Ventura County's Support-Local Program

Wake Up And Smell The Coffee

With Sandbox Coffeehouse, Ventura’s Todd Ryzow invites us to slow down and savor a slice of café life.

sandbox coffeehouse exteriorIt’s time-honored wisdom that reminds the dense or thick-headed to “wake up and smell the coffee,” suggesting that few things are so compelling and unequivocal as the aroma of that dark, rich brew. Indeed, countless millions hearken to the reality check of such advice – quite literally – each day, waking all across the world, brewing coffee at home, in the office, or stopping in at perhaps the most popular choice of all, the coffee house.

Ventura, like communities large and small all across the world, enjoys a variety of choices in coffee houses — especially in this age of the ubiquitous corporate chains like Starbuck’s, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and others. Yet despite the success of those chains, since the beginning, coffee houses have comprised the very spirit of local identity, offering not just the revered brew but also a healthy serving of community, for better or worse. In fact, in 1675, England’s King Charles II outlawed coffee houses, on the grounds (no pun intended) that denizens were using them as meeting places to conspire against him.

Whether for coffee, conspiracy, or other purposes, Venturans have a new place to meet with the opening of Sandbox Coffeehouse, nestled between Main Street and the sea at the corner of Thompson and Figueroa, a location for which founder Todd Ryzow enthuses. “I think it’s great,” he said in a recent TLVC interview. “We’re off the beaten path, but we still get tourists coming by on the way to the beach. I like that we’re away from Main Street; I like to think that Sandbox Coffee House is Ventura’s coffee house.”

It’s a most community-minded notion, and one that Ryzow backs up with real-world deeds: “We’ve only been here a few months – we opened March 12, and for the first week we just gave everything away,” he recounts. “We wanted to offer people a chance to simply try anything they wanted.” Needless to say, a price list soon followed, but perhaps more gently than customers might expect: “Our prices are extremely reasonable,” he continues. You can buy a small coffee for just a dollar, something you just won’t find other places. The idea is not to gouge people; it’s not just to take, it’s to give. We like to donate gift certificates to organizations, local schools, we’re open to fundraisers. I consider this a vehicle to help community.

Ryzow is no stranger to the trade, this being his fourth such establishment in an ongoing love affair with the café. He previously plied the trade in Colorado and Agoura Hills, and each time, the Agoura Hills native embraced the concept of stretching a bit beyond the coffee trade, expanding the notion to a broader concept that finds expression in the café. “I think it’s important to offer more,” he explains. “It’s my whole concept: the food, live music, art shows, coffee drinks– to offer just a bit more than you might expect.”

That expectation begins with good coffee, and Ryzow seems to have that score nailed, brewing Carribbean Coffee brand, from just up the road in Santa Barbara. “We have a lot of products that come from local sources,” he notes. “We have Java Frost, which is here in Ventura, they make our lemonades and our frappuccino mix; we source our produce from farmer’s market, and we have coffee from Caribbean Coffee Company, out of Santa Barbara/Goleta area. We’re really fortunate to have an abundance of local choices in the products we can offer.”

The word’s second-most actively traded commodity (after oil), coffee comprises the top export for twelve nations, and is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world. The beloved brew comes to us from 15th century Yemen; in the thriving trade between Venice and North Africa, Egypt, and the Middle East, coffee found an enthusiastic welcome in the west. The first European coffee house opened in Italy in 1645, and in 1689 Parisians saw the debut of Café Procope, an establishment that remains in business to this very day – tribute to the enduring appeal of a simple cup of “Joe.”

Ryzow knows a thing or two about the European cafe model, having lived in the Czech Republic for four years, from where he returned to California with a wife and child, ready to return to the business. “When we moved to Ventura I started researching available properties, to do another cafe,” he recounts. “I really wanted to start this one with a partner; I knew how much time it involved and I also knew I wanted to be with my family.”

“I haven’t found that partner yet, but I’m still looking,” he continues. It’s a lot of work, and it’s time consuming, but I have a passion for this business. I have a passion for people, and seeing people happy, that’s my reward. I don’t make a lot of money doing this, it’s more of a vehicle for me to connect with the community.” He finds many ways to encourage that community, from offering his walls as gallery space for local artists, to holding open mic nights (Thursdays) for local singers, and offering live music throughout the weekend.

sandbox-interior

In that offer is, again, the vision of a more European model. “I wanted to bring the culmination of what I’ve seen in my travels,” he explains, “that’s why I didn’t make it flashy. It’s just comfortable.” The model is one that is intended to depart from the “grab and go” American sentiment that’s so prevalent among the Starbucks crowd. “It’s funny, people see the place basically empty and are concerned. They ask me ‘Is business okay? How are things?’ They equate the presence of people here with the overall health of the businesses – but our culture dictates that we have to grab something and go. In Europe this place would be packed – the people would take the time to relax, enjoy their coffee, and connect.”

Asked if he intends the thought as an invitation for people to linger, he nods in affirmation. “I’d love them to. I’d love to do away with paper cups altogether and just use ceramic mugs, and have people stay a while. The coffee tastes better in them, they feel good in your hand, and they just look better. All that’s needed is for people to just take a little more time for themselves, to just relax. If I could show them one thing here,” he concludes, “it would be that – it would be how to just relax.”

Relax, that is, and smell the coffee.

Sandbox Coffeehouse, 204 East Thompson Boulevard, Ventura. Call (805) 641-1025 for more information. Open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 7am-6pm, Wednesday and Friday 7am-10pm, Saturday 8am-10pm and Sunday 8am-6pm. www.SandboxCoffeehouse.com.
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Learn more about author James Scolari

James Scolari

About the author

James Scolari is a writer and photographer. Though his seedling sprouted in other soil, after transplanting to the Gold Coast it has flourished and bears fruit in Ventura throughout the seasons. Late of local print journalism, Scolari edits TLVC content for publication and offers odds and ends from his own pen. He’s also a staffer and advocate for Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre, and teaches his own brand of image-making in the ongoing Mind’s Eye photo workshops. Check out his website at www.JamesScolari.com.

 

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