The aroma of herbal and lemon tea, the soft hum of the espresso machine, the murmurs of customers huddled over quiche and cookies. The cafe brims with life.

On May 21, customers lined up at the Tabby Cat Cafe for its final day of operation. Changes are brewing as it prepares for new ownership. 

For the past five years, patrons have gathered at the beloved Tabby Cat Cafe in Downtown Santa Cruz for everything from drinks to art shows to community activism meetings. 

“People are in transition points, you know?” said Tabby Cat co-owner Jeb Purucker, in between sips of locally roasted black coffee. “It was never going to be forever, and I think everyone feels pretty good to go on to other stuff.”

Purucker and co-owner Lisa Curran opened the cafe together in 2019, and nurtured it into the inclusive and creative space that Santa Cruz residents know and love. 

The cafe has been an important resource for local organizers and creatives. It has served as: a storefront for artists to sell their pieces, a performance venue for local musicians, and a monthly meeting spot for the Santa Cruz chapter of the Democratic Socialist Association (DSA). 

At its “going-away party” on May 21, the cafe was as lively as ever. Students worked on assignments, patrons flipped through newspapers, and one customer serenaded the room from the piano that sits at the center of the cafe.

Regulars reminisced on the memories they shared there over coffee and treats. Among the frequent patrons who’d returned to say goodbye were Daniel Lopez and Jorden Dungan, who were drawn to the cafe because of its reputation as a socialist-friendly space.

“I can think of some other coffee shops in town that are very in and out […] But it always felt more calm in here,” Lopez said. “It’s a great space, you know. Sad to see it go.”

Customers are not the only ones who appreciated the Tabby Cat’s non-corporate environment. 

Anthony Butera, who started working there as a barista in 2021, is grateful that his job allowed him to give back to the community. 

“I’ve given my fair share of free drinks and food to people if they can’t afford it,” Butera said. “I think that’s my favorite part of the job.”

What will become of the Tabby Cat under its new ownership? Nobody knows for sure. 

“[The new owners] are not ready to announce what they are yet. Opening a place, you’re at the whims of all kinds of different forces and stuff like that,” said Purucker. “But it’ll be cool.” 

Purucker believes that selling the cafe will allow many of its staff members to better focus on different parts of their lives: other jobs, creative pursuits, travel. For Purucker, the transfer of ownership will mean he can focus on his full-time job as a field representative for the UC-AFT Lecturers (Local 2199) and Librarians (LX).  

The Tabby Cat’s ninth life will be the legacy it leaves behind. 

“It’s not a faceless little cafe. They know you, you can come in here all the time and they ask you what you’re doing,” Dungan said. “It’s sad to see it go, because it’s just been a staple.”

Mylah Ellis contributed additional reporting.