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This, That, and The Other Thing

The Coffee King

Mike Sheldrake opened Polly’s Gourmet Coffee in 1976 at the end of Second Street in Belmont Shore. Forty-four years later, he is still roasting coffee beans every morning in the same location. Mike bought the coffee part of the business from Polly’s Pies in 1989 after having worked there since high school. He wanted to learn the business from roots to roasting, and the result was Polly’s Gourmet Coffee.

The 15-kilo Probat Coffee Roaster made in Germany is still in use today. Why mess with a good thing? The emphasis has always been the fact that customers can literally get the freshest coffee possible every single day.

There has been a lot of competition over the years, the greatest coming from Starbucks, which opened 2 shops on Second Street alone. A clever marketing ad Mike ran weekly in the local community newspaper reminded everyone that Polly’s was “Down the street from ordinary” and “Friends don’t let friends drink ordinary coffee”. Not only did he retain his faithful customers, he got some Starbucks coverts (me being one). After all, how can coffee beans roasted in Seattle and shipped to California compare with beans roasted right here every day!!

Mike has always been open to new marketing ideas, and for a few years in the early 2000s, is where I came in. When I was living in The Shore, I walked into Polly’s one morning, told the barista what I had always ordered at Starbucks – and what would the equivalent drink at Polly’s. One cup was all it took to make a change in my morning beverage routine. I had given Mike my card, and he actually called me a few days later. Would I be interested in talking to him about some marketing ideas? What follows here is partially a result of that conversation.

The side wall at Polly’s was a giant mass of white stucco. What about a mural showing customers lined up to buy coffee? How about a contest where customers could bid to have their “mug on the wall”? The three highest bidders would have that honor, with their bid money going to the charity of their choice. We raised $2,000, the press was on hand to record the event, and the representatives of the three charities were delighted to receive these unexpected donations. Local Artist Roy Herwick created a masterpiece colorfully depicting the winners in vivid detail. A few years later, the artist painted himself with Mike on the small wall by the side entry. It is disconcerting when you walk up to that door. At a quick first glance, it looks like Mike is standing there!

Polly’s Gourmet Coffee’s 25th anniversary (September 2001) was worth a special celebration. Creative Cakery donated a fancy cake and Long Beach may Beverly O’Neil cut the first slice. You can never have too much publicity

Periodically, Mike would give informal talks which included History from Bean to Cup, Roasting & Brewing and Espresso Drinks. Of course, there was plenty of coffee tasting. The talks were held in the store so there was standing room only if you didn’t get there early. At Cal State Long Beach, Mike has been a guest lecturer since 1997 for the “History of Food” course — part of the college’s Hospitality Administration and Management program. This is a true testament to the value of Mike’s knowledge for all things coffee.

Always thinking of way to give back to the community, different months of the year were dedicated to one of the local schools. Ten percent of total sales for that month would be donated to the school’s programs and activities. A newsletter kept customers informed of all the happenings at Polly’s.

2005 was one of many banner years for Mike and Polly’s Gourmet Coffee. The History Channel’s Modern Marvels, Season 12, episode 51 was devoted to The History of Coffee. Mike Sheldrake was prominently featured in this segment. AND The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SPCAA) in recognizing independent coffee roaster and retailers, awarded Polly’s Gourmet Coffee their highest honor – TOPS Award for Excellence in Coffee Retailing.

Mike also opened a kiosk at Long Beach Airport in 2005. What a great way for out-of-towners to have the ultimate coffee experience. After all, Polly’s does have a website, and orders can be shipped anywhere.

The experience of working with Mike was most rewarding and just plain fun. The best marketing tool, however, is Mike himself. He is available almost every day to call his customers by name, chat about their families, and tell his ever-popular jokes. He creates a comfortable atmosphere and a friendly place to gather.

NOW FOR THE BIG NEWS!! As of October 1, 2020, Polly’s Gourmet Coffee became Sheldrake Coffee Roasting. It is exactly the same operation – only the name has changed. In this time of Covid 19, restaurants have been suffering, and in-person visits are down. So many people who had been acquainting Polly’s Coffee with Polly’s Pies restaurants were sending Mike condolences. Now was the time to rebrand. Since the main focus had always been the roasting, this name change was natural and more fitting with Mike’s operation. New building signs, new graphics, new logo (the wonderful vintage coffee roaster) have appeared. The very popular Polly’s Blend of Mexican and Colombian beans is still the same – now called Mike’s Blend. It’s a new day!

