Was it the girlfriend or the coffee that forever changed the direction of his life? Kent Huskins, former defenseman on the Anaheim Ducks 2007 Stanley Cup-winning team, may never know. One thing’s for sure: it happened on a magical trip to Paris in 2009.
He’d planned to propose to his then girlfriend, now wife, Bri. He brought the diamond ring on the flight, and true to character–as lifelong defender of his team’s net–stowed it in the overhead bin and stayed up all night guarding it.
When they arrived in Paris the next morning, completely jet lagged, Bri ordered coffee. The server mistakenly brought espresso and left it while fetching an Americano. Kent “was a coffee virgin,” Bri said, smiling and gazing up at him with big brown eyes during a tour of the shop. “I loved chocolate, so I thought I would give it a try,” he said.
From that moment on, the former root beer/ Red Bull fan was hooked. Now in his second career, he’s made it the family business.
Huskins Coffee Company opened Saturday, July 28 in a 2,400-square-foot space with 30 seats shared by Porrovita Juice Bar at Nineteen01 in Santa Ana. Lyon Living, owner of the apartments, helped with the build-out and offers free parking for coffee bar customers. The airy interior has been lovingly decorated by Bri Huskins, who earned a degree in Apparel Industry Management from the Fashion Institute of Design &Merchandising in Los Angeles.
The space feels much more posh than your typical Santa Ana coffee joint with its sleek, polished concrete floors, Carrera marble table tops, white oak accents and cortados served in faceted, smoke-colored glasses. (Super cool! Can you please, please sell these in the shop?) There are touches that speak to their lives on both sides of the border, such as American and Canadian flags and a few 1940s-vintage hockey sticks, but no sports memorabilia. “If it were up to Kent there would be nothing hockey- related in here,” Bri said.
The coffee, too, is pristine. Huskins sources organic beans from Bay Area-based Royal Coffee and Portland’s Sustainable Harvest. They’re prepared on site in a state-of-the-art Diedrich Roaster that general manager Meghan Houston estimates cost $100,000. Houston, a 13-year veteran of the industry who grew up in Santa Ana and has worked at Diedrich Roasters and at Equator in San Francisco, is the mastermind behind the espresso drinks, which steer clear of artificial flavorings and overly sweet syrups. Mochas ( $5) contain organic ganache made with Tcho 99 percent cacao chocolate. Vanilla Lattes ( $4.75) are flavored with simple syrup, made in-house from vanilla beans and turbinado sugar. Milks? Califia almond and Straus Family Creamery.
The Hometown Latte ( $5.50) is infused with organic maple syrup imported from Fulton’s Sugar Bush, about 9 miles from Huskins’ hometown of Almonte, Ontario (population 4,800). Bri grew up in Yorba Linda and they live in Newport Beach with their young sons, Roehn, 4, and Lochlan, 10 months.
A limited menu of pastries brought in from Crema Artisan Bakers in Irvine includes croissants, muffins and kouign-amanns. For breakfast there’s avocado toast ( $7) with arugula, tomatoes, cayenne and lemon juice; apple toast ( $7) with Canadian maple butter, sliced toasted apples and maple sugar; and a berry bowl ( $6.50) with European yogurt, fresh berries, house-made maple granola and honey drizzle. They’re awaiting a beer and wine license and when that’s secured, they’ll expand the menu and the hours.
Customers can order cold brew, pour overs and drip coffee, but no fussy siphon preparations. Houston sticks to the Huskins’ vision of quality and simplicity. Coffee drinks are made individually. “It’s competition style,” says Houston. “Baristas are all trained to make drinks by hand but still at high volume.” Expect a design in your foamed milk.
Huskins, who always takes his coffee black, is as serious about the premium java industry as he is about hockey. He also played for the San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers. A Hobey Baker finalist, he studied business administration at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y. and always dreamed of a second career. “Growing up, the big goal was to play in the NHL. But the other parallel dream–since my parents were adamant that school was a priority too–was that when I finished playing, to take some time, figure out a concept and try to start a business.” As his passion for coffee grew, the two converged.
He took barista classes at Boot Coffee in San Rafael and in March 2016 he flew to Idaho for a three-day seminar at Diedrich Roasters. When he returned, he was determined to start his own roastery and was thinking of an industrial space. But an opportunity arose with Lyon Living and he was encouraged to open a shop. His wife supported him all the way and now they’re co-owners of a family business. She painstakingly planned the decor, was stoked when Ducks team captain Ryan Getzlaf and his wife Paige came to their grand opening and can’t wait until they’re selling beans online.
She did, however, check in with him about the stress. “I asked, ‘What’s harder, playoffs or this?'” Huskins has suffered his share of injuries and setbacks in the game, she said, but he’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves in the business world. His former teammate, Hockey Hall of Famer and an owner of Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach (and soon-to-open The Penalty Box in Garden Grove), gave him some advice: “Teemu told me, it’s gonna be a lot of hard work,” Huskins said.
Worth it, he thinks, to live his new dream. Still, this soft-spoken, methodical guy is going to take it slow, with no plans to become the next Tim Hortons overnight. “We’re not looking at this as a cash generator,” he said. “We want to build something the right way, from the bottom up.” So, he’s doing it for love–of coffee and the wife.
By Anne Valdespino, The Orange County Register
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