Meet your merchant: Break Caffe´ in Grass Valley melds a winning combination of local businesses
October 21, 2018
Vern Olson has spent most of his adult life in Grass Valley, working as a painting contractor.
But in the back of his mind there was always a dream of someday opening a unique coffee shop. As it turns out, his youngest daughter, Angela, shared the same dream.
"We'd talk about it, and the question of, 'What if?' always hung in the air," said Vern. "We didn't know how to run a coffee shop, but what if it was possible? We began researching specialty coffees and visiting cafes in different communities. We started gathering the ideas that appealed to us and thought about what features would fit in with our core values. Pretty soon our dreams became a vision."
On one of Angela's road trips, she stumbled upon a cafe in Carmel that seemed to capture the key elements she hoped to someday replicate. The peaceful cafe offered exquisite, artfully prepared espresso drinks, coffee, tea and a simple organic menu. The space had lots of natural light and displayed a variety of artisan gift items.
Angela took her dad down to see it, and the two forged a friendship with the owner.
"This cafe in Carmel introduced us to what we'd thought was possible — and the owner was very warm and engaging," said Vern. "She became a source for many of our technical questions as we gathered information."
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A clear sign that things were meant to be was when Angela and Vern found a hammered copper vintage La San Marco lever espresso machine in Rocklin. It was stunning. They bought it.
"At that point we were like a swimmer — poised with a toe in the water," said Vern. "We were contemplating whether to jump in."
Remarkably, they stumbled across the perfect location and an ideal business triad, he said. Kurt's Garden was a Grass Valley business that specialized in rare and unusual plants and trees, and Blue Lotus Furniture, which featured Indonesian, Indian and Turkish furniture, had teamed up to share a space next to Natural Selection on East Main Street.
Vern and Angela approached the two businesses with the idea of adding a small cafe inside, which would display the handcrafted furniture.
"They said yes," said Vern. "The landlord was supportive of the idea too, and he eventually helped with improvements."
The building, which had once been a Dairy Queen, boasted ample natural light on three sides.
"I had worked in remodeling, restoring and painting for years, so I saw the bones of the architecture and saw the potential," said Vern. "The old Dairy Queen could be brought back to life."
While Vern attended to the nuts and bolts of the project, it was Angela, a talented artist, who applied her vision to create a unique, one-of-a-kind atmosphere. Then whole family became involved, each bringing in specific skills and resources.
"Local tradespeople also helped with copper, wood, brass, color and light to meld the old and the new — the traditional and the avant garde," said Vern. "It was synergy of two generations, but without Angela this would not be the place it is."
In March of 2016, Angela and Vern officially opened the doors of Break Caffe,´ with the name suggesting the importance of taking a peaceful break during the work day coupled with the Italian name for coffee, hinting at the shop's international influence.
"Here we are in Grass Valley, but we're an eclectic people," said Vern. "We have local artisans who do beautiful work, as well as pieces that are from all over the world. I've come to respect the idea of excellence, people who take a long time to perfect their craft and art. I believe in looking for excellence in whatever you're doing. As Michelangelo said, 'Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.' Currently we're featuring the natural furniture made by Bob Beam. He's a North San Juan artist who makes beautiful pieces made from fallen trees."
What makes the cafe special? It's combination of the organic food, the environment and the people who are running it, said Vern, who, with Angela, hand-picked a knowledgeable staff of nine who reflect their values and vision.
The carefully thought-out menu includes a simple selection of traditional espresso, loose leaf teas, chai, kombucha, fresh juice, baked goods, and small plate breakfasts and lunches.
"Having the opportunity to create a warm, loving atmosphere at Break Caffé has been inspiring and delightful," said manager Kelly Morrill. "We offer the finest organic foods and drinks that are handcrafted with love and knowledge. Our intention is to nourish your mind and body. We have organized a team with vast knowledge in tea and coffee and nourishing foods."
"It's been rewarding to get out of my comfort zone and do something that's meaningful to our community," said Vern. "In a world of franchises, we have created a place where we can express ourselves individually, engage with the community and make people happy. My daughter and I had a similar dream, and this has definitely brought our family closer."
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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