Goodbye, Bob Sinclair

(Kristi Maddocks, assistant manager at the La Jolla Pannikin at the time I held the same title in Encinitas, contributes her memories of the San Diego coffee chain’s founder.)

Bob SinclairIt is with great sadness I say adieu to Pannikin co- founder Bob Sinclair, who was killed in a motorcycle accident last month. Bob died while riding his Moto Guzzi in the New Mexico desert.

Like many Pannikin employees, I started my stint there as a bright-eyed teenager, fueling up on coffee as I pored over notes with high-school study groups at the Del Mar and Encinitas Station cafés. Then, it graduated to hanging out at La Jolla café on weekend mornings, after a later night of dancing or at the tail end of a very cold scooter ride up the beautiful Southern California coast. Nothing was cooler than congregating on the deck of La Jolla Pannikin in the warm sun with your friends, living off an almost endless cup of coffee and bags of day-old bagels & day-old pastries. (That is back when the first cup of coffee was 75 cents, refills were 25 cents each!)

To me, the Pannikin in La Jolla was the center of the universe” for San Diego Bohemians in the 1980s —young and old alike. I knew of no other place like it in San Diego County (thank you, Bob and Gay!). Colorful characters of all types were drawn there for the great coffee, but lingered for the company and conversation. For many people, our time spent at the Pannikin was transformative and exciting. Together we forged many of our life-long friendships with each other and the surfers, foreigners, art-types and music lovers who would come in to enjoy a quality cup of Joe.

We also met many bright minds and established artists who patronized the Pannikin and lived in La Jolla. Colorful characters were drawn there, to lunch, chat, flirt or play a game of chess. There I met such eccentrics as the painter Walter Keane, a dancer from “The Chorus Line,” a photographer from National Geographic, UCSD professors and many more stand-out human beings. Many of them are friends within our Che Underground ranks.

Yet, none of them were quite as cool as Bob Sinclair, who would pull up to the café once or twice a week in his worn Levi’s, cowboy boots & Indian vest, his salt-and-pepper motorcycle moustache whisked by the wind, and a twinkle in his eye. Just by the way he strutted about the place, doing his work, you could tell Bob was a cool dude. I was deep into the 1960s mod-garage scene at the time I began working for him in ‘84. Bob and I got to chatting about my style and music one day, and he told me that had been inspired to get into the coffee business while hanging out in North Beach cafés of San Francisco. He went on to relate that he had been in San Francisco during part of the psychedelic & rock movement of the late 1960s and early ‘70s. From that point forward, I knew Bob and I shared a love of the music & art of that era. That was a special connection we shared, and it made me want to be an even more devoted employee.

Bob Sinclair and his wife and business partner Gay had a profound impact on many of us while we were under their employ at The Pannikin. Although they were creative and “free-thinking” individuals, they were also very successful business people. As employers, they were teachers and mentors … instilling in each of us a valuable skill set, knowledge, a strong work ethic, a connection to our community at large, and a love of art and other cultures.

Two or three generations of young adults were blessed to experience the Pannikin experience and the Sinclairs. As I look back on my Pannikin days now, I see how they had faith in and stood by me and my co-workers during some pretty tough times. In a way, Pannikin was the second home and second family to so very many of us. God Bless you, Bob! Much love to Gay Sinclair and the Lee family. All my love is with you at this difficult time. I heart you mucho!

— Kristi Maddocks

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10 Responses to “Goodbye, Bob Sinclair”

  1. Gay Sinclair Says:

    Kristi and all you others, Thanks for the great praise of Bob and rememberances of those great days! Torrey is here or I never would have seen this, being so behind the times, but it warmed my heart. Gay

  2. Mmrothenberg Says:

    Gay: Thank you for visiting us at such a difficult time. My thoughts are with you and your family.

    And Kristi, thank you for remembering Bob and the influence of the Pannikin. In 1985 and 1986, my own center of operations — like so many young people in North County — was in the Encinitas Pannikin, where I was assistant manager for a time.

    The high percentage of Encinitas Pannikin staffers and regulars with whom I’ve remained friends is a testimonial to its status as more than just another coffee shop. It truly was a vital part of the social fabric of Encinitas (and remains so to this day, to judge from my father’s frequent reports of literary meetings there).

    I was proud to be a “peaceful Pannikin punk,” as one especially awkward newspaper article of the era characterized our Encinitas chapter! :-)

    Thank you, Bob and Gay, for providing us with a forum that was more than the sum of its beverages and pastries.

  3. Kristi Maddocks Says:

    Dear Gay: I am so sorry for your loss.Please give my love to Torrey, Megan, Kim and the rest of your immediate family. I am so pleased that you were able to see this story. My sentiments are only the tip of the iceberg-in terms of how profound an impact you an Bob made in the lives of many young creatives minds. Without the Pannikin experience, many of us might have fallen through the cracks or lost our way. So—bless you and thank you so much!

