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City Lights Espresso: Where Everybody Knew Your Name

On any given day, the dining area of City Lights Espresso has hosted local dignitaries, including the Mayor, Council Members and Santa Clara’s current and former Congressman, community groups and scores of Santa Clarans clamoring for baked goods, coffee and café items, including soups, sandwiches and quiche.

It’s a place where owner Margaret Marques, and her daughter Jennifer Marques, have spent two decades getting to know their customers on a first name basis and learning their orders. City Lights has essentially been the epitome of friendship and family, but soon the spot across the street from the Franklin Square post office will be a hollowed-out hall of memories, as the café will close its doors for good on Dec. 22.

Growing up in the restaurant business, Margaret Marques dreamed of owning her own café, as her father was the owner of a restaurant in Portugal, and later Brazil. It wasn’t until the late 1990s, however, when she found the already established City Lights Espresso, which had been named by the original owner after 1950 Charlie Chaplin film of the same name, on Homestead Road. Despite being the third owner in a just a handful of years, Marques knew it was where she wanted to be.

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Pacific Gardens

Jennifer Marques was in high school when her family became the owners of the cozy café. Soon, she left for the larger part of two years to go to college in San Francisco and returned to attend culinary school. Upon her graduation with a degree in hotel and restaurant management, City Lights began incorporating many of Jennifer Marques’ ideas and recipes and the menu exploded.

When it was found that Margaret Marques suffered from a gluten allergy, gluten-free options were added. The changes were always well received and the business, which was always profitable, not only began thriving even more, but solidified itself as a favorite spot among locals.

“It was great to be the neighborhood place that when you needed to talk to someone and you hung out here long enough to you would see that person,” said Jennifer Marques.

Throughout the past 20 years, the Marques family has seen customers who came in as children, return as adults. Longstanding customers — almost all of whom have been given nicknames — have played a part in the café’s success and helped create not only cherished memories, but unbreakable bonds along the way.

It’s no wonder that the family refuses to leave their Santa Clara business on a negative note. Although customers have surmised the closure is due to an issue with the lease, Jennifer Marques had nothing but positive things to say about the property owner, Swenson Property Management, and maintains it was simply the right time for the family to step away.

“My father retired this year,” said Jennifer Marques. “So, it was just the perfect sign that my mom will retire too. My mom had been thinking about retiring for quite some time, but it was never the right time so this is a blessing for us.”

Jennifer Marques said that even though the physical City Lights Espresso will cease to exist, the family is exploring options on how it wants to remain in the Santa Clara community, as both she and her mother live in Santa Clara, and from now until the café closes, customers will have the option of adding their name to an email list to stay up-to-date on any future endeavors.

“The main thing that we’re going to miss isn’t baking bread in the morning; it’s not making the quiche that we make for the day,” said Jennifer Marques. “It really is going to be the people. We have customers who have been coming all 20 years. It was a great place where people really connected. City Lights was a wonderful place to grow up. It was a wonderful place to work and it was a wonderful place to make memories.”

City Lights Espresso will maintain its regular hours of 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Saturday, Dec. 22 and customers are encouraged to stop in and say goodbye.

Additionally, orders are being taken for customers who would like to purchase batches of City Lights’ baked goods or quiche. The packaged holiday favorites customers have come to love, including fudge, pineapple habanero jam, City Lights’ housemade salsa, dressing and petit fours are also now available for purchase. Jennifer Marques said those interested should visit the café or call (408) 296-0415.

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The Mlnarik Law Group, Inc.

4 Comments
  1. Debbie Caminiti 11 months ago
    Reply

    As a former owner of a cafe for 4 years – I know the relationships and friendships made and how special they are. Congratulations to your family on a job well done. Many blessings to you.

  2. michael 11 months ago
    Reply

    I am just happy to hear of a local business closing on their own terms and not being pushed out because a large corporation wants to raze the land for office buildings or over the top homes like has happened to wierd stuff and halted electronics in Sunnyvale and Santa Clara in the last year.

  3. Marie Goulart 11 months ago
    Reply

    It breaks my heart to see my first high school job in the 90’s come to a close. Year after year, I appreciated driving by and seeing it’s succession live on…and I am so grateful the Marques family was able to keep it going for another twenty years. I echo Debbie, Many blessings to you and your family.

  4. GoodShipSantaClara 11 months ago
    Reply

    Glad to hear it was not a lease issue. Had idly looked into taking on, but not to be.

    CORRECTION PLEASE: Chaplin’s “City Lights” was made in 1931. Could it be a reference to the City Lights bookstore? That would be more café-like inspiration and opened in 1953.

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