Sipology Coffee: Beauty from the Ruins?
11:00am | Remember from Part 1 of this story when coffee-roaster Jeff Duggan and Red: A Sipology Kitchen investor Nathan Israel -- just two of many persons feeling bilked by Sipology owners Isaac Guanajuato and Oscar Orosco -- mentioned having been told Sipology would be receiving money from the City of Long Beach?
Turns out that was true: Deputy City Attorney Rich Anthony confirms that Sipology Coffee Co., LLC was given a loan of approximately $90,000 -- a loan currently in default.
"From what I gather, they made a couple of payments, because the principal went down, though not much," Anthony says, noting that the City hasn't received any sort of payment in over year.
Anthony says that within the month the City will send a third and final demand letter, then file a lawsuit that Anthony predicts will end in a default judgment in favor of the City.
Over the course of several months the Long Beach Post has left numerous -- and we mean numerous -- requests for comment on the personal voicemails of both Guanajuato and Orosco, messages expressing the seriousness of the accusations being made against them. We received no reply.
We did, however, hear back from Dr. Raul Ixtlahuac, who, along with his wife Andrea, is listed as the guarantor of the loan, according to Anthony. Ixtlahuac claims he was not a member of the LLC, and that the loan he signed off on was for developing the space adjoining the East Village Sipology location into a restaurant.
According to Ixtlahuac, the restaurant never opened because "the permit process was very difficult." As for the coffee side of Sipology, Ixtlahuac says he had nothing to do with it.
"If it's a failed business, it was a failed business," he said, "and we have to deal with it accordingly. […] A lot of us lost a lot of money." During our conversation, it wasn't always clear to me how directly he was answering my questions. But one topic about which he was clearly unwilling to be forthcoming was how recently he has spoken with Guanajuato and/or Orosco. "I don't recall," he answered. "Was it within the last month, within the last six months?" I asked. "I don't know," he said. "Sorry."
I also asked Ixtlahuac whether he intends to make good on the loan from the City. As he did several times during our short conversation, Ixtlahuac claimed he was not involved with the LLC, and that the loan was not to the LLC at all. "Well, the City Attorney's Office is telling me you're the guarantor on the loan," I said, "and that the loan was to Sipology Coffee Co., LLC. Do you intend to make good on the loan?"
It was right about now that he hung up.
All this is past. What of the present?
The Post is unable to confirm Orosco's post-Sipology endeavors. But Guanajuato is another story. Aside from being employed at a nearby real-estate firm, he is listed (along with wife Alexis) as the owners of the Facebook page The Urban Yogi, "a grass roots, community inspired yoga project" founded in 2011, whose mission is listed as "urban living meets conscious evolution."
One former Sipology owner with whom Duggan remains on good terms is Mike Gutierrez, who opened Sipology's satellite location with Guanajuato and Orosco before his rude awakening. In fact, Duggan's company, Portola Coffee Lab, is the roaster for what in November officially became Temple Coffee, with no ties to Guanajuato and Orosco -- though you may find a few familiar faces behind the counter.
"I got into this with the best of intentions, because I wanted to serve my community," Gutierrez says. "And I still feel like that, you know? […] I'm just trying to focus on the positive and what's going on here right now. I just want to keep on doing what I need to do to make sure this stays a sustainable business."
Like Duggan -- and everyone else with whom I spoke -- Israel does not lump in Gutierrez with his former business partners.
"Mike's a good guy. I hope he does well," Israel says. "I support his business. I go there every day. […] He's a good guy. He's the type of person that ought to be doing business."
Sumako, who curated art at all three Sipology locations and began an "experimental music" series at the East Village location, has shifted the series to Zephyr Vegetarian Café, where it takes place during each Second Saturday event.
Up in Cal Heights, the space formerly occupied by Red: A Sipology Kitchen is now Blackbird Cafe, specializing in breakfast (but serving lunch, too). Owner Debbie Rossetti-Colacion says she found the space by way of a Craigslist ad posted by Guanajuato and Orosco, who were looking to sell "the Sipology concept" and all the restaurant equipment. Rossetti-Colacion didn't bite, eventually getting into the space by way of the landlord when Guanajuato and Orosco abandoned it.
And then there's the spot were it all began, that gorgeous piece of architecture on the Broadway/Linden corner. Once upon a time, Heda Elarabi would get coffee there, coveting the space all the while. And so when one day she happened by and saw a sign in the window saying, "Sipology employees and owner: if you want to come in and pick up your stuff, call this number," she couldn't believe her luck.
"I was like, 'Oh, yes! how do I apply?'" she recalls. "I called, like, every single day for a month straight."
Partly because she was willing to take over both the corner and adjoining space, 28-year-old Elarabi was afforded the chance to make her dream come: The GreenHouse, a coffee (and more) house that takes freshness to a healthy extreme, acquiring its coffee from Rose Park Roasters, which makes daily bicycle deliveries of coffee beans roasted the previous day.
And speaking of fresh, Elarabi, who learned from the property manager that Guanajuato and Orosco "skipped out on payments" and has heard stories of unpaid wages from former Sipology employees now on her payroll, emphasizes that The GreenHouse is a completely new chapter in the story of the Broadlind corner.
"It's baffling to me," she says regarding what went down at Sipology. "Whatever it was [at this spot], it's completely different now. […] This is a fresh start, a fresh slate."
Look for the restaurant Asha -- which Elarabi labels "traditional Moroccan with a healthy twist" and says will offer an array of organic and vegan options -- to open next door to The GreenHouse on February 3.
Will The GreenHouse and Asha help the East Village become the business district everybody wants it to be? Elarabi hopes so.
"The community's amazing," she says. "Everyone's all about supporting the local businesses. Hopefully we've brought something fresh to the community."