By Emily Glory Peters
“Ambrose was a saint,” says Andrew Willis of the man for whom his coffee shop is named. Occupying the space that was once Archives Books (the go-to bookstore for Fuller Seminary) the shop’s association alone tells you Willis isn’t being facetious. Ambrose was an actual saint, admired by Willis for his diplomacy.
“I particularly liked his story because he wasn’t at all interested in being a leader in the church, but wanted to keep the peace,” he explains. “In running this business, my goal is definitely to create sustainability; and like Ambrose to bridge the gaps between my identity growing up in the church and the secular world. I like to have conversations on both sides of the aisle.”
Like many Angelenos, Willis is a transplant, who hied it cross-country from Oklahoma City a few years back to study theology at Fuller. He went on to complete his master’s and was eyeing the ministry as a career, but ultimately took a different path.
“I learned how to brew good coffee in my dorm room—then started researching about equipment and brewing methods, meeting local roasters. I liked the problem-solving aspect of it all,” says Willis, who deepened his coffee know-how over the last decade. His interest is anything but superficial. This isn’t about being trendy, it’s about making something really good—valuing what coffee can be. When developing the Ambrose Cafe menu, that meant collaboration.
“‘The Ambrosia’ was a team effort and totally unexpected,” says Willis of the shop’s signature drink featuring cold brew, honey, rose water and activated charcoal. “It’s become our flagship beverage for everyone from our coffee purists to those who say they hate coffee. It’s something we’re all really proud of.”
On a Saturday morning, that team is three-people strong (including Willis). They represent the boss’s crusade to make life as a barista sustainable, even aspirational providing the right income.
“I wanted to create a sustainable business model in terms of paying higher wages. We don’t request tips; just pay better and charge a little higher. Our roasting companies are also more sustainable and give back to their communities—and in that sense I think it echoes our goal of being a peacekeeper,” says Willis. “If I can find ways to create a better customer experience because my employees are more stable, that in and of itself creates a better experience for everyone involved.”
Maybe these small touches are evident in the excellent coffee and pastries as well as the unobtrusive atmosphere and spacious setting. Patrons elbow-deep in their work seem to abide by a shared purpose: drink well, study long, maybe stop for a chat—preferably to a well-curated soundtrack at just the right volume. All converge at Ambrose, uniter of the people.
Ambrose Cafe is located at 509 E. Walnut Ave. in Pasadena. For more information, contact the Ambrose Cafe team at ambrosecafe.com | firstname.lastname@example.org | (626) 407-2191 and follow along on Facebook @ambrosecafe and Instagram @ambrosepasadena.