Other chains have continued to target Belmont Shore over the years, but Mike Sheldrake has persevered with the philosophy, “Let others worry about the competition; I worry about the customers”.

The Other Thing – Even though I moved from Belmont Shore years ago, I still miss it and that enticing smell of freshly roasted coffee beans. I pop in when I can, for coffee and conversation with Mike.

“French Lessons”

This book is not about learning to speak French – it teaches us ABOUT the French. Author Peter Mayle is a Brit who moved with his wife and two dogs to the South of France. Ranging far from his adopted Provence, Mayle travels to every corner of the country to experience the pleasures of French dining.

Dining is a social event in France and is explained in infinite detail. Each chapter is devoted to dining and wine tasting experiences.

The participants in the Marathon du Medoc run through the great vineyards of Bordeaux while refreshing themselves en route with tastings of red wine (including Chateau Lafite-Rothschild!)

There is a memorable bouillabaisse in a beachside restaurant on the Cote Azur.

There is a Catholic mass in the village of Richerenches, a sacred event at which thanks is given to the mysterious and frightfully expensive black truffle.

There is a chapter devoted to the most pungent cheese in France (It’s in Normandy). Witness a debate over the perfect omelet.

The homage to exceptional chicken takes us to a fair in Bourg-en-Bresse.

Read about the largest and most delicious croissants, and more than you thought you wanted to know about escargot.

One highlight for me was learning about the history of the Michelin Guide. It began in 1900 and listed hotels only. Also included is the story of the 100 year old Hotel d’Europe in Avignon. Read about Madame Pierron and 3-star Michelin chef Paul Bocuse.

According to Mayle, no Frenchman or woman would ever complain about an excess of furniture, too much crystal or too may waiters! A little pomp is necessary, food is crucial and so are the surroundings. “Success in the kitchen must be reflected by the trappings of success in the dining room”.

The Other Thing – If you are Vegan, this book is not for you. But if you are a foodie and/or a wine connoisseur on some level, you will love “French Lessons”!!

The Lab Anti-mall

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Out of the visionary mind of real estate developer Shaheen Sadeghi came The Lab. Located on Bristol in Costa Mesa, it is promoted as an anti-mall. It is everything that a large mall isn’t – creative, visually appealing, and a little off-center – quirky and fun!! You enter from the parking lot through an arbor of shrubs and shiny CDs. I have never walked through this without encountering at least 2 or 3 other people taking selfies.

 

Immediately to the right is Habana, a delicious Cuban restaurant where the bartender mixes killer Mojitos. There area vintage stores, Nook Coffee Bar, The Den (with bohemian vibe), the vegan Seabird Kitchen, Buffalo Exchange, Urban Outfitters, small boutiques, and lots of space to gather together (maybe not right now) or sequester in a hidey hole with your computer.

 

This is a very welcoming place. Its bright and cheerful and caters to prospective tenants who offer something a little different.

 

Unusual art pieces from local artists is a unique addition – the latest being the Selfiesaurus featuring work from a recent poetry contest. The winner is a close friend and a true Renaissance woman, Charlene Ashendorf. I brag all the time that I know her.

 

The Other Thing – Across the street  from The Lab is The Camp. Also developed by Sadeghi, this is a blog for another time.

Covid-79 Birthday

I named the virus after me because it deliberately tried to ruin my 79th birthday celebration. But it failed – badly!!! I had a lovely day that began with my brother taking me on a drive 75 miles down the coast – passing Laguna Beach…

Then a picnic lunch in San Clemente….

Then on through old town Oceanside and Carlsbad.

We got on the freeway in Encinitas and scurried back home for  wine, appetizers, and paella (from Sevilla’s) in my daughter’s spacious patio.

Birthday cookies baked by the Pastry Queen aka my granddaughter!

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I was a very full and fun day. Lots of birthday wishes from friends and family on Facebook and Instagram.

The Other Thing – This virus better be under control by next year at this time, because that birthday will call for a whoop-de-do celebration!!!!!

“A Confederacy of Dunces”

This novel was leant to me by my friend Dennis. He highly recommended it and exclaimed that it would be the most unusual piece of literature I would ever read. Of course that immediately intrigued me as I have read hundreds of books over the years, none falling exactly in that category. Written by John Kennedy Toole (never heard of him) and published in 1980 by his wife, the forward of this novel really piqued my interest. It was written by Walker Percy, known for his philosophical novels set in and around New Orleans. The manuscript was sent to him by Toole’s mother who insisted that he read it “because it is a great novel”.

