|Lulu’s brews hot coffee, stimulating conversation|
|Wednesday, February 2, 2011|
By KEN BECK
The former Nashville luthier today serves as owner-barista of Lulu’s Coffee House in Watertown, one of the village’s favorite hot spots for a cup of joe, a bite to eat and spicy to mild conversation.
“People ask me why I opened a coffee shop. I really don’t have a good answer, but I thought Watertown needed one. It’s a perfect business. Everybody drinks coffee,” said Allen, 57, who sports a shaved head, white goatee and moustache along with a wide grin.
He describes his place as having “a community feel, welcoming to all types of people. I try to keep religion and politics out of here. But there have been some pretty heated discussions in here. It’s become a hangout for a lot of people. People come in for coffee and shoot the breeze with their buddies.”
One of the regular customers, Rocky Wood, an eight-year resident of this community of 1,400, lives in an apartment on the town square with his young daughter and drops in for coffee most weekday mornings after escorting his child to school.
“It’s more the people than the place,” said Wood, who, like Allen, fled Nashville for a less complicated lifestyle. “This is one of the few places in town where you can go and pretty much express any opinion or tell any kind of joke. Plus, I like torturing the help down here.”
Allen, current president of Watertown’s Chamber of Commerce, grew up on a ranch in Lovelady, Texas, and did manual labor for several years after high school. Later, he lit out for Nashville and found a career using his hands and mind.
“I got tired of doing odd jobs and went to school in Spring Hill, Tenn., at the Apprentice Shop where they taught you how build a guitar and stringed instruments,” Allen said.
“In 1981, I started working on guitars, and I became a luthier. For 21 years I worked on guitars in Nashville for Glaser Instruments. I did everything from fixing cracks to total restoration. I did mainly acoustic guitars,” said Allen, who, when he plays, favors picking a Gibson Hummingbird that belonged to a close friend who is now deceased.
Over the years he repaired and restored hundreds of guitars for average guitar players as well as professional musicians such as Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Clint Black and Alan Jackson.
In October of 2000, Allen and his wife of 14 years, Suzanne Prince, a counselor at Hendrick Counseling Services in Lebanon, moved to Watertown, following in the tracks of next-door neighbors who had moved here a year or so earlier.
After seven years of commuting to Music City on Interstate 40, Allen decided he wanted to change jobs. So, Feb.1, 2007, he and Suzanne opened Lulu’s, naming it after their 2-year-old Chihua-weiner, who is now 6.
Nestled inside the old Watertown Post Office building, the coffee house offers nine tables that seat about 22 customers. A purple couch and four purple easy chairs occupy a corner of the big room that also sports a 3-foot diameter man-in-the-moon sculpture on the wall and a thriving elephant ear plant.
A palm tree grows in another corner beside one of the four front windows that slurps in the sunlight from morning until late afternoon. An eclectic selection of paintings and sculptures hang on the walls which are colored green, blue, adobe red, burgundy and yellow along with a patch of old bricks showing through in one spot.
As for the hot cups of java served here, Lulu’s offers three basic coffees: dark roasted, medium roasted and somewhere in between medium and dark. Espressos, lattes, mochas and cappuccinos, smoothies, hot chocolate, teas and lemonade fill out the beverage list.
The popular gathering place serves only organic Fair Trade Coffee, which comes from Bongo Java in Nashville. The price for a cup ranges from $1.40 to $2.95.
The two most popular foods on the menu have proven to be the chicken salad and grilled turkey ciabatta sandwiches. Other munchies range from a breakfast burrito to a black bean burger to the Marti (a vegetarian Utopia).
Lulu’s supplies jobs for five part-time employees, while Allen normally haunts the coffee house Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Noon to 1 p.m., Thursdays, the java joint is host to “Song and Sandwich” as a local musician entertains diners and drinkers. “Usually if I can’t find anybody, I’ll perform,” Allen said.
But Saturdays at 7 p.m. the main music event of the week takes command of the small music stage in the corner filled with amps and microphones, when Allen plays host to singers, songwriters and musicians who may come from Nashville or are from Lebanon or Watertown.
“Most of the musicians play Americana or folk music,” Allen said. “Most of them are songwriters and some are studio musicians who work in Nashville.”
What he likes best about running a coffee house?
“Seeing all my friends and everybody sitting and drinking coffee. It’s the best job I ever had in all my life. To work locally, hang out and drink coffee,” said Watertown’s coffee baron.