Ring in the New Year with an old friend — Linnaea’s Café.
In the three decades since its launch by Linnaea Phillips in 1984, the San Luis Obispo coffeehouse has become a treasured touchstone for countless visitors, be they students, tourists or local regulars.
With its wooden floors, high ceilings and friendly staff, Linnaea’s radiates a warm ambiance where patrons can study, meet friends over a coffee and scone, or enjoy a hearty vegetarian meal. There’s also a serene and inviting brick patio in back, complete with ivy-covered walls and koi ponds.
Since 2008, Linnaea’s legacy has been under the able stewardship of Marianne Orme, who co-owns the café with her husband, David Arndt. A graduate of New York’s Culinary Institute of America, Orme had worked several different restaurant jobs on both coasts before “I came through San Luis Obispo and met Linnaea. She offered me a job in the kitchen and allowed me to work flexible hours” to accommodate a young family.
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Soon, Orme was not only working in the kitchen (the offsite commercial facility where most of the café’s food is prepared), but also the café itself. She eventually ended up as the manager.
When Phillips wanted to step away from the coffeehouse, she asked if Orme wanted to buy it.
“People were so afraid I was going to change it,” Orme recalled. “But it was so much (Linnaea’s) creation, her baby — I wanted to continue with the same heart.” To that end, the only changes were to start accepting credit cards, and to serve coffee that was both organic and fair-trade certified.
As befitting a coffeehouse, java creations are at the heart of Linnaea’s and the baristas here know their stuff. In addition to an artistic latte with an impressive design swirled into the foam, you can order everything from a French press coffee, to Thai-style iced tea, to a spicy vanilla chai, or go for a seasonal creation such as eggnog latte or hot spiced cider.
Foodwise, Linnaea’s breakfast and lunch menus are all vegetarian and often vegan as well, but one of the first things you might notice upon walking into the café is the extensive variety of baked goods. There are stalwart favorites — especially the carrot cake — but on any given day the selection might include chewy ginger cookies, gluten-free chocolate chip muffins, and the very popular sea salt/rosemary shortbread.
Typical breakfast offerings include buttermilk waffles, scrambled “espresso” eggs or a hearty burrito with eggs, cheese, black beans, sour cream and salsa.
The lunch menu changes daily depending on the whims of the kitchen and the season, but recent meals have included spiced potatoes, rainbow lentil soup, tortellini crunch salad, butternut squash gratin and tofu tempeh rolls.
Combos are also available, allowing you to mix and match all the entrées, soups and salads (note that the menu items are limited and will sell out as the day progresses).
Linnaea’s has also remained a vibrant venue for the visual and performing arts. Events are booked every night but Monday, and range from acoustic music to poetry readings to storytelling. The works of various artists grace the walls throughout the year, and the café hosts receptions during San Luis Obispo’s Art After Dark on the first Friday of the month.
“It’s like a refuge here,” said Orme, adding that “we also have a wonderful staff — it’s a good feeling.”
Hours: Daily; Monday-Wednesday 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Thursday-Friday 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; breakfast served 6:30 a.m.-11 a.m. weekdays, 7 a.m.-2 p.m. weekends; lunch weekdays at 11:30 a.m. until items sell out.
The scene: An inviting, vibrant coffeehouse with seating facing the street, inside the cozy café or out on the serene patio.
The cuisine: Vegetarian and often vegan breakfast and lunch, all manner of baked goods, and specialty coffees made with freshly ground organic and fair-trade beans.
Expect to spend: Menu items typically about $3-5, combos $6.50-8.50; coffee drinks start at $2