By Laurel Busby
Mark Wain and Gary Chau dreamed of creating cafés where coffee and social connection were preeminent.
So, they came up with Caffe Luxxe—European-inspired cafés designed to both en- hance the coffee-drinking experience and provide getaways from the technology-driven aspects of our modern world.
“It was our desire to build something— that neighborhood café where people can come and socialize,” Wain said. “We wanted to provide a respite from devices where people could actually talk to one another.”
Their four cafes, including one scheduled to open this week at 15200 Sunset (the Chase Bank building in Pacific Palisades), don’t have WiFi. The tables are spaced fairly close together, so people can easily talk to folks even at other tables. Wain and Chau also train their baristas in hospitality and put in a bar to provide spots where people can hang out and chat.
“One of the best comments I’ve heard is ‘I don’t even call my friend anymore. I just stop by Caffe Luxxe and see if she’s there,’” Wain said.
Wain and Chau met in the MBA program at USC, and they quickly became friends. After graduating in 1999, they at first went different ways. Chau worked for Bacardi in London, while Wain was an executive for Microsoft in Seattle and then Symantec in L.A.
However, in 2006, they joined forces for their first Caffe Luxxe, and since 2008, they have been trying to open a location in the Palisades because the community is such a good fit with their philosophy.
“It’s such a warm community,” Wain said. “It’s really a local’s place, which is something we really love . . . We’ve been struggling and struggling to find a spot, and we finally found one.”
At all of their locations, Wain, who lives in the South Bay, and Chau, who lives with his wife in Marina Del Rey, take both hospitality and coffee drinking seriously.
Baristas are trained for at least 6-12 months on both the owners’ service approach and also their hand-made, artisan coffee preparations. For example, each cup is freshly ground to the customer’s specifications after it’s ordered, and then made individually.
“It takes a little longer, but it’s so much better,” Wain noted.
In addition, the owners travel around the world to meet and develop relationships with the farmers who provide their beans. The idea is not only to find the best coffee beans, but also to help improve the lives of the farmers and their workers.
“Our coffee-buying practices, similar to our company practices, are about social mobility, transparency and sustainability,” said Wain, noting that they seek multi-year contracts to improve the farmers’ economic stability. “We take a very active role, understanding that we have a responsibility to our farmers.”
In addition, taste is a vital ingredient, and maximizing the experience, similar to how vintners might approach making and tasting fine wines, is part of their goal. They have their own off-site roasting facility where they experiment with different roasting processes for different beans.
The beans, like wine grapes, have different qualities based on the soil and geography of the place where they’re grown. During the heating process, acidity and flavor development occur through various chemical reactions that release gases. In addition, oils and sugars caramelize and affect the flavor.
Introduction of heat, temperature and length of roasting time are the main variables they play with to “honor what the natural taste of that bean should be,” Wain said.“Youaretryingreallyhardtoensure that the development of the flavor occurs in the right amount of time.”
This process of enhancing taste continues at their cafés, where even the porcelain cups are designed to enhance the coffee’s flavor. Compared to paper cups, the porce- lain retains heat better, and its lip is de- signed to guide the coffee toward “the part of the tongue that is best suited for the coffee,” Wain said.
The idea is to embrace the European style of relaxing and taking time to enjoy life more. “Gary and I really wanted to bring a little bit of happiness and respite” to customers, Wain said. The hope is that “you will take a break from your daily grind, get a little bit of personal connection and have a fun place to hang out in the neighborhood.”