Having heard that many times, he thought he would read a few lines, maybe a chapter or two to satisfy her and then be done with it. He read it all of course. I quote the final sentence of his forward. “It is a great tragedy that John Kennedy Toole is not alive and well and writing. But he is not and there is nothing we can do about it but make sure that this gargantuan tumultuous human tragicomedy is at least made available to a world of readers.”

The main character (and I use that word is its strictest sense) is a slob named Ignatius Reilly. A  combination of Oliver Hardy, Don Quixote and a perverse Thomas Aquinas, he is in a violent revolt against the entire modern age. He is a deadbeat, a glutton, a goof-off, an ideologue. He lives with his mother in an apartment on Constantinople Street in New Orleans. His girlfriend Myrna Minkoff lives in the Bronx and thinks what he needs is sex. What happens between them is not your typical boy meets girl scenario.

His mother wants him to get a job. That is where the fun begins. Each job turns into a lunatic adventure. Needless to say, he only stays employed a day or two as he reeks havoc everywhere.

This book is all about Ignatius, everyone else just bit players but unique and well defined, in this hilarious and sometimes dramatic escapades of an unlikely “hero” with his thunderous contempt and one-man war against everybody! In bedroom at night, between bouts of flatulence and belching, he fills dozens of yellow tablets with invective.

Ignatius, who is obese beyond description, abhors fashion and style of any kind. He has full lips beneath a black bushy moustache, a flashy balloon of a head. His daily attire is his green hunting cap with flaps over his ears, his comfortable and casual voluminous tweed trousers (permitting his free locomotion), plaid flannel shirt and a muffler which guards his skin between earflap and collar.

Describing the atmosphere and goings-on in the French Quarter and on surrounding lesser traveled streets in the 60s, is the perfect background for this highly unusual and entertaining novel.

I asked Dennis to describe this book in one sentence. This is what he said. “There are a few truly unique characters in fiction; Ignatius and his escapades among real people will lead you into an alien world so close to yours that when you fall out of your chair laughing, you may think: me or him?”

I hope I have generated some interest among my blog followers. “A Confederacy of Dunces” is a wild and entertaining ride!

Corona Coma

This is a time in our history that won’t soon be forgotten. The chaos of social distancing, buying online, and worry about being infected and passing it on to others, it is certainly a new normal for us right now. We don’t know how long our movements will be restricted, but we will carry on.

So what do I do at home all day? Since I blog about travel and food, my post subjects are limited, to say the least. I have no yard to garden, no front porch to sit on while enjoying the sunshine. I am an adult colorer. I have finished my puzzle book and am almost finished with the word search. I am reading my last 2 books (libraries and bookstores are closed). I refuse to be an e-reader. My granddaughter and I made a vow when she was young to always read books that we get from the library.

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Here is what happens when I decide to put on my happy shoes…….

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My  kind and giving friend Dennis left 3 books on my doorstep. Another friend set up an app called Marco Polo that allows me to facetime with my “sisters”. We joke about the gray hairs that are showing, nails needing a manicure but mostly assuring each other that we are staying safe and occupying our time in whatever ways we can to keep the boredom from becoming overwhelming.

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My family is as safe as possible right now, but I am concerned about the small businesses in my town and how they will survive being closed for an indeterminate amount of time. My favorite new coffee shop is Hola Adios. They have only been in business for a few months. Their decaf vanilla latte is killer. The owner is working on a special blend of chai for which I have been anxiously waiting. I hope that won’t be long.

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There is not much else to say. This is by far the most unteresting blog I have ever posted. Stay safe all of my blog readers out there!!

The Other Thing – I bought a new car before COVID-19 stalled our lives. I have only driven it 3 times!

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Coffee, Tea Or ??

I really don’t like coffee, but I enjoy the coffee shop atmosphere. Most places have chai. That is my drink of choice – hot or cold depending on the weather. So I rate the chai according to my taste parameters. My favorite until about two weeks ago has been Lost Bean in The Hive. Then on my son’s birthday weekend in Valencia, I found my favorite at a little place in Old Town Newhall called Honu Coffee. Its their own special blend with just the right amount of sweet, lots of flavor.

Since I won’t be spending much time that far out of Orange County, I can always go to Moongoat Coffee where they also make their own blend of chai – a little bit sweet –  with a little bit of tang.

