Ken Botelho, owner of Caffe Bene, says his coffee shop on Cedar Street has had plenty of ups and downs since it opened in 1988. But he doesn’t mind when it gets slow: in between regular customers, Botelho just picks up a book or newspaper and reads. At this point, Caffe Bene is a local institution. “I still see cars going by—the years change. The models change,” he says. “I’m still serving coffee.”
GOOD TIMES: How have things evolved in 25 years?
KEN BOTELHO: I was much more successful here when I had two schools flanking me, and now they’re gone. The [Santa Cruz] Sentinel’s gone. I think the Sentinel at that time had around 150 employees. There were 100 kids at each school or more. Teachers used to hold their classes in here. When the city went on furlough, that took a bit out of Fridays. It’s been up and downs.
Did this building survive the 1989 earthquake?
Yeah, they came by and looked at it and said, ‘We’re going to have to yellow tag the building.’ I said, ‘What does that mean’ He said, ‘No unauthorized personnel in the building.’ ‘Okay, am I authorized?’ He says, ‘Oh yeah.’ ‘Are my employees authorized?” He says, ‘Oh, yeah.’ ‘Are my customers authorized?’ He says, ‘No.’ ‘Okay, so my employees can come in, but nobody else—I can live with that.’ I moved the entire operation to one counter, put a table up to the door, set up my pastries in the window and had people coming up to the door. I sold like that for two weeks.
What are we listening to? Mozart?
Pandora. Yeah, Thursday is classical day for the mornings. Some people really enjoy it and say, ‘This is the only place in town where you can hear classical music to drink your coffee.’ Monday’s Rat Pack, basically—Frank Sinatra and friends. On Tuesdays it’s French café music because I have a French club that meets here, and they speak conversational French for an hour.
Why do you and former Sentinel editor Tom Honig play dice here at the counter?
For many years, Tom and I roll for the coffee. If he wins, he gets it free. If he loses, he pays me twice.
And how does the house do?
He contends that he wins more than he loses, but I’m thinking it’s probably even. I’m not keeping track.
INFO: 1101 Cedar St., Santa Cruz, 425-0441