Interview: Caffe Luxxe co-founder Gary Chau

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Coffee Los Angeles

Baristas Gena Olson and Krystal Newmark join Caffe Luxxe co-founder Gary Chau behind the bar in Santa Monica.


Why is it important for you to roast your own coffee?

A few answers to that. One is just for logistical efficiency. That allows us to roast every day in small batches, so we can then control the availability. There isn’t the ship time that can be a lengthy process.

Then secondly, it’s also about our plan from the beginning. It was always our intention from the first day, once we have enough scale to sustain producing our own coffee, roasting our own coffee, that’s what we would do. With three cafes, we’re getting to that point to be able sustain that level of beans just for ourselves.

Finally, it’s also about looking into opportunities to work with local restaurants and more cafes. You mentioned earlier that it’s become very important to people to buy and source locally. We want and hope to be that local source for coffee. Just like many of the things we do, we buy locally. One of the things about these pastries [points to croissants and biscotti], they come from a local bakery, Red Rooster, and they’re based in Santa Monica. We like that opportunity to work with something close, because logistically, it’s much more practical. And then secondly, to help build the local economy.

Getting back to roasting your own coffee, I’ve noticed before that you’ve had your coffee on the bags even though it’s not coffee that you roast. Why did you decide to do that?

At the beginning, we didn’t have enough to sustain roasting ourselves, so what we did was contacted a friend of Mark’s who is a roaster. He roasts our own proprietary blend, that Mark created, for us. We’re essentially leveraging his efficiencies with his logistics to roast for us.

But why not use their brand? It’s Vivace, right?

Yeah. We wanted our own. Now that we have our own blend, and our own signature flavor we wanted to create, it stays with us.

So it’s not available anywhere else?


You’re appearing at farmers markets now?

Only one. The one in Santa Monica, at Pico, which is Virginia Park. That’s on Saturdays.

Why was it important for you to do that?

Two parts. One is with get a lot of requests from customers, all the time, “Gosh, I wish you would open up a café by me.” It just so happens it’s around the corner from where they live. So they’re looking for convenience. We’ve gotten a lot of requests from people who live in that neighborhood. We thought, “Let’s try it out.” The farmers market is similar to how our cafes are philosophically, so we thought we’d try it out. The opportunity came up. Santa Monica was looking for a new coffee vendor. They invited us to join, and it’s a fun thing for us to try. What we’re doing, currently, are pourover drip coffees and then retailing our beans. Depending on how it goes, we may also decide to bring in an espresso cart.

Coffee Los Angeles
Cups of coffee grounds reside across from the coffee bar, including Nicaragua Bella Aurora.

At what point did you know that you’d work with coffee for a living?

Mark and I both enjoyed and appreciated coffee, most of our lives, him because of his Argentinean background. He always grew up with coffee, around his parents, and for me, probably for me, growing up in Asia, my exposure to coffee was going to Europe. I fell into that whole café lifestyle, which I really enjoyed it. To be honest with you, neither one of us thought, 30 years ago, that we’d be sitting here, drinking coffee, but we created a café, since we both love coffee. It’s fine who someone who loves food and enjoys food, but that doesn’t make you a chef. In a similar way, although we love coffee, we said, “Is coffee the type of business that we should be in? Do we want to become baristas?” Our infatuation came about, first from a business standpoint. We both love coffee so much. There’s no good coffee in L.A. Let’s be the ones to bring it here, and bring the whole European aspect, and the social aspects of it, and start our business.

Do you have any more plans for growth in Los Angeles?

We’re always looking. It’s actually a challenging business to try and find locations. At the same time, we can only grow as fast as we grow our people. As I mentioned, it takes at least six months to train each person. It takes us awhile to build up our core team of people in order to even brew coffee, so we actually grow quite slowly.

What’s a typical coffee consumption day for you?

I start my mornings at 5:30, and I usually work a morning shift at one of the cafes. I get everything set up in the café and have a coffee, usually a cappuccino. Then somewhere around mid-morning, I’ll have another one. Late morning, I’ll have another one. I may even switch to single origins because we’re always taste testing all the time. We always have beans coming in from around the world. In the afternoon, I’ll have another one, or tea, because I love our teas as well. We work with a local tea person, who has his own company as well. He sources tea blends for us, and we’re always taste testing those too. It starts off in the morning with a nice coffee buzz, and then I taper off to tea at the end of the day.

Nothing at night?

I have food at night.

What do you think makes the Los Angeles coffee scene unique?

First and foremost, there are a lot of different kinds of neighborhoods in L.A., so a lot of the cafes set themselves up to be tailored for those different communities. So you can have the grunge café, you can have the ultra-hip, chic café. You can have the ultra-trendy café, but hopefully everyone aspires to creating beautiful tasting coffee, first and foremost, and then they can tailor the feel and the types of personalities who work there. A lot of people think of L.A. as this huge wide open space where you have to drive everywhere. On the flip side, when you find those wonderful communities that are really distinct, that’s what I really appreciate about L.A.

Do you feel like you have any coffee mentors?

I would consider Mark my biggest mentor. He is what I’d consider the genuine coffee geek in our relationship. Everything I’ve learned in terms of the technical know how, comes from him. Over the years, in my travels, my mentors have been any barista in any cafe in the world who would just be willing to sit and chat and talk about what works, what doesn’t work, what do you like, what don’t you like. I would consider them mentors as well.

Do you have a preferred brewing method at home?

I don’t have an espresso machine at home, so I do pourovers. In the morning I make coffee for my wife, before she goes to work. I just do a pourover for her, but because I’m around coffee all day, I typically drink coffee in a café.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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