October 22, 2019 – Putting a restaurant together is a challenge under the best of circumstances. And when you’re talking about a completely new kind of hybrid café, it’s even tougher.
But to hear Michael Trainer and Jazmin Grant tell their story is to believe that improbable ideas are possible—and even necessary.
“We want to keep Santa Cruz weird,” says Grant, who with Trainer is creating the first “hammock café” in the United States, which includes a steampunk “sober bar” where exotic herbal drinks are served without alcohol or caffeine, but formulated to provide a boost of creativity, energy, lucid dreaming and other positive effects.
Grant and Trainer have been working on opening Roxa Café & Elixir Bar for close to two years, with a vision that includes setting pieces of black tourmaline in the floor (enthusiasts believe that the stone channels healing and dispels negative energy), creating tables of reclaimed burlwood, and installing unique hammock chairs that can fold back against the wall if more space is needed.
For Trainer, opening Roxa is not just offering a healthy alternative to other types of eateries in downtown Santa Cruz, but also a chance to create a different kind of community gathering place, an alternative to traditional bars and pubs. The elixirs on the menu provide what Trainer calls “social lubricants” but without the hangover of alcohol or the jitters of caffeine.
“It’s a reflection of our lifestyle, and a lot of people resonate with this,” says Trainer, who formerly worked in the tech industry, but is now all about finding alternative ways to health and wellness. He and Grant, who are a couple in life and in business, have been working on this idea for the past three years.
Roxa opens next Monday, Oct. 28, and tentatively plans to be open Sunday through Wednesday from 7am-7pm, serving artificial oil-free acai bowls, gluten-free sugar-free pastries, avocado toast, and miso soup and bone broth with fresh seaweed foraged from nearby coastal sites, as well as its signature herbal tonics and elixirs. The café is also open extended hours Thursday through Saturday, from 7am-midnight, when it will take on more of a club atmosphere in the evening hours.
Situated in the Cooper House breezeway right next to Abbott Square, Roxa has ideal exposure to customers, since the square has become such a hot spot for entertainment and events. The name “Roxa” means purple in Portuguese, referring to the color of the acai berry.
Grant and Trainer started on the road to Roxa after she became desperately ill due to exposure to black mold. As she was recovering, she discovered that she was allergic or sensitive to a great many typical ingredients, including sugar, gluten, canola oil, alcohol and caffeine.
They began experimenting with herbal remedies and discovered that there were a wide variety of intriguing effects that herbs could produce. Trainer also began researching how gut health related to overall wellness, and discovered that ingredients such as refined sugar “feed the bad bacteria” and were toxic.
That’s why the couple has been very particular about what they include in their menu offerings, with all ingredients chosen to create optimum health. “Our focus is the new science of the microbiome,” says Trainer, referring to the trillions of gut bacteria that play a role in digesting food and keeping us healthy. There’s even evidence that gut flora can influence a person’s personality, level of happiness and other factors that are more associated with psychology than physiology.
To this end, Roxa’s acai bowls contain date syrup as a sweetener, rather than sugar, and plenty of fiber. Acai itself is touted as a superfood, since the berries are nutrient-dense and low in sugar, and are thought to improve brain and heart function. Herbal teas and tonics, too, will be offered to achieve optimum health.
It’s likely that the herbal bar, created from a 19th-century French hutch that Trainer and Grant acquired in San Francisco, will get most of the attention when Roxa opens. Festooned with LED lights and antique chemistry equipment, the bar will serve up a number of intriguing drinks, like their Minutia Mimosas, Truth Serum, and The Vessel, the last meant to spark creative impulses.
And connecting with others who seek similar paths to health and fellowship will also be part of Roxa’s mission. “We really want to educate people,” says Trainer.
Roxa Acai Café & Elixir Bar • 110 Cooper St. #100G, Santa Cruz • 831.435.9207
Kathryn McKenzie, who grew up in Santa Cruz and now lives on a Christmas
tree farm in north Monterey County, writes about sustainable living,
home design and health for numerous publications and websites.