We had the good fortune of connecting with Gary Chau and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gary, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
My best friend Mark and I always wanted to have our own neighborhood business. Since our working relationship is founded upon our friendship first, we wanted to create a business which was neighborhood community and people driven in a like-minded manner. So the aspiration is that it would be a place where friends and family would be able to get together to enjoy each other’s company.
Both of us were drawn to the lifestyle of a European caffe, in particular those that are in Italy. They were neighborhood places where genuinely everyone knew your name; generating quick sales transactions in large volumes was not the primary focus, but living slower and enjoying life with friends and family was more important.
With fast paced technology and convenience at everyone’s finger tips, we wanted to create a lifestyle business that was about enjoying good company with delicious coffee and treats. At the end of the day, we believe we are in the business of people, and the drinks, food, and lifestyle products we sell are supplemental to the primary reason for being.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Do you know that lucky in life person where everything seems to come naturally, and then to top it off, they win the lottery too? Well, this isn’t that story. Like probably most people, we have found that everything requires hard work, focus, meticulous attention to detail, and dedication. There are no short cuts to success in our experience.
We remember when we first opened on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, a person popped in, took a quick look around, and claimed, “Oh, another coffee shop? I’ll give you three months!” And that encounter was more or less the start of our journey!
There were several key bumps which were really about understanding how to manage growth in a healthy way by putting into place the people, systems, and processes that would help us scale and grow from 1 to 3 to 7 caffes. Bear in mind that as a small neighborhood business, we’re not funded by a large corporation with deep pockets so all of those needs can’t happen overnight nor can you realistically afford such an infrastructure immediately just because you have the need.
As well, both Mark and I are different people in how we manage and communicate, and we also have very different skill sets. We’ve divided our work responsibilities based on our specializations, and coincidentally it’s what we both enjoy doing anyway, So like in any relationship, you encounter those moments where both people may have a strong opinion, but we go back to our fundamentals and allow the person who is the designated responsible person for that project or category of business to make the final decision. And at the end of the day, we decided Mark would be the President and I would be the Creative Director.
Mark and I have learned and discovered a lot of about each other, and we’re still learning every day! For probably many of the situations we’ve found ourselves in, we’d suspect that most partners would have quit a long time ago. However, our relationship started as best friends first, and that is the reason why we are together in the first place. Without the friendship, we wouldn’t have a business, but we’d also never sacrifice our friendship over the business.
On the outset, people see our business as a coffee shop making handcrafted drinks and selling delicious food. So for many people, their initial attraction is more from a culinary interest in looking for something that tastes great.
Then as the person starts to visit more often, they start to see a different aspect of Caffe Luxxe, which is the social side of a neighborhood place to meet friends and family, and where the barista becomes your friend and knows your name and drink as you step inside the door.
We purposely don’t have wifi, which in this day and age, some people think is ridiculous. We’re often asked how can a coffee shop not have wifi? We’re always connected to technology anyway, especially with our mobile phones, so our goal is to try and help people disconnect even for a short moment in time and return to being a human being again; we’re social creatures by nature, and we want to facilitate human interactions that happen in person face to face vs. through their computer screens – It’s analog vs. digital, and our vote is for analog! What you eventually see is a large gathering of people who begin to enjoy the disconnect, and the Caffe is lively and filled with positive energy created by human beings who are socializing. We love this!
So we don’t actually see our business as just a coffee shop, but really a place for socializing and enjoying time together with friends and family. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
During the current pandemic, although an overall negative experience, it has been inspiring to see how our team of people have come together to support each other during this crisis. In most businesses you might view work as a place where you clock in and out everyday, but in our company it has been amazing to see the perseverance, resilience, and kindness amongst our people to help and treat each other. We’re all grateful to have our company to go to work to everyday, and much of this is due to our people who bring the positive energy to continue to fulfil our vision for creating a place where friends and family can come together to enjoy their company . . . just sitting outside for the time being. : )
Facebook: Caffe Luxxe