This story is courtesy of Logan Mulholland, a former Populace Coffee employee and long time friend of the business.
In June 2018, the Populace Cafe in the lobby of the Siren Hotel had been serving coffee in Downtown Detroit for less than 6 months. During this time, I was still working regular bar shifts as the scope of my responsibility hadn’t grown to what it ultimately would be during my tenure with the company. Having multiple independently owned businesses operate within one building creates an interesting dynamic, that left most hotel or hotel tenant employees confused on where the line of separation should exist between operations and culture. But for better or worse, a result of this relationship was being shown behind the curtain of hotel operations, including, most importantly for the sake of the story, which elite guests had rooms booked at the hotel at a given time.
I feel like the disclosure of the celebrity guest list served two purposes. In one way, it was a subtle flex on the part of the hotel employee. A gesture that said “here plebeian, let me fill you in on some of this secret hidden knowledge”. In another way, it was something of a warning. Like “Hey Logan, Ben Stiller is going to be staying here this weekend, so make sure to be wearing the mandatory smock that you always choose not to wear”. Also, to my knowledge, I don’t think Ben Stiller ever stayed at the Siren Hotel. Maybe though, I could see it.
Anyway, one day a hotel employee comes to me and says “Hey Logan, Tony Hawk is going to be staying at the hotel this weekend”. Maybe it was just a general heads up, or maybe they could tell, based on my general demeanor and appearance that I was one of many young men who were raised on skateboard culture in the early 2000s, and that Tony Hawk being within the vicinity of my work place would mean something special to me. Then I started thinking more about it and crafting a narrative for his time in town.
I am big fan of the band Cold Cave, who are a sort of dark, electronic, synth pop band led by Wesley Eisold. I have had the privilege of seeing them play in Detroit on multiple occasions. One of these occasions was in June 2018, the weekend that Tony Hawk was staying at the Siren Hotel, where I worked at the coffee shop in the lobby. Do you know who else is a big fan of Cold Cave? Tony Hawk. Maybe fan is the wrong word, they are more serious, long time friends. According to what I’ve seen on social media, heard in interviews, and witnessed first hand, Wes Eisold, Tony Hawk, and their respective partners are very close family friends.
So here I am, making oat milk lattes in Downtown Detroit, piecing it all together. I am going to be at the Cold Cave show in Detroit this weekend. Tony Hawk is going to be in Detroit this weekend. Tony and Wes are close. Tony Hawk is definitely going to be at the Cold Cave show. I formulate this plan, everything checks out, and then I have a dozen more oat milk lattes to make so I don’t think too hard about it for the rest of the day.
I was at the show with my girlfriend, now wife, and as the opening bands play I continuously look behind me to scan the audience for a tall professional skateboarder. The venue is general admission and standing room only, so I would certainly be able to recognize the 14 times X Games medalist towering over the other mere mortals in attendance. And just before Cold Cave’s set began, I saw him. Having absorbed so much skateboarding culture during the most pivotal years of my adolescence, his appearance was immediately recognizable, despite him being in the rear of the venue and me right up against the stage.
I took a moment, thought to myself “hey, that’s cool, he’s here”. I feel like I was almost more excited about the fact that the narrative I had constructed ultimately turned out to be correct, than I was about the opportunity to meet one of my childhood heroes. I was unsure how to proceed. Regardless of your affinity with skate culture, it I impossible to deny that Tony Hawk was one of the greatest athletes of the twentieth century, who’s ability and personal brand affected video games, music, and clothing as much as it did the business of skateboarding. Some of my first experiences with really good, authentic hip hop and punk rock music came from the Tony Hawk Pro Skater soundtracks, a clear and definitive influence on the taste in music I still have today, nearly 20 year later. My point being, in my head I’m like “surely this guy gets hit up any time he is in a public place”. So I initially keep my distance and wait for the music to start.
