Chris and Seth

In what can only be considered one of coffee’s most futuristic, interdisciplinary and highly crowdfundable moves, former Handsome Coffee Roasters roaster/founder Chris Owens and partner Seth Olinsky (former Gimme! Coffee barista, and founding member of the band Akron/Family) have announced Los Angeles’ newest coffee startup/record label/experiential subscription service/arts journal/dirt bike company/genre-bending community: Hilux Coffee.

We’ll begin at the beginning. Lightning Records, the freshly launched record label from Olisnky and partner Ali Beletic, promises to deliver releases by experimental, avant and generally “out” sound creators such as William Tyler, Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier, and Wooden Wand. But beyond embracing the mixtape renaissance, Olinsky and Beletic wanted to make their new label so much more. To start building their label’s community, they’re offering their releases on a subscription basis, in either quarterly or 20-artist increments — and along with your subscription, you’ll get Owens-roasted specialty coffee and exclusive invitations to “roasting events” and similar vision quests involving custom dirt bikes, musical experiences, earth art, and site-specific coffee roasting in, for instance, the middle of the desert.


From the Lightning Records website:

“Lightning and Chris Owens are collaborating to create an art-happening style destination roast, where people are invited to remote and unique locations, a hike in desert canyon, or California mountain top, for site-specific, limited edition signed and numbered roasts. The goal is to craft artistic experiences around the making and drinking of the coffee – sensual, conceptual, and ultimately fun.

It is an exploration into the experience of coffee – based firmly in the structural foundations that those on the forefront of coffee quality and expression have brought to the world, but setting out to explore all those details in relationship to the experience of coffee as a social happening.

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We are planning 4 site-specific roast happenings in 2014, the first of which will be in the great American Southwest desert.”


Owens and Olinsky met in 2003 at the then-newly-opened Gimme! Coffee in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Olinsky was working as a barista and Owens was a coffee enthusiast who’d hang at the bar. Owens soon began working there, too. Fast forward a decade, and the friends both found themselves living in Los Angeles, Owens having recently left his roasting position at Handsome Coffee Roasters, a company he helped found. He was ready for the next big thing.

“I’m kind of a dreamer. I’ve always been trying to rope Chris into some sort of coffee project,” said Olinsky. He’d also always wanted to run a record label. But how to put the two together?

“We wanted to emphasize not the product of a music recording, but the experience of people making music together, or a music movement — it’s about that social gathering. So trying to bring all these different passions that we’re excited about together is trying to fuel that idea of bringing people together to do things. Dirt bikes are rad, but getting your friends together to ride dirt bikes is even cooler. And the same is true for music and the same is true for coffee.”


For Owens, it’s a way to get back to the roots of why he became excited about coffee in the first place.

“I’ve spent 10 years exploring the craft and the detail and the specificity and the preciousness of the product of coffee, but what’s been really exciting and interesting to me in the last few years is how coffee is a connector of people, right? It’s a connector of communities and how can we do that in new and interesting ways, and for lack of a better word, have fun with coffee again — and not to take anything away from the quality.”

Mr. Owens went on: “Anyone who knows me personally knows I’m pretty specific. All of those factors that we as coffee professionals care about are still important, to refocus back on the customer and their experience but in a new way. And hopefully connect with communities that wouldn’t be connected otherwise.”

Seth and Chris 3

For now, you can connect to Lightning Records by visiting their Kickstarter page and getting on board for a subscription, and, the first roasting event. Quarterly Collaboration Destination Roast Coffee Series support levels, which include invitations to watch Chris roast on a mountainside or along a Norwegian Fjord, are available at contributions of $125 and higher.

For those afraid of commitment, one-offs are available at lower levels, like the $30 booster level which gets you a bag of Owens coffee and a Lightning Records mp3 mix.

“It’s not specifically a closed-off system,” assures Olinsky. “If you just want to get a dirtbike, or just a bag of coffee, or one of the albums, you can.”


Liz Clayton is the author of “Nice Coffee Time“, a regular columnist for Serious Eats: Drinks, and New York City chief at She lives in Brooklyn. Read more Liz Clayton here.

All photos courtesy of Lightning Records

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