Opening MUD\WTR :gather, our first cafe in Santa Monica, Calif., marked a pivotal moment in our journey. For more than five years, we've dreamed of a space where our mission to create healthy minds through healthy habits can come to life and now that dream is a reality. And while we do have world-class baristas ready to serve up MUD\WTR lattes at the bar, it’s so much more than just a cafe. It’s a space to gather because community and connection are critical to improving our mental health and well-being.
Stepping Into a New Type of Gathering Space
And I just got to go see it for the first time last week. I’ve been a part of the MUD\WTR team for about a year, but as a remote employee, the connections I have with my team members are limited to chat apps and video conferences. I craved in-person connections, like hugs, fist bumps and awkward giggles.
As a team, we felt the same way about MUD\WTR. We may have started as a direct-to-consumer digital brand, but we always envisioned forming a community in real life. We knew that one day, we’d want to take all the work we were doing to help folks form healthy habits out into the world and make it more tangible—something you could feel, hear, smell, taste and touch.
“E-commerce is a great thing, but the depth of the connections that can be formed is limited by screens, comment threads and inboxes,” says MUD\WTR Founder and CEO Shane Heath. “We have always done our best to be as human as possible, but I’ve known since we started in 2018 that to truly connect to our community, we’d have to translate everything we were doing digitally into the physical. MUD\WTR :gather is an open invitation to be present and curious about healthy habits together, in person.”
I couldn’t wait to finally see the space I’d heard so much about and even with all the excitement of meeting my team members, I felt right at home. A soothing and grounding energy washed over me as I stepped into MUD\WTR :gather for the first time. Tall ceilings and high beams invited me in, and I immediately spotted earthy details like Baltic birch shelves contrasted by numerous plants that caught my eye with vibrant pops of green.
“We created MUD\WTR :gather as a manifestation of our mission to create healthy minds through healthy habits, and community and connection are critical to creating a healthy mind,” says Bill Quinn, MUD\WTR :gather’s general manager. “Meditation, breathwork, mindful movement—these are all habits we believe enhance our well-being, so we’re not just here to sell MUD\WTR lattes. We’re here to host these types of events and bring people together around topics we care deeply about, like psychedelic research, health and wellness.”
I chose my drink from the oversized menu (I went for a classic OG latte), and the friendly barista served it up across the long, tadelakt statement bar. Bookending the bar are retail spaces, featuring our blends and merch, such as clothing and mugs, along with records, books, plants and candles created by partner brands. The wall behind the bar is plastered with black and white Trends w/ Benefits posters, featuring articles we’ve published—just like the one you’re reading now. (I have to admit, seeing my name up there on the wall was a surreal moment for me. Will people notice? Am I quasi-famous or something?)
Cultivating Connection Through a Versatile Space
To truly live out our brand’s purpose to create healthy minds through healthy habits, we needed to create a welcoming, safe space where everyone could feel comfortable expressing themselves. That meant we had to be intentional about every detail, like where to put plants, how bright the lighting should be and what finishes to use on the bar top.
“I’m a feeler, so I follow my gut,” Quinn says. “When I first got into the space, I tried to envision people flowing through the space, and then I distilled that into a framework that I used to make that vision a reality. And I called in a lot of help from a lot of people.”
We also wanted to make sure we reduced our carbon footprint as much as possible. That meant choosing cups made of the most biodegradable material we could find so that they would dissolve in the ocean if they ended up there. We selected cork stools for the lounge and cork yoga mats and blocks because it’s an ethically sourced, sustainable material that’s also aesthetically pleasing.
“It’s just the right thing to do. It’s benefiting the planet and leaving a smaller footprint,” Quinn adds. “We have so many resources and so much knowledge of what is sustainable and I’m not saying we’re perfect but it’s easier on my conscience knowing I chose these materials.”
And we also added a sprinkle of MUD\WTR :rise Cacao into the bar and cement cafe tables.
“I wanted to have the product in something you could touch,” Quinn says. “Plus it just sounded fun and I couldn’t think of anything more on-brand. I mean, why not?”
Beyond the bar, there’s a lounge with couches and a large, open space that serves as :gather’s event space. It features a large stage with a gong, brightly lit as the centerpiece. Overhead, a massive chandelier adds some drama.
As I got comfortable and started to settle in, I noticed that folks were casually milling around and forming groups. Some pulled up chairs around a big table while others sat alone, and many enjoyed standing around the bar and chatting with the barista. I opted to lounge like a cat on a giant bean bag.
“People gather in different ways. Some people want to be able to do their own thing while also being around people. Other people want to be able to sit in a circle and engage in conversations,” says Quinn. “Some of the tables are intentionally small so it just fits a laptop if you want to be by yourself. But there’s also a big coffee pit type of vibe with a bunch of chairs in a circle around a coffee table, if you want to gather in a group.”
Opposite the stage, I found a podcast studio and meditation room. As my eyes followed the vibrantly painted, large-scale black and white mural painted by Shane I saw our corporate offices on the second floor and remembered that some of my team members actually work here too.
“We chose this location because Main Street in Santa Monica has had a great revitalization in the past couple of years. A lot of new businesses have come in and have formed a nice community. It’s also nice that it’s just a few blocks from the beach,” Quinn says with a chuckle.
The open space is peppered with plenty of outlets, and for those looking for a co-working space, there’s also free wi-fi. The concrete floors are layered with plush earthy brown rugs and the tables are littered with microdosing guides, oracle card decks and books like the Bhagavad Gita for those interested.
:gather Is Creating Something Really Special
As music pumped through the sound system, I asked Quinn how he selects what to play and learned that that, too is intentional.
“We’ll have an arc throughout the day, starting with more ambient in the morning and more rhythmic throughout the afternoon to move with the natural pace and energy of the space,” he says. “In the morning, you’re just waking up, so the music is slow, soft and gentle, but by 11 a.m. we’ve got a full house, with people working and chatting so the music is more energetic.”
I also smelled copal incense, which Quinn mentioned is constantly burning so that the space always has a warm, woodsy scent.
It’s unlike any other cafe I’ve been to before, and it’s not just because it’s void of any coffee or alcohol. It’s because it doesn’t fit into a single category—it’s not just a cafe. We’re also hosting classes and events and working.
“This isn’t a churn and burn space, like some of the other cafes you may have been to, where you’re shuffled in and out very quickly,” Quinn says. “We want it to be welcoming. This space provides a container for some of our favorite healthy habits, and our goal is to bring them to our community and to create connection.”
In the future, :gather will expand its offerings to include comedy nights, film premieres, and what Quinn likes to call “natural dopamine hits” like puppy adoptions and cold plunges. He also plans to offer conscious listening parties in which participants are asked to listen to a record all the way through and then discuss, as well as open markets in which we invite vendors to come and set up booths.
“We’re going to continue to create a unique space that serves the community and blows people away in such a thoughtful and kind way, and that means a major focus on ramping up events,” says Quinn.
We’ve created something really special here, and as customers and my team members sipped their drinks and relaxed into conversations, I saw the excitement build on Quinn’s face.
“People may come in simply to try our beverages but hopefully, they see so much more than that,” he says.
And I do.
Rae Repanshek is MUD\WTR's talented copy-writer.