In the new Huckleberry cookbook launched this week, Zoe Nathan Loeb chronicles her days in the bakery with Laurel Almerinda making muffins, scones, cakes, doughnuts, pancakes, breakfast dishes, and yes, coffee for Huckleberry Bakery & Café, arguably the most popular and delicious place to have breakfast in Santa Monica, California. Nathan owns Huckleberry with her husband Josh Loeb, who is a noted restauranteur. Together this power couple have opened Rustic Canyon, Milo & Olive, Sweet Rose Creamery, and have a new restaurant with the chef Bryant Ng and a wine bar opening in early 2015.
This cookbook is a stunner, and nestled amongst the pages of gorgeous pastries and egg dishes is a chapter on how to make some of the delicious coffee drinks that Huckleberry serves each day. Huckleberry has long had a relationship with Los Angeles coffee company Caffe Luxxe, which Caffe Luxxe owner Gary Chau describes glowingly: “We have a lot of admiration for what Josh and Zoe stand for, always sourcing their ingredients as close to their restaurants as possible. It also creates a community of local like-minded people building their neighborhood businesses together. It's a great partnership that has worked really well for all of us. Customers think we're one big family.”
I reached out to Josh Loeb to find out how coffee became such an integral part of their new book and their company as a whole. We spoke on the phone while he was in the middle of tasting a new menu item, a pear upside down cake with caramel sauce–one of the perks of being married to the talented Zoe Nathan.
Julie Wolfson: What’s your morning coffee ritual?
Josh Loeb: I am a recently converted coffee drinker, about a year. For the first six months I was mostly drinking espresso and espresso drinks at Huckleberry. Then I started with pour overs and started making siphon coffees. At home, because I am kind of a newbie to it, I like exploring, so I try to get coffee from as many different sources as possible. I have a subscription to Tonx [now a part of Blue Bottle], and I like the wildcard thing where I don’t know what I will be getting. Recently I tried a Kenyan from Verve. I ordered something from Stumptown. I always try all of the Caffe Luxxe single origins.
Do you have other cafes you like to visit?
I love Funnel Mill. It is an amazing café that has been there about ten years. They are incredibly educated and passionate about coffee and serve a variety of unique coffees, from low to very high priced, rare coffees and small lots. It’s no flash. I like coffee and I like coffee culture. There’s substance, but then there’s also a lot of style. You’ve got to be cool and you’ve got to look a certain way. I don’t like that.
I feel the same way about wine. We have an amazing wine list at Rustic Canyon of small boutique wineries and interesting varietals. I always tell our staff to start with, “Do you like red or white? Do you like it full bodied or light?” Then if someone really wants to talk about bottle selection and climate and everything, that’s fine. I like them to be educated so they can go there with that person, but I don’t want the customers to feel intimidated. In the coffee world there is a ton of snobbery and there is a fine line where passion crosses over to snobbery. Funnel Mill is so the opposite of that.
How did you originally hook up with Caffe Luxxe as your coffee provider at the restaurants?
Caffe Luxxe opened their first shop in the same year we opened Rustic Canyon. We kind of grew up together a little bit. We shared a lot of clientele. We like the way they make coffee. Gary and Mark [Wain, Luxxe's other co-founder] are like family. I like working with them.
How important is serving coffee in your restaurants in your day-to-day operations?
It is really important. I remember drinking coffee at Balconi a couple years ago. Ray Sato and I were talking just before Rustic was going to open and he said, “I hate restaurant coffee.” He talked about going to restaurants for a beautiful meal and how it’s like a symphony. You have a great meal and dessert and then you have crappy coffee. It feels like a big let down. I agreed. I want the whole meal to be a fantastic experience and it is important to do the coffee well.
We actually have gotten rid of our espresso machine at Rustic and only serve French press right now, because we have limited space and were not making that many espresso drinks. It really took off at Huckleberry. We do about 150 pounds or so of regular coffee a week. We want people to be able to refill their coffee cup, so getting a really good drip coffee machine was important. We worked with Caffe Luxxe developing blends that work with our machine and a flavor profile that is interesting and food friendly. We have a cold brew program. We make our own almond milk. It has always been an important part of what we do at Huckleberry, where we are open for breakfast and lunch.
Your new cookbook with Zoe Nathan and Laurel Almerinda devotes an entire chapter to coffee. Why did you want to make coffee part of the book project?
Coffee is an important part of what we do. It would be a shame to work that hard on all of the food and not have a great cup of coffee at the same time. We sell a lot of coffee, and take a lot of pride in it. To represent the restaurant and to represent breakfast, since it is really primarily a breakfast book, it felt like a chapter on coffee was essential.
The book represents Zoe’s work and breakfast and all of that passion. Then it is an ode to the special people that have made Huckleberry what it is. In the book we talk about Rosemary Walker, who is the general manager at Milo & Olive. She started at Huckleberry as a server and worked her way up, and she basically drove the improvements in the coffee program. She has a passion about it, studying on her own, and became a coffee geek. It just felt like all the effort and all of the love that she put into that restaurant and how much she made that section of the restaurant better, there needed to be some attention on the work that she did.
What’s your favorite Huckleberry baked good to have with a cup of coffee?
I am a sucker for doughnuts. When we have our glazed doughnuts or the cinnamon sugar doughnuts, I love those. I love plain or chocolate croissants with a cup of coffee. I try to keep it simple. Something with fruit doesn’t work as well with coffee, but something with dough, vanilla, sugar, crumble, those are the kinds of pastries I like with coffee, like the chocolate chunk muffins or the vanilla pound cake.
You have some new concepts opening up–a wine shop and bar, and a new restaurant with Bryant Ng. Will you have coffee service at those places?
Those projects are going to be the only two food operations in this building of offices. Both are opening at 11am, so the plan was to not have a full coffee service. We will probably have French press coffee and also Vietnamese coffee at Bryant’s place. We are not planning to have an espresso machine there. We would love to have coffee in the building, and the landlord has a great vision for the place. There is a roll up indoor driveway. The landlord may add a coffee cart.
It reminds me of one of my fondest coffee memories going to the original Blue Bottle cafe in San Francisco, in the alley. When I was there at the beginning, before they had their other locations. I thought that was so awesome. I loved the idea. There is something about when it feels special and it feels right.
Julie Wolfson is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in Los Angeles. Read more Julie Wolfson on Sprudge.
Photos of the Huckleberry Cookbook by Matt Armendariz.