Words written by CEO of Rustic Canyon Family of Restaurants, Josh Loeb:
When Zoe and I moved up to Ojai almost three years ago, we had no intention of opening another restaurant much less becoming involved in a coffee company. I was coming to write, Zoe was coming to farm, and we both loved the idea of raising our kids in a smaller town. In the process of working on the farm and collaborating with inspiring and thoughtful farmers, a desire awakened in her to open another restaurant. When Zoe gets the bug to create something, special things generally happen, so she took the lead and brought in longtime collaborators Saw Naing (Tallula’s) and Kelsey Brito (Huckleberry and Milo & Olive) to partner with. Zoe was going to step out of the kitchen and fully embrace the roll of running the the restaurant. I was given the job of setting up the beverage programs, which meant finding the right people to partner with and run our wine list, cocktails and coffee.
In the past we had worked exclusively with Caffe Luxxe, both because we loved the coffee, and also because we had longstanding relationship and tremendous respect for its founders Mark Wain and Gary Chau. Mark and Gary opened Caffe Luxxe a few months before we opened Rustic Canyon, and they’ve long felt like partners and family. However, The Dutchess was a different kind of project; one that was trying to source as much as possible from farmers and craftspeople who worked in and around the Ojai Valley. A friend introduced me to a guy named Carlos Ramirez who lived in Ojai and had a small coffee company called Bonito. I was taken by his passion, knowledge and his deep, good heart. During our first in person meeting he turned to me and said, “It’s weird, I feel like we know each other.” It wasn’t weird to me, I shared the same feeling. From there a friendship and later partnership was born.
Carlos was born and raised in Nicaragua in the Northwest region Nueva Segovia, an area known for growing high quality coffee beans. His grandfather worked as a coffee mechanic fixing machinery used to wash and process recently picked coffee cherries at the farms in his town and in the mills in the nearby city. Many of Carlos’ friends growing up were the kids of local coffee farmers. It was a way of life. To this day his favorite cup of coffee is the one his grandma would make for him when he would visit, made through a sock-like filter from beans she roasted by hand each week. She’d sit him down for their version of a “Bonito Moment”, coffee cup in hand, and ask him about his life. In his early twenties Carlos took a trip out to Los Angeles to work with his brother. He tried on various jobs with the intention of saving enough money to go back to Nicaragua and buy a coffee farm. Then one day he met Katie Black, fell in love and his life changed forever. They started a family, found their way up to Ojai in 2016, spent time remodeling and restoring old homes but he never lost his coffee dream. One day on a trip to Nicaragua with his family, he visited his long time friend Rene’s farm high in the mountains. Rene wanted him to buy the farm next door but it no longer seemed realistic for him to follow that dream with his family back in Ojai. Instead, on that mountain he came up with an idea: he would work with Rene, bring in his beans and the beans from other local farmers Rene knew, roast them in Ojai and in the process bring his two worlds together.
Carlos started roasting in a small shed next to his family home in Ojai. He shared the coffee with friends and family and they were blown away, enjoying Carlos’ expression of love and creating their own Bonito Moments in the process. They wanted to buy the coffee regularly, so Carlos started bringing in more beans and found a commercial space on Bryant Circle, Ojai’s industrial street, and then Bonito was born. He did everything; source beans, roast coffee, fix equipment, package the finished product and deliver the beans to local customers on his bike. It was fun but Carlos is a builder at heart, and pretty soon the dream started to get bigger inside of him. He wanted to share Bonito with a larger portion of the community and even take it out into the world beyond Ojai.
When Carlos and I connected about The Dutchess, it was clear the addition of this big account was going to push Bonito past what he and some part time support could execute. I had convinced Max Mueller, our longtime Rustic Canyon Family employee, who started as a counter person at Huckleberry, fell in love with coffee along the way, and ultimately served several key positions in our group including General Manager at Sweet Rose Creamery, Huckleberry and finally Tallula’s, into moving up and launching our coffee program at The Dutchess. Max was excited about the move for him and his family, but made it clear his passion was to work in coffee directly. I introduced Max to Carlos and it was love at first sight. We all got to talking and pretty soon it was clear that I wanted to be involved as well. We refined the key value of Bonito, to grow the business while becoming even more of what Carlos had always dreamed it would be. After several hikes and long talks myself, Zoe, and long time partner Colby Goff joined on. We would create a small company that could scale and keep its spirit burning as it grew. We needed Max as a team member and partner in order to do this. Carlos also had an ace up his sleeve, a passionate coffee lover and super talented roaster named Andrew McMullen, who had helped him part time but was interested in becoming a full time member of the team. From their Bonito was born.
We officially partnered with Bonito in September and it’s been a joy. The plan has been to grow Bonito through likeminded wholesale accounts and through our online store. But the real goal of the company is to create as many “Bonito Moments’ as possible, in our roaster, in the restaurants that serve our coffee, and hopefully in kitchens and homes throughout the world. Bonito is an approachable coffee that celebrates who we are at our strongest. Bonito is what gets us out moving forward to look for our truest and most authentic self.