With their market events, Collective Santa Cruz duo Jalen Horne and Kendall Denike mix and match local vendors and themes to produce just the right atmosphere. Next up: a Halloween gathering at Moe’s.
Heads up, foodies: I’m now sending alerts every time I publish a story. Sign up for texts from me here. Thanks to those of you who’ve already subscribed and offered your thoughts! And catch up on my recent work here.
It’s a warm September evening and the sun is just beginning to dip behind Harbor Café on Seventh Avenue. The popular brunch spot is closed, but the outdoor dining area and adjacent parking lot are overflowing with people, many of them dressed in cowboy hats, overalls and cowboy boots. Most have a cocktail or local craft beer in hand while perusing local art or sharing Neapolitan pizza, Ukrainian perogies and hand-piped cannoli at crowded picnic tables with friends. The vibes, it must be said, are very good.
For Collective Santa Cruz, an event company that sprung up earlier this year, getting the vibe right is crucial. So far, organizers Jalen Horne and Kendall Denike have a knack for nailing it every time. The duo launched their first market-style event focusing on hosting local artists and food pop-ups at Harbor Café in January and drew around 150 people. Each event has grown in size steadily since then. At their fourth event in July — a “Baywatch"-meets-Junior Guards beach-themed party — around 500 people showed up, decked out in swim trunks, bathing suits and bright-red Collective gear.
The next event marks a significant shift for the young company. On Oct. 27, Collective Santa Cruz hosts a Halloween-themed event at Moe’s Alley. This new space will give the growing event more room to play, and it’s taking advantage of it with a live circus, two DJ sets of live music, half a dozen local artisans, craft beer and cocktails, and food from Full Steam Dumpling, Chicken Foot, Bread Boy and Hindsight Café. While past events have been free and family-friendly, this event is 21-and-over and charges a $10 cover at the door.
Horne emphasizes that they aim to maintain the relaxed, market-focused atmosphere that has captivated guests in the past. “As the night goes on, the crowd doesn’t need to change, but you want to offer different things to people,” he said. “It’s not a crazy party, but there are drinks and music. The playlist always turns up around 7:30 or 8 p.m. There’s a shift of energy towards the second half of the event.”
Collective Santa Cruz’s quick rise to local fame is a little shocking to Horne and Denike, who started the Collective as an apparel company in late 2021. Lifelong friends who grew up just a few blocks apart in the Seabright area, Horne is a bartender and manager at Harbor Café while Denike is a web app designer at Headspace Health, a startup that focuses on meditation and mindfulness. The two reconnected last year when Horne asked Denike if he would redesign some menus for the restaurant, and that became a segue to them launching their own brand together.
“We had the idea of focusing our creative energy on doing something that we could call our own,” said Denike. They began by designing and selling T-shirts, hats and sweatshirts featuring the Collective Santa Cruz logo at pop-ups on East Cliff Drive. As the pop-ups grew steadily, they saw an opportunity. “I wanted to build a bigger brand that people could connect with, and we had the idea to start doing events,” Denike said.
Design is a huge focus for the Collective and what Horne and Denike believe makes it a strong brand. The events actually start weeks before on the Collective’s Instagram page with visually compelling posts that focus on the upcoming theme — all of which are inspired by Santa Cruz culture. In advance of the county fair-themed event in September, they put up a series of posts on unique farms north and south of Santa Cruz, a pie-baking contest, an event teaser and, finally, the event announcement. Together, the posts formed a mosaic of rolling fields dotted with hay bales under a bright Western sky on the Collective’s grid. In later posts, that blue sky melts into a Ferris wheel lit up in lights.
“One of our favorite parts of the Collective is translating that creative vision into our markets,” said Horne. “We always aim to create an immersive experience, not just an event. Each market is different. Each theme is different. We change our drink menu, event playlists, the outfits we wear, and our setup and decorations to create an overall vibe for people to enjoy. Our Instagram page and promotion always reflects this.”
Collective curates the vendors, making sure there’s no competition among the businesses. Whether intentional or not, the lineups tend to feature young, hip businesses that make guests feel as though they’ve just discovered the next cool thing in Santa Cruz. Horne and Denike say vendors report that their products sell very well at Collective events compared to others in the area, which they attribute to their careful vetting and selection process.
Any profit from these free events has thus far been put back into their fledgling business. Horne and Denike are beginning to build off of their success. In addition to selling Collective apparel at each market, in September they launched 3-Headed Mule, a pop-up cocktail bar that serves at the events. The Collective has also begun working with local companies and events like Pleasure Point Street Fair to create graphic design and branding.
Right now, Horne and Denike are thrilled that the Collective resonates with their hometown. “We value design and creating these themes and experiences that celebrate the different aspects of the Santa Cruz community,” said Denike. Horne added, “From the beginning, people have asked, What the heck are you and what are you doing? I think now it’s beginning to speak for itself.”
Visit collectivesantacruz.com and follow Collective Santa Cruz on Instagram at @collectivesantacruz for information about upcoming events. The Collective Halloween Party is Oct. 27 from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz. Tickets are $10 at the door; the event is 21 and over.