’ve seen the show “˜Cheers’ it’s kind of like that,” Chau said. “I wanted to make the business comfortable and personal and a little different for people to have that kind of experience.”
After Chau graduated from UCLA, he went on to pursue a master’s degree in marketing at USC in 1999 where he met Mark Wain, his business partner and co-owner of Caffe Luxxe.
The two oversee different aspects of the company: Chau operates the marketing and service aspects while Wain focuses more on production.
“In a nutshell, (Chau) is responsible for everything the customer sees. So (Chau’s) experience in marketing and branding helps us understand how to create things, and he’s a really creative guy,” Wain said. “The way we kind of split up is he handles everything up front and I handle everything behind the scenes.”
As an expert in marketing, Chau arranged the interior of Caffe Luxxe to appear minimalist, using simple furniture and crisp silver appliances with clean white walls. He was inspired by the aesthetics of European cafes, which he encountered while living abroad in England after graduating from UCLA.
“When I traveled to Europe there were a lot of individual cafes in each neighborhood where the people living around it would know about and go to. (I really liked) that sort of cozy community,” Chau said.
Although the environment Caffe Luxxe provides contrasts with more commercial coffee shops located in Westwood, general manager of Caffe Luxxe Jake Sweetnam said the true difference between Caffe Luxxe and other cafes is in the drink.
“I think what makes Caffe Luxxe different is as a whole our focus on brewing the espresso we serve. We focus on bringing more dark chocolate and caramel notes of the espresso. Other shops focus on more bright acidic notes,” Sweetnam said.
Recently, the owners of Caffe Luxxe opened a new roastery called Il Laboratorio as an asset to their coffee bean production.
Previously, the duo commissioned coffee beans from a roastery located in Seattle owned by one of Wain’s friends, which required weekly shipments. Having established Il Laboratorio in Los Angeles, Chau and Wain are able to manage their production more conveniently.
“What’s important about roasting our own coffee is that we’re able to control our own style of coffee by our specific blend and flavor profile,” Chau said.
“By roasting it ourselves we’re able to control the quality of our production to the standards that we require, and by roasting coffee locally we’re able to get fresh coffee to our cafes and wholesale customers faster,” Chau said.
The owners of Caffe Luxxe take pride in their business, from roasting the right flavor profile to serving coffee art in pristine ceramic cups. However, Chau said, he never loses sight of his initial inspiration.
“Historically, coffee has been around for thousands of years,” Chau said. “It’s always been a way to connect people to be a part of this sense of community, and I’m glad to be a part of that tradition.”
Email Shin at [email protected].