Patika owners Andy Wigginton and Nick Krupa have crafted a stylish, hospitable sanctuary for a quality coffee experience in South Austin. Says Krupa: “People are going to come to us from all different walks of life, angles, and perspectives, but if you are genuine with people, you can probably win them over and have them as a regular. And that’s what we are all about.”
Walking into Patika, one of the newest coffee shops on rapidly changing South Lamar, you get an instant sense of relief from the rush of traffic outside. The tension from the busy streets melts away as you’re greeted by a smiling, calm face behind the counter and the genuine, friendly inquiry, “How’s it going?”
Those welcoming faces may be Patika’s owners, Andy Wigginton and Nick Krupa. Andy, a native Texan, has lived in Austin for the past 25 years where he studied for both his bachelor’s degree and MBA at UT. He later worked in software where he met Nick, who had moved to Austin from Michigan, in 2000. The two have been inseparable since, partners in life and in business. Five years ago they opened the Patika coffee trailer downtown at Congress and Fourth Street, and it became one of the city’s most popular coffee hubs. This September, they celebrated the opening of their brick-and-mortar location in what used to be a dingy tax office, now a destination for anyone who appreciates quality coffee, superior service, and excellent taste in design.
Hearing about their first sips of stellar coffee at a small kiosk in San Francisco to their hopes of becoming an Austin staple for date nights and live music, you can tell that their hearts are in this all the way. Their main goal: to make quality coffee and serve it via friendly, approachable people.
What was the light bulb moment when you knew that you wanted to make the transition from software to coffee?
Andy: When I was getting my MBA in Entrepreneurship and Operations here at UT, 15 years ago, I wrote a business plan for opening up a coffee shop. Then I got this opportunity to start up a company, and I thought, “Well, it’s too good to pass up.” So Nick and I started traveling more, and we started going to places where we were drinking really good coffee. Blue Bottle in San Francisco was really the first eye-opening experience for us, and the light bulb moment came when we thought, “Oh wow, this is what coffee should be.”
“Part of our success is putting people at comfort when they’re hanging with us. We want to be a place where if you’re straight, you’re gay, you’re transgender, everyone is equally comfortable.”
Nick: It was such a step up from any coffee we had ever had. To be able to introduce people to coffee done right is a pretty amazing thing, and we know how fun that experience can be when your eyes are opened to it for the first time.
What were the things that inspired you about Blue Bottle?
Andy: First of all, it was the quality of the coffee — to see that you could do it in a tent at the farmers market was really inspiring. You could make really good coffee from a very simple set up. Then a year or two later going to their Hayes Valley location, and seeing their clean design, that kind of San Francisco aesthetic pared down really small out of a garage inspired us to come here and try to replicate that design in our trailer. We’ve tried to make the trailer feel like a clean, open space. The great difference is that in Austin we have friendly people — San Francisco is not really known for friendly service, which is fine, but Austin, we’ve got great people who can be friendly, nice, open, and warm — so bringing that to the coffee experience was still new here.
Nick: We spend a lot of time with our folks who join the team to train them on consistency. Often times, even if they have a background in coffee it’s a month of training before they pull espresso, because that consistency is so important. It’s really important to us that we respect coffee making as a skill. We’ve been lucky to find really great people who are committed to their craft and are approachable.
I’ve heard so many great things about your staff. Tell me how you have created an environment that keeps your staff happy and willing to move with you through your evolution.
Nick: We spend a lot of time on the hiring process. Taking the time to try and get to know someone and their personality is really worth it for us. We want happy people — everyone has their up days and down days, but for the most part, our people are happy. We look for employees we like interacting with. If we like interacting with you, we feel like the odds are that our customers will like interacting with you. The coffee is really key and important to us, but all along our philosophy has been to focus on the interaction — the experience is as important to us as the coffee quality.
What was the reasoning behind expanding your menu to include wine, charcuterie, and an in-house baking program? Was there more to it than just bringing customers in?
Nick: It’s surprisingly rare to find good pastries at a cafe here in town. It’s not a good city for baked goods. We found that out trying to find wholesale pastries. Andy has tinkered with baked good concepts, and it’s always been on his radar, but as a retailer, not having a good wholesale option, necessitates doing it in house because as hard as we work on the coffee set up, the last thing we want to do is offer sub-par baked goods. Expanding the evening options was a bit of a challenge as well. We’ve been working on developing an evening menu and having nice lighting, potentially music down the road and things like that.
Andy, I’m curious to know, 25 years ago, when you first got to Austin, if you had opened this business as an openly gay man, how do you think it have been received in Austin compared to today?
Andy: When I was in college, my senior year, Toni Luckett was the president of the student association. She was a lesbian and out and that was the very beginning of anyone pushing that forward here in Austin. I don’t consider myself a boundary pusher at all, and I certainly would not have been open about it being a “gay-owned coffee shop”. I just don’t think that was my vision. I feel like now, being gay and owning a coffee shop doesn’t define the space. In 1990 it would have. I really appreciate that Austin is a place where you can be gay and own a coffee shop and nobody cares, it’s not a thing. Austin has come so far and it allows us to have an opportunity where we are gay, yes, but it’s a comfortable space, it’s a quality product, and we want everyone to be comfortable coming here.
Nick: Part of our success is putting people at comfort when they’re hanging with us. We want to be a place where if you’re straight, you’re gay, you’re transgender, everyone is equally comfortable. People are going to come to us from all different walks of life, angles, and perspectives, but if you are genuine with people, you can probably win them over and have them as a regular. And that’s what we are all about.
What’s the plan from here?
Andy: Breathe for a second!
Nick: Evening stuff for sure. I feel like we’ve had a great start with the coffee side of things, we have a lot of daily regulars, which is great, that’s what we were hoping for. The vision we’ve had for evenings is to have more food offerings, upscale bar snacks, some kind of entertainment, and make it a kind of place for happy hour and date night. There’s a lot of potential for it, but it’s just getting that in people’s heads that we are an evening option. It’s a bit of a challenge, but I think we are up for it.
Interview by Sarah Hopwood
Photos by Casey Chapman Ross