By Emily G. Peters
The sun is baking down on the small coffee kiosk hidden in the courtyard of Pasadena Central Library, but that doesn’t mean customers aren’t ordering the hot stuff. The proprietor of Espress Yourself Coffee Bar, Richard Hawthorne, extends an open tin of tea leaves like a bouquet, inviting the customer to take in its scent.
“Isn’t that marvelous?” he says before setting a timer to make sure the brew is perfect.
This particular blend belongs to the director of the library, who requested Espress Yourself carry it as it was her especial favorite. Hawthorne agreed, and added it to his menu under the moniker “Director’s Choice.” It’s a small move that reflects Hawthorne’s approach to success for Espress Yourself: know your customers; know what they like to drink.
“Our team genuinely values each customer, providing them with the best quality drink of their choice in a timely manner,” said Hawthorne. “We call it ‘panache’ service.”
Espress Yourself, launched in 1993 but at the library for the last 16 years, focuses on specialty hot and iced coffees, teas and espresso drinks styled after true Italian espressos. Long-time signatures include the creamy Pot of Gold Latte, Italian macchiato and Butternut Latte—all of which pack a caffeinated punch.
“We had a location at USC University Hospital (now known as Keck) and a man kept coming round, often multiple times a day ordering two double espressos. Sometimes he’d ask just for a cup of espresso beans! It was then that I noticed the patient’s bracelet around his wrist,” laughed Hawthorne. “We secretly switched him to decaf after that.”
Though solely serving the Pasadena community now, the concept for Espress Yourself began to percolate in Portland 36 years ago when Hawthorne and his wife were kept up late o’ nights after the open heart surgery of their infant daughter, Michelle. Friends supplied them with robust, French-pressed coffee to keep them awake—and Hawthorne never forgot the comforting power of a hot drink.
“When Espress Yourself first opened in 1993, I focused on hospitals because I had wished there had been one when our daughter was in the hospital,” he said. “I knew how it would help the medical staff, patients and their families.”
Today, the kiosk continues to serve as a kind of retreat for those who work in the area: government employees, library staff, even jury duty folk on break at nearby City Hall. They pass through the courtyard for a coffee fix, a breath of fresh air or just a quick chat with Hawthorne and his staff. The key thing is: they’re remembered.
“Community is very important to us. This is where we’ve spent our lives since 1985,” said Hawthorne. “It’s a privilege to meet and serve so many unique people.”
Espress Yourself Coffee Bar is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located in the courtyard of Pasadena Central Library at 285 E. Walnut St. in Pasadena. For more information, contact Espress Yourself firstname.lastname@example.org | (626) 744-7575 and follow along on Facebook @espressyourselfcoffeebar.