Java City, Sacramento's original homegrown coffee staple that preceded national chains, poured its final cup and closed its doors Tuesday, leaving behind more than 26 years of serving joe at Capitol and 18th streets.
The coffeehouse opened in 1985 when four business partners had a vision to bring gourmet coffee to Sacramento. It became a city trademark that swelled from six local cafes to 74 outlets in four states by 1993.
"It was a real spot for a variety of different people. It became a place to read, to discuss politics, to look at poetry," said Tom Weborg, one of the cafÃ©'s original owners who left in 2001. "As far as we're concerned, it was a great product and great location at the right time in Sacramento's history. Nothing lasts forever."
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Java City spans nationwide today, but it focuses on selling wholesale beans, which are often sold in outlets branded with the Java City name, but not actually owned and operated by the company. Though it remains based in Sacramento, Java City has changed hands since its early days, and is now owned by Irish coffee and tea seller Bewley's.
Paesanos, Java City's next-door neighbor in midtown, will lease the vacated building at 18th and L, the chain's last retail store.
Koren Beard, Paesanos' general manager, said another "casual dining concept" will open there in late summer. Though the new business will be a separate entity from Paesanos, it will feature the same ownership and executive chef.
Java City's retail operation dwindled in recent years as its wholesale business skyrocketed. Today, the company supplies coffee to colleges, convenience stores, airlines and restaurants. Java City CEO Craig Hettrich said the wholesale side of coffee is more profitable and more practical for Java City amid the "crowded" coffee business.
"We just think there's greater opportunity to grow our business on the wholesale side as opposed to franchising and opening our own stores," Hettrich said. "You'll (have) something that looks like a Java City shop, but we're not operating it."
Die-hard Java City drinkers said they were sad to see their favorite coffeehouse close, but they weren't suprised. National chains such as Starbucks and Peet's have greatly increased competition since Java City's early days. And Sacramento's coffee scene now boasts many independents that have elevated coffee to an art form.
Jeffrey Doolittle, clad in a red Java City T-shirt, sipped a cup of coffee Tuesday as he recalled going to the coffeehouse's opening in 1985, and how there used to be no free chairs on Friday nights from 1985 to 1995.
The people who roast the coffee are "pretty neurotic about it. They get it just right," he said.
The taste of the coffee isn't the only thing Java City loyalists said they'll miss.
"(I will miss) the personality of the people, especially the workers," said Warren Chadwick as he drank his last cup of coffee outside the cafÃ© Tuesday. "You come down here, have a cup of coffee and converse, and you never want to leave. You've got four or five generations sitting out here."
Java City's lack of focus on its retail end hurt its cafÃ© location, said Sean Kohmescher, the founder and owner of Temple Coffee, one of the younger, independent companies to spring up in Sacramento.
"If you don't focus on your relationship with your partner, you can't be surprised when it doesn't work out," Kohmescher said Tuesday.
He said Java City's operation was entirely different from Temple Coffee's, so the two aren't comparable. Temple has been successful because of its approach to buying and selling expensive coffees, training its baristas and its attention to service and ambiance, Kohmescher said.
Given their close proximity, Old Soul's Weatherstone coffee on 21st Street may absorb many of Java City's devoted customers. Yet Old Soul barista Brandon Miller said they won't find the same product. He said Java City's trademark dark roast is not an Old Soul flavor. He said Old Soul focuses on lighter roasts.
Miller said the coffee industry has evolved since Java City's early days, but the company did not change with it.
"Java City, for what it was at the time, was totally necessary for our industry to get where it is today," he said. "Without them, it would be a very different industry here in Sacramento."