    Hey Mathew-i guess I passed through the Encinitas location a time after you left for New York. I had the pleasure of working 3 or four years in La Jolla, before I took off for a brief stint in Buffallo, NY (for love) in early ’87. When i returned six months later, I landed in Retail sales at The Old Town Pannikin, and eventually settled at the Encinitas shop for a year plus. It was so resassuring to have employers like Bob & Gay, who rewarded hard work and dedication with loyalty & trust.
    The people we worked with there were just as interesting as the people we worked for or served to at the Pannikin, whether it be Cafe or retail store. We were some lucky coffe bums, weren’t we?
    You are right, Mathew, Pannikin was far more than the average coffee shop—it was a little Cappuccino oasis with streamers & a half-baked croissant on the side!

  4. Carol Anderson-Coleman Says:

    Gay --
    I am so sorry to hear of Bob’s passing. My prayers are with you and your family. I would also like to say that my time working at the Pannikin for your family was for me too, a cornerstone of my life today… Thank you -- and I’m going to think of Bob riding that long highway in the sky with a big smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye.

  5. Wendy O. Says:

    Kristi, this was wonderful to read, thanks for posting such a heartfelt eulogy. Gay you may not remember me but I worked at the La Jolla retail store from 1990 til July of ’92 and I knew Kim and Torrey back in the day, I just wanted to tell you that you and your family have been in my thoughts during this time, and my mother (Lyn O’Rourke) would also like me to send her condolences. I will always have great memories of Bob and working there so many years ago plus basically growing up at The Pannikin, it was part of my daily routine for many years before I even worked there. I wrote this on my Facebook the day I found out so I thought I’d share here.”This is a huge loss,I feel honored to have known Bob & also been one of his many employees over the years. One of the coolest guys I’ve ever known, he was such a major influence on so many people in so many ways & he seemed to know everybody everywhere he went. I started hanging out at The Pannikin when I was a kid & ended up working there at age 20 & worked there throughout my whole pregnancy with my son Ryan,they took amazing care of me during that period of my life & I couldntve asked for better people to work for. I went to jr high with his sons Harry & Kenny, Harry was my class clown partner in crime in math class in 8th grade, lot’s of history here but the main thing is that the world lost the real Most Interesting Man In The World, seriously. My heart goes out to his family right now.” -Wendy O’Rourke

  6. Kristi Maddocks Says:

    It is my pleasure to speak up on behalf our community and convey our love and respect to Bob, Gay, and the rest of The Pannikin Family during this difficult time. I am so pleased to see Carol pay her respects. Wendy, thank you for sharing your very personal story-through your eyes we can plainly see how Bob & Gay touched three generations of your family in a most positive way! Now, that is inspiring!

  7. Craig Underwood Says:

    Kristi, Thanks for speaking from your heart, Bob has touched us all. I first met Bob in 1978 during the beginning of the downtown gas lamp development days, and he asked me if I would be interested in working on his Pannikin shop in La Jolla and then Encinitas train station cafe, I was 18 at the time and he mentored me like a father, one thing I found out was if you worked for Bob you were part of an extended family.
    I’ve done many projects and met many wonderful people through the years with Bob, including his special family. Cafe Moto, The Wonder Bread Building, The Pannikin, the office building, etc.. are just a few of many projects. I miss the days having lunch at Salazar’s Mexican restaurant downtown with Bob, Fritz Ahern, Steve Slaughter and the rest of us who pioneered the Gas lamp era. His legacy will live on, and for those who had the opportunity to meet Bob & Gay their lives will be touch forever. Thank you Bob for everything you did for me.

  8. Ray Brandes Says:

    A beautiful tribute, Kristi. My condolences to the Sinclair family.

  9. Grace Bernal Says:

    What a great missive. I was there too and your words resonate so well with me, I am moved to tears. Cool? In so many ways! Bob and Gay were the quintessetial couple. So down to earth and so bright and calming, even though Bob could be intense because you could feels the cogs in his head working. Gay could read him so well. His eye for art and design were so incredible, and I have to say that I met the gentleman who took over the downtown store. He told me that he was so drawn to Bob’s style so much that he wanted to keep that same or similar energy and design. I thought that was a great testament to Bob’s influence. To Gay, and Megan, Tory, and Bob’s dark haired boys, I send big hugs and Love.

  10. Mark Steele Says:

    Kristi, thanks so much for posting this and starting this lovely conversation.

    I spent many years working in many of the Pannikin locations, migrating in a Southern direction. I started in Encinitas, where a Bob sighting was rare and exciting and ended up at, via Del Mar and La Jolla, Cafe Moto. Cafe Moto was still in its infancy, and working there with Torrey and Stephanie was exciting and fun. One of my duties there was to open the place, 1/2 days, by myself, on Saturdays. That’s probably when I had the most interaction with Bob.

    I remember being on the phone or working on one of the many Espresso Machines littering our work bench, when, unannounced to me, he would fire up one of his motorcycles in the courtyard. The sound usually resembled something like a fly-by of the Blue Angles in your living room. Needless to say, after the initial frayed nerve endings where healed, I would head out to see what he was working on. It was always glorious. He and Torrey taught me so about mechanics, tools and techniques, things I will never forget.

    In so many ways, I want to thank Bob, Gay, Torrey, Megan, Harold and Ken for all those times. I got to work with so many of you and felt like I became friends with you and so many more during my years at the Pannikin and Cafe Moto. It truly saddened me to hear of his passing and my thoughts are with all of you.

    With love,
    Mark Steele