After looking back in his direction a few more times over the following moments, I notice that he is actually going pretty unnoticed in the audience. He is just casually hanging out with his friends, also waiting for the music to start. So I decide, with a little encouragement from my wife, to go introduce myself. I flank the crowd of tattooed vegans, dressed in all black and holding cans of PBR, and approach the rear of the venue where Tony is standing with some of his friends. I carefully try to compose my introduction. I want it to be clear that I am not some random frat boy who played THPS when he was 12 and otherwise never touched a skateboard in his life. I want to be able to accurately express the significance Tony Hawk as a skateboarder and entrepreneur had on my childhood. An impression that likely influenced my tastes more significantly than anything else, as a young boy who grew up in a pretty rural area in Michigan.
Was I able to articulate this as effectively as I would have liked? Probably not. But our interaction managed to have some degree of an impact on his night as you’ll learn during the resolution of this story. I think I said something along the lines of “Hey Tony, my name is Logan. I just wanted to say hi and let you know how much of an impact you had on my upbringing.” As I said this, he looked almost startled. I imagine most skaters or former skaters who see Tony in public are hooting and hollering, wrapping their arm around him while their friends take pictures to post on their instagram. But I didn’t do that. In hindsight, I kind of wish I had a photo, but I think this story is more memorable. As a response, he humbly says that it was great to meet me and he’s happy to hear that I had such respect for him. His son Riley, who is about my age, is also a professional skateboarder. He was in attendance of the show as well, so I extended my hand and said something like “You’re Riley, right? Nice to meet you”. And he shook my hand.
I turned back to Tony, and said something like “I work for Populace Coffee, the coffee shop within the Siren Hotel. I knew you are staying there and I know you’re friends with Wes, so I am not surprised to see you here”. In hindsight, I probably didn’t need to tell him this. But again, I was so proud of having accurately predicted this scenario that I felt obligated to tell him. And instead of recoiling in disgust, he simply asked if I was working the following day. I was, and I told him so. I thanked him for his time and said it was great to meet him. I went back to the stage to enjoy the Cold Cave set.
At Populace at the Siren the following morning, I was doing my thing, making oat milk lattes, and Tony comes down from his room for a coffee. He recognizes me from our exchange the previous night and says something casual, asking if I enjoyed the show. I used this as an opportunity to clue him in on how much of a Cold Cave fan I was and say something like “oh yeah, they’re always great live. That was the third time seeing them play”. As if Tony Hawk is going to like me more after finding out that I am a big fan of his friends’ band. He then reaches across the counter and hands me something. He said “I got Wes to sign it for you, luckily I was able to remember your name”. It is a cassette tape of the new Cold Cave EP, addressed to me specifically and signed. I am pretty taken aback, one of my biggest heroes has just given me a gift after having had a 2 minute conversation the night prior, and I have to make a conscious effort to take down my callous customer service barrier, the only reason service industry lifers can survive similar lines of work for so long, and actually feel gratitude.
I tell him how appreciative I am and proceed to make his cappuccino. He takes it and says thank you and leaves the cafe area. A little bit later, another skater in Tony’s group who was also at the show, recognizes me. “Hey man, you were the one at the show last night, right?”. I said I was, we make some small talk about it while I make his drink. Then I tell him about how Tony gave me the signed Cold Cave tape and how cool it was of him. Then he tells me about how their group left the show and took an Uber back to the hotel, and Tony realized he had left the tape in the Uber. So he tracks down the Uber driver to get the cassette back because he really wanted to give it to me. With that knowledge, the tape, the experience meeting him at the show, the oat milk lattes, all had a heightened degree of significance. As I am comprehending the magnitude of this information, I look over and see Tony outside, skateboard in tow, making conversation with the valet attendants while he waits for his car. I thought to myself, “I am now going to have the best story to tell at parties”. So I apologize to my wife, or my close friends, who as a result have heard this story about a hundred times. But maybe now I’ll never have to tell it again, I can just carry around a QR code that when scanned, takes you to this blog post.
Coffee is cool and all, tasting notes, fancy brewers, oat milk lattes, but what is really cool are people. And genuine connections. And the cultural intersection of music, skateboarding, coffee. While the coffee industry has been good to me, its given me a career and countless friends, it also gave me the opportunity to meet my childhood hero who gifted me a signed Cold Cave tape. And that experience might hold more significance than everything else combined.