Sept. 19, 2017
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“Purple People Eaters”

A young coffee entrepreneur tries to make it happen in the City Different

March 14, 2012, 12:00 am

Standing behind a coffee-decorated cart situated in Concrete Jungle’s front patio, a scarf-clad Phil Santos prepares espresso, condensed milk and soda for a concoction he invented, called “Hola Cola.”

“This will make your heart burst out of your chest,” he says, referring to the drink’s obscene amount of caffeine. 

Santos, 22, started his coffee cart, Purple People Coffee Co., in January, with his girlfriend Rondi Nunn, 29. Both moved from Los Angeles in December, primarily so that Nunn could attend Southwest Acupuncture College, but Santos was also looking forward to honing his creative instincts in the relatively artsy culture of Santa Fe.

He praises the city for its “real friendly, positive” residents, a stark contrast from his experiences with people in LA. 

“I haven’t met any gigantic jerks out here,” he says. 

But being a young entrepreneur in a city known for its graying population and relatively one-dimensional economy has presented some inevitable challenges. 

“Santa Fe seems like it has a lot of [people] set in their ways since the beginning of time,” Santos says. 

Originally, Santos and Nunn wanted to set up their coffee cart near the Liza Williams Gallery on Old Santa Fe Trail. But the city wouldn’t have it, despite the liquor store next door and the café down the street from the gallery.

“The zoning there only allows for arts and crafts—no beverages,” Santos says. 

Later on, while driving down Guadalupe Street, Santos and Nunn liked the space they saw in front of Concrete Jungle, the local head shop. Luckily, Concrete Jungle’s owner is a fan of coffee and worked out a deal in which Santos and Nunn can use the patio as long as they hook up Concrete Jungle’s staff with free coffee. 

But Santos’ experience running Purple People since then hasn’t been completely rosy. First, there’s the challenge of opening an outdoor coffee stand in the middle of winter, despite the fairly mild Southwest climate. Santos says he averages 10 customers a day, which is lower than he expected.

And some of the city codes are still getting in their way. 

“I’m not allowed to have chairs or tables here because I’m a little coffee cart, which I don’t understand at all,” he says. 

Also, Purple People’s location on the side of a cramped, winding road makes it easy for drivers to miss, which is why Santos says he often stands on the curb holding “ridiculous signs” with slogans like “Honk for Santa Fe’s Sexiest Coffee.” Per city code, he’s required to physically hold any sign that’s not attached to his cart. Also, his signs can’t legally have more than three colors on them. 

Then, of course, there’s his youthfulness. 

“A passing customer came by recently and said, ‘You are in the wrong age group for Santa Fe,’” Santos says.

“And I’m like, ‘What do you mean?’ And he says, ‘Well, here, it’s all retired people,’ and I started laughing.”
Santos expects to stay in Santa Fe for at least three years, he says, but as to whether the city will be right place for his eventual dream job, making custom espresso machines, remains to be seen.

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