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Organic coffee roaster part of new brew at community council

Bird Rock’s organic coffee roaster, Chuck Patton, is the community’s new community council president.

And now that the zoning controversies that have monopolized the community’s attention of late are largely behind it, Patton expects the council to see a return to more normal circumstances: taking care of business, continuing to promote the commercial strip along La Jolla Boulvevard.

“We spent so much time on the form-based code and other zoning issues, that I really see us getting back to really what we’re all about: promoting community spirit and community events,” said Patton, noting there’s been a big changeover on the Bird Rock Community Council (BRCC) board with recent past president Pennie Carlos and about half the board leaving.

Bird Rock’s largest annual community event fund-raiser, the Taste of Bird Rock block party, is scheduled Thursday, July 19 this, year. But advancing community spirit and promotion will not begin and end with that one event. Said Patton: “We really need to add a couple more events.”

One notion is to expand on existing, successful community events, like the October pumpkin and window- painting event sponsored by Bird Rock merchants for Halloween. “It’s a great thing to get families to come down,” said Patton. “Kids really love it and it’s easy to organize.”

Another successful fund-raising event has been Ladies Night Out, a combination shopping spree and soiree which was recently held on Saturday, May 12. “It’s a great opportunity for residents to come down and walk around the boulevard,” said Patton, “and interact with the merchants. Organizing more events like that is what we’d like to do this year.”

Improving the streetscape along La Jolla Boulevard, enhanciing the community’s walkability by making it more pedestrian-friendly adding benches, trees and other landscaping, will be another top priority on Bird Rock Community Council’s to-do list for the rest of 2007. “That will make it much more enjoyable to work down here,” said Patton, “and also make it much more enjoyable for people to come down and walk around.”

Patton cited two restaurants, Beaumont’s and Lupi’s, for their outdoor patio dining which has added to the ambiance of Bird Rock’s commercial district, making it more of a shopping destination within greater La Jolla.

Patton sees himself as a caretaker in his new position as community council president. “I’m kind of the interim president,” he pointed out. “This is the last of my term, I won’t be running again. We thought it would be a good fit because I’m on the boulevard every day, and I’m pretty accessible and have a lot of experience on the board.”

The big hurdle the community must now clear, said Patton, will be getting through the next phase of construction on the final three of five roundabouts set to commence in September. “The big challenge will be when that construction starts,” he said, “to prepare for that, work on parking alternatives, how best to inform not only residents but people working in the community. Our goal will be to find some kind of off-street parking, at least for the employees, save as much of the parking that remains here for customers and residents.”

A Bird Rock resident, Patton was born in Pacific Beach and went to Mission Bay High School. But he’s been involved with Bird Rock much of his life. His grandmother lived in the community, and he said one of his fondest memories as a youth was going with her to visit the pet store (now a piano shop) located down the block from his year-old business at 5627 La Jolla Blvd.

Patton started his small, independent business subletting space in 2002 from the now defunct Cuvier restaurant to create a retail/wholesale organic coffee manufacture and distribution center. “When I started I didn’t have a location,” he said, “and I needed a commercial kitchen. I was selling 100 percent of my beans at the (La Jolla) Farmer’s Market, then at a kiosk on Tourmaline street.”

Patton opened Bird Rock Coffee Roasters last July 4. It was a daunting task, setting up shop directly across the street from the Starbucks-anchored strip mall which has been a community hub since it opened in 2001. Patton said others were skeptical about his chances of success. “They asked me, ‘Did you know there was a Starbucks across the street?,’ he said, inquiring, ‘Are you nuts?’ ”

Undaunted, Patton believed in himself - and in his business plan.

“People really needed an alternative,” he said. “We offer a different product, completely organic, even down to using organic milk.”

Organic means absolutely no pesticides are used in production of the coffee beans Patton roasts and markets. He pointed out going organic is not only environmentally friendly but cost-effective, as well as being the most natural way for coffee to be produced. Coffee is naturally a shade plant,” Patton said. “Going organic, the farmer leaves the natural environment intact.”

Patton estimated as much as 90 percent of his customers are from Bird Rock or elsewhere in La Jolla. Rush hour for his retail business is 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. He also runs a wholesale organic coffee distribution center out of the back of his shop. “It’s almost like two businesses,” he said about his product, which can be found in many spots in La Jolla, including coffee carts around town as well as being served at the Museum Cafe at 700 Prospect St.

Patton sees the retail coffee industry becoming more customized in the near future. “We’re really on the verge of a microroaster concept, roasting to order, " he said, “getting the freshest coffee available from microfarms, rare coffees, niche coffees that people can’t get at Vons. It will allow us to brew coffee specially by the cup, at the exact temperature with the exact flavor that it should be. People will have to pay a little bit more but it will be better quality with better service. I really see the future as the customer having total control, like going to a wine bar and having a wine list of options. That’s where I see the movement of the industry.”

Businesses come and go in Bird Rock, but Patton has noted there’s been some definite trends of late. “Some of the newer businesses coming in have a lot of energy,” he noted, “they’ve become more upscale, more trendy.”

Renewed roundabout construction will be a trial, Patton admitted, but he sees a real opportunity in incorporating infrastructure improvements into the new identity the community is forging by slowing down traffic while make the business district more walkable and more aesthetically pleasing.

“Construction is going to take seven to 10 months, that’s a best-case scenario,” said Patton. “But when construction is done, I see business picking up. Two or three years from now, Bird Rock is really going to start to take on that new character defining it as a destination spot in the years to come.”

To make commercial Bird Rock more marketable, Patton and others are reviving a merchant’s committee which will be taking the initiative in promoting the La Jolla Boulevard commercial strip. “That committee will be eliciting community involvement and pride,” Patton said. “Obviously, that goes hand-in-hand with promoting the downtown, the heart of Bird Rock. We want to see more positive energy on the boulevard. Our goal is to have merchants act as a unit, as one voice, to promote ourselves.”

Patton wants to preserve the small-town charm of Bird Rock’s commercial district. Toward that end, it will be necessary to provide an array of businesses that meet all the shopping needs of local residents. Promoting formation of independent boutiques, said Patton, is one way of accomplishing that goal. “Generally, national chains tend to take money away from communities,” contended Patton, “whereas local, independent businesses tend to give back to the community, whether that be time, volunteering or spending money. A big segment of the community wants to support local businesses.”

When the retail mix is done right in a commercial area like downtown Bird Rock, there is enough business to go around for independents like Bird Rock Coffee Roasters and chains like Starbucks. Said Patton: “Twenty thousand cars go buy on this street every day. We have over 1,000 households within a square-mile radius of here. There is enough room for both of us.”

Bird Rock Coffee Roasters is open daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information call (858) 449-4033.