Know Your Neighbor: World traveler discusses experiences that led to opening a cafe in Elmhurst

Leo Hickman, the owner of The Classy Hippie Cafe, is a world traveler and has moved his business from midtown to the Grange in Elmhurst.  / Photo by Monica Stark

A former biomedical engineer, a post 9/11 soldier, an athlete, and a world traveler, Leo Hickman has created the Classy Hippie Cafe – what he calls a traditional tea room with an urban vibe– out of experience. Now located in Elmhurst inside The Grange Performing Arts Center near Stockton Boulevard at 3823 V St., the Classy Hippie Cafe is a bit hidden from the bustle of traffic, but Leo is making his presence known with outdoor seating and an ongoing gathering called tai chi and tea. With a few tables set out on the grass space around the grange, Leo invites tea drinkers to enjoy the good weather while they sip a cuppa or if they stop by around 9 a.m., Friday through Sunday, they can participate in a drop-in tai chi lesson.
And because of its location inside the theater building, he offers theater patrons the opportunity to purchase tea from the tea room and has invited friends to “VIP Nights” at the theater on Saturdays. Showing now is the sold out Green Valley Theatre Company production of “In the Heights”, a 2008 Tony Award winning musical, which chronicles the lives of the residents of New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood.
In a Jan. 28 interview with the East Sacramento News, Leo said the cafe is representative of himself and his eclectic love of the world’s cultures. “Before the classy hippie came about, I would brand myself as the culture bandit because I love taking the best out of every culture. I’m huge into auyervedic medicine, which comes from India. I lived in China. A lot of the teas are from China. We also have some macha which comes from Japan. A little bit of everywhere. Also to get back to my roots, there’s also rooibos, a member of the legume family of plants growing in South Africa and yerba matte, which is native to South America. The tea will take you all over the world.”
Quite the world traveler himself, Leo, originally from New Jersey, left his hometown which he describes as having a lot of “culture, a lot of b-bop, a lot of music” at the early age of 19 and hasn’t looked back. “I’ve been traveling ever since.”
Hitting 27 countries in 2 and a half years, Leo financed his trip around the world in an unconventional way. “A lot of people get jobs at hotels and things like that so they can speak English, but I taught salsa dancing. And that was my way around.”
With the philosophy of making “your job fun,” Leo is making his job fun today after years of finding himself and eventually landing in Sacramento.
Sacramento was not part of it of his plan. He came to the West Coast racing motorcycles. You see, he fell a few of times without insurance, so he went back to school and became a medical engineer. “I got hired on in Vegas. Well, 2008 hit and a lot of people got laid off. I was pretty good at what I did so they said we don’t want to fire you, but we don’t have a position for you anymore. Do you want to go to California or Colorado? I had no idea what Sacramento was. I cannot lie. When (General Electric) said California, I thought palm trees, beach. Aww. I guess they do most the filming in L.A. and San Diego. When they said, ‘The City of Parks and Trees’ I thought, what part of California is that?”
But still a little restless and “too young for settling” down, Leo decided to quit his stable job for more excitement. He thought his wife was on board, but after losing about $8,000 on a month long poetry competition held at the Elks Tower, she left. Speaking highly of the event, however, Leo said, “It was really cool. It had everything I wanted. People got to speak and open themselves up, but I lost a lot on that event and I lost my wife. She left three weeks later and it was a very difficult time when it happened.”
But what came out of it was the birth of three companies: the Classy Hippie Cafe, Hidden House (which is Leo’s tai chi and wellness business), and Leo Sensations, his event planning company.
Established within the borders of midtown in January 2014; the Hidden House and Classy Hippie Cafe held its first incarnation within the rustic brick of an early 1900s fire house, before moving to the Midtown Collective, which currently houses Firefly, Moonrise Boutique, and Trash Boutique.
When Leo and his ex wife lived inside the old fire house, they resided on the second floor and beneath them was a recording studio, Sound Cap Audio. “They would bring recording artists up and I would send talent down. Because I was open late, I would make food and different things for the artists. So we played off of each other. So that’s where I was when the wife left and I wondered what am I going to do. I went in, I started painting and remodeled the place and turned it into a wellness center where we did tai chi and Asian yoga.”

In that transition from a life of drugs to tea, Leo said it really came down to his roots – his parents. “The thought of letting them down and knowing my own self worth. I mean I finished engineering school. I raced motorcycles. I went to war. And to die from doing too many drugs, really? You’re not Jimi Hendrix, you will die and no one will remember you. So, it really it home that there’s so much more to do with your life.
“Everything I’m doing now, we did growing up. It was mainly my mom. My dad was the quiet guy. Our home – they called us the Huxtables in our neighborhood. We were one of the only Black families with a huge house, but it wasn’t like we were rich. My parents both worked. My grandfather lived with us. We had family chippin’ in. We just had a home that anyone and everyone came to. There were kids that didn’t have a place to go, a coat for the winter. (His parents would tell those children): ‘You have a coat now. You have food. You stay with us.’ So all that flowed over to the business. My father, on the other hand, was the guy who didn’t say a lot, but he had that wisdom about him. And when he spoke, you did listen. So, I picked up a lot from him. My mother is an assembly line worker for General Motors and my father is the manager for the night shift.”
Unfortunately for Leo, he lost the house and had to rewrite the business plan for his future. Hopefully for Leo, the current location – the Grange on V Street off Stockton Boulevard – is able to fulfill the needs for this creative venture.
The Classy Hippie Cafe is located at 3823 V St. The cafe is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 235-3243 or visit http://classyhippiecafe.com

editor@valcomnews.com

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