In Saturn Cafe’s next life, it will be a Drunk Monkey — only now, ‘we can basically do whatever we want’
Popular food truck Asian fusion fare will morph into new things as the Cruz Kitchen & Taps takes shape at the historic site of the former Saturn Cafe at Pacific and Laurel in downtown Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruzans were stunned when the Saturn Cafe closed its doors for good in April. Founded in 1979, the vegetarian restaurant was an establishment that seemed invincible — but the COVID-19 pandemic had other plans. While the space has been empty for about six months, the hollow shell of what used to be the Saturn Cafe will be coming back to life in the near future.
The eccentric vegetarian cafe announces on Instagram that the pandemic has forced the closure of its Laurel Street...
Dameon Deworken of Drunk Monkeys food truck, along with business partner Mia Thorn, will be taking over the spot and opening a new Asian fusion restaurant to be named Cruz Kitchen and Taps.
Deworken’s burnt orange food truck with illustrations of grinning faces could be found roaming around the Westside for the better part of the past decade, until the itch to try something new kicked in and he put the truck up for sale last month.
Thorn, future co-owner and operator, said that taking over the Saturn Cafe location became a great backup plan after the first location they had their eyes on fell through.
“I live in Felton, and every time I came home I saw the Trout Farm and got really curious about it,” Thorn said — and so she soon contacted longtime friend Deworken, who was immediately interested in the idea.
“It was really easy to join forces with Dameon,” Thorn said. “I was like, ‘Hey, do you want to play in a restaurant with a pool?’ and he said yes, so we had to find an investor and do a whole search for that.”
While the duo’s poolside restaurant dreams didn’t materialize, they had sparked a conversation with downtown property veteran George Ow, whose family used to own the Saturn space, and a great backup option emerged. And during their original search, Thorn and Deworken learned that they enjoy working together.
“We’re good friends and speak the same language,” Thorn said. “We continued to look at a few more places and talk about some plans.”
Now with a revamp of the site at Laurel Street and Pacific Avenue coming together, they have a vision for a quick-service model that builds on the Drunk Monkeys style of food.
“Dameon has to let his freak flag fly and do his food, but we also want to offer other things like salads, sandwiches, and burgers,” Thorn said. “We want to do a pretty easy grab-and-go thing where people can have that casual ‘in and out’ meal.”
Deworken says the menu is still under construction, but he is looking forward to expanding his horizons.
“With the name change we’re not pigeonholed anymore,” he said. “It’s cool because we can basically do whatever we want.”
Specifically, Deworken is looking to venture into more seafood.
“It’s hard to sell fish out of a food truck for some reason,” he said.
Additionally, Thorn says they are committed to molding a business that invests back into the community.
“We’re going to have local art featured on the wall, serve local beer, and even feature local musical artists,” she said. “It’s really about uplifting the local community and letting our people shine.”
Currently an oncology nurse, Thorn will be pivoting to focus on this project for the time being.
“I’m going to be a nurse until I die, but I’m on a sabbatical and really want to focus on being the owner and operator here,” she said. “It’s just kind of a shift to living the celebratory life for a little while.”
Don Lane, former Santa Cruz mayor and founder of the Saturn Cafe, was understandably sad to hear that the eatery had closed, but has been looking forward to something moving in for a while.
“I’ve been watching to see what happens there and was excited when the windows all got covered up,” he said. “I saw people in there working on stuff with the lights on more recently, so I was glad to see that something was coming.”
Lane opened the Saturn Cafe just a year after he graduated college back in 1979. The restaurant’s interesting food options and self-assured identity helped it grow into a Santa Cruz favorite and cornerstone of the town’s culture.
For decades, the retro-futuristic, space-age-themed diner was filled with the hustle and bustle of locals, visitors and college students eager to dig into their favorite vegan and vegetarian comfort food.
Lane, now a part-time public policy instructor at UC Santa Cruz, still finds students excited when he mentions that he founded Saturn. He is looking forward to the new establishment emulating the same exciting, vibrant energy the Saturn brought.
“The Saturn changed a lot over its 40 years,” he said. “I expect they’ll bring a lot of good energy to that place.”