Monterey’s new café Captain + Stoker combines coffee, cycling and conversation
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARGAUX GIBBONS
Not long after opening Captain + Stoker in March, owners Wendy and Peterson Conway were pleasantly surprised to see a pack of about 20 cyclists stop in for an espresso or two at the newly launched café in downtown Monterey.
Despite the Conways’ own passion for cycling, these kindred spirits were not people whom they’d previously met. And that’s just what the Conways were hoping for.
“This is exactly what we saw in Italy,” says Wendy, who, along with her husband, has fond memories of biking to little coffeehouses there and communing with other two-wheeled adventurers. In Italy, coffee and cycling just naturally seem to go together.
“We’ve had a lot of support from the local cycling community already. They’ve been our early adopters,” says Peterson. But it isn’t just people on bikes who are discovering Captain + Stoker. Local residents fresh from working out across the street at the Monterey Sports Center, employees of Old Monterey businesses and curious folks just strolling by have been captivated by the corner coffee shop, where some of the Conways’ prized tandem bicycles hang on the walls like works of art.
White subway tile and Edison lights add to the industrial vibe, warmed by such organic touches as handmade ceramic coffee cups and a long redwood table that Peterson milled as a teenager.
The threads of the Conways’ various passions join together in their new venture. Peterson, who grew up globetrotting with his father, the owner of Carmel’s renowned Conway of Asia store, has an appreciation for the offbeat and unique. He and Wendy love the convivial coffee culture they discovered in Italy, but also favor the Australian style of coffee roasting, which is lighter and sweeter than that done by chain coffeehouses in the United States.
Wendy is also zealous about growing her own food on the 10-acre ranch they bought four years ago in Carmel Valley. With eggs, avocados, oranges and stone fruit, in addition to row crops, there’s more than enough to spread around, and some of that bounty will make its way into the pastries and baked goods offered at Captain + Stoker. Helena Bee of Tassajara Zen Mountain Center came on board as head baker in May. Meantime, the Conways and other staffers had been baking crusty sourdough loaves using flour from Lehi Roller Mills, founded by Peterson’s maternal grandfather.
Creating community: Wendy and Peterson Conway at their café
The Conways might seem to have already had plenty on their plate without adding to it—raising two daughters, managing their small farm and juggling Peterson’s Silicon Valley career, working on projects for high-tech mogul Peter Thiel. But their search for something more soul satisfying led them down a path to something completely different.
A six-month trip around the world last year sparked the idea for a coffee-centered social club. Only four coffee offerings are on the menu—a very European model—espresso, black coffee, flat white and pour-overs. Other items will be seasonal, based on what’s ripening at the Conways’ farm. The café also offers locally made Katie’s Coldpress certified organic juices.
They’ve enlisted “coffee genius” John Subranni, who moved from Washington, D.C. to help start the shop. “He made his own grinder,” says Wendy. “If that’s not a total coffee geek, I don’t know what is.” Initially C + S coffee was roasted by Jeremy Creighton, the Aussie behind award-winning Common Room Roasters in Newport Beach. But as this issue of EMB was going to press, the Conways were getting ready to start roasting their own coffee at the shop.
The Conways’ other future plans include nurturing Captain + Stoker’s following among local cyclists with weekly rides that start and end at the café.
Despite both of the Conways’ career backgrounds in technology, one of their defining hopes for Captain + Stoker is that it will be a destination for conversation, rather than a place people go to disappear into electronic devices, as is so common at American coffee shops.
“We’re all linked as never before, but we’re overconnected, and all still very lonely,” Peterson says.
The Conways know it doesn’t have to be that way.
“When we spent a month in Italy last year, we were amazed that no one was on their laptops or on their phones,” says Wendy. “Everyone was talking to each other. We went to the same coffee shop every day and really got to know people.”
That sense of community—everyone pulling together for a common goal—is built into the name of the café. Captain + Stoker refers to the riders on a tandem bike—the captain, in the first seat, leads, while the stoker, in back, provides muscle power.
Tandem cycling is a great metaphor for relationships, says Peterson: “It takes a crazy amount of trust—the captain is the only one with brakes, steering and has access to the gears. You have to be in sync with each other.” Wendy’s take: “It’s marriage therapy.”
Captain + Stoker
398 E. Franklin St., Monterey
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.