Green tea macha at Blue Bottle in Lido Village is an OK substitute for not serving chai. Hola Adios, a new coffee shop on Virginia Place in Costa Mesa is working on their chai blend. In the meantime, their Decaf Vanilla Latte tastes pretty darn good to someone who does not like coffee. Plus it has a quaint and cozy atmosphere and lots of fun souvenirs. Much thought and preparation was put into this cool little coffee shop. This might now be my go to place, especially when owner Ryan comes up with his chai blend.

The Other Thing –  My budget tells me that for the next few months, meeting my friends for coffee/chai will probably be the order of the day.

Old Town Newhall, etc.

Celebrating my son’s birthday weekend called for new adventures. Lunch was at Old Town Junction in a newly developing renovation in Newhall called Old Town. We began with a tangy Bloody Mary and some delicious fresh pastries. Then our table was covered with Chicken and Waffles, Avocado Toast, Short Rib Benedict, Bacon and Eggs and Fresh Fruit. The Chicken and Waffles was declared the best Jeff has ever had – sorry AOC. Short Rib Benedict was quite flavorful according to my brother and my Avocado Toast good but a little overwhelming. It was piled so high I had to take it apart to experience all the flavors – sliced  heirloom tomatoes, thick bacon, sliced avocado on some very tasty thick toast.

Then we walked around Old Town – huge candy store, the local library, then the walk of fame. This area is where western movies were filmed in the 40s and 50s. There were markers for Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Gary Cooper, Monty Montana, Steve McQueen and others that only those of us who are older than 60 would recognize.

Then there was a brief stop at Honu Coffee (Hawaiian for “turtle”) and one of the best chai lattes I have ever tasted. As a side note, Honu serves Kean Coffee. We even saw the original Batmobile driving down Main Street.  Also, somewhere in town there was filming was going on.

Then, it was home to recuperate from lunch while we waited for our dinner reservations. This was the only disappointing part of our day! Le Chene is a French restaurant in Santa Clarita with good reviews. It was 14 miles away, but we thought worth the drive. The interior was modest and not very inviting. An interesting feature were several trees growing through the floor in the dining areas, trunks covered with white lights.

We started with Escargot (my brother was wary but a good sport and tried it). However, there was too much garlic and one shell was empty. The menu was on a large blackboard and quite extensive. It included many French specialties. The spinach salad was excellent. It contained fresh pear chunks and sliced olives. The sweet/tart combination worked well. The European Sea Bass Almondine entrees were just OK. My Halibut Meuniere was dry and flavorless, no sign of any sauce. The Seafood Pasta had no color and the surrounding pasta was the most hideous shade of green. The saving grace was dessert. Crème Caramel and a chocolate concoction with ice cream and meringue, though pretty sweet were delicious. Mickey’s was rhe best.

When I didn’t asked for a to-go container, the bus boy told the manager. He wanted to know if there was something wrong with my meal. I told him why I couldn’t finish it, he apologized profusely and took it off the bill. Service was good and all wait staff very attentive.

 

The Other Thing – Overall, it was an enjoyable day. It is really not always about the food – it’s about being with family.

Lunch at Taco Maria

In 2015 this restaurant was listed at #5 of the top 101 Restaurants in Los Angeles. Only 3 from Orange County were mentioned. In 2019 Taco Maria moved to #3 and  received a Michelin Star. It will be interesting to see where it appears in the 2020 guide. It was named Restaurant of the Year by the LA Times in 2018. This is a taco place for heavens sake! What makes it so good that it has reached such heights?

Located in the OCMart Mix at SoCo Collection in Costa Mesa, their sign and entry are unassuming and give no indication of what treats await us. “Chef Carlos Salgado’s cooking reflects his heritage and years of fine-dining training.” (LA Times).

If you are going to Taco Maria for old-fashioned tacos and what goes with them, this is not the place for you. There is nothing traditional about this restaurant.

Our appetizer was the BRASSICAS – broccolini, cauliflower, romanesco, fish sauce aoili, sunflower seeds, and lime.          Then….

ARRANCHERA – hanger steak, roasted chiles, Applewood bacon, queso fundido

TOCINO –  Taco with pork cheek, piloncillo glaze, winter citrus, salsa verde

PESCADO FRITO – taco with local black cod, charred scallion aioli, cabbage, mandarinquat

JARDINEROS – taco with shiitake mushroom chorizo, crispy potato, queso fundido

The Other Thing – There was a half hour wait for lunch so we had tea at Portola. The wait was well worth it. To experience it all calls for a return visit for dinner. “The restaurant switches to a taco-centric four-course tasting menu format………..helping to build a new language for the way we think and talk about Mexican cooking in California.” (LA Times)

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