Melissa Allison follows the world's biggest coffee-shop chain and other Seattle caffeine purveyors.
First U.S. espresso cart actually debuted in L.A., 1978 (unless someone else calls)
Posted by Melissa Allison
Seattle architect Bill Fuller contacted me to say that the launch of this area's first coffee cart at the Edmonds Art Festival in 1979 was not the country's first cart, as folks in Seattle had thought.
A year earlier, a cart Fuller designed in southern California began appearing at private parties around Los Angeles. He was a recent architect grad from Cal Poly in 1977, when his friend Arlene Golant, who taught art there, asked him about designing a portable cart for her espresso machine.
"I didn't know what espresso was," he said. But he kept an article about the cart -- called Cafe Express -- that was written by Rochelle Reed, possibly for New York Magazine's "New West" edition.
Via e-mail today, Golant said she learned about espresso from a San Luis Obispo restaurateur who had a 1950s-vintage machine. "Not being a very good cook, I determined I'd learn everything I could about coffee, and the owner of that restaurant helped me." She also visited a friend in Seattle, artist Barbara Noah, who introduced her to some fine coffee around here.
After Golant moved Los Angeles, her restaurateur friend sold her the machine, which she set up in her studio to serve friends. She got the idea of putting wheels on it when she attended the opening of a Charles and Ray Eames show at UCLA where an espresso machine was set up on a table. She sent a year figuring out the mechanics, then Bill designed it.
Back in 1978, Los Angeles "didn't know what to do with a portable espresso bar," Golant wrote. "When I tried to get a health department license they insisted I be in the same category with 'roach coaches,' which was painful. Couldn't make that work, so I decided to use the carts only to do private parties. I worked with all of LA's best caterers and did some pretty amazing events. There are quite a few mentions in the coverage of film openings and celebrity parties."
Eventually, Cafe Express grew to four carts. Golant left the business in the '90s.
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