#261, Vintage buses, pub crawls, one crafty Santa Cruz woman

James Raia

The citizens of Santa Cruz and the surrounding oceanside towns and tree-lined hamlets may hold an unofficial record for their entrepreneurial ways. Creativity rules small businesses, from bespoke bicycle makers to artists to Annie Wolff Patsch.

Wolff Patsch and her husband, Adam Patsch, combine their last names without a hyphen. The unique pronunciation and the former’s upbeat personality are the reasons she’s mostly known as Annie. It’s the only name on her business card as the founder of Brew Cruz.

While co-host Bruce Aldrich was on vacation, I interviewed Annie for this week’s episode of The Weekly Driver Podcast.

I interviewed Annie as part of a media trip to the central coast city. Annie’s enterprise is a two-vehicle proprietorship, a 1989 Thomas International school bus and a 1964 Volkswagen Van. It’s known as Santa Cruz’s Original Brewery Tour. It’s “fueled by local craft beer,” reads the back of Annie’s card. The bus is named Betty Jane; the van is Slowboy. Reasons are detailed.

Approaching a decade ago, Brew Cruz was established after a seven-month renovation of the school bus. Purchased in San Francisco as an abandoned vehicle of a disbanded band, it’s redone in funky chic. Annie bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco, bought the bus and drove it home.

A beer drinker with a business plan, Annie and other drivers take passengers on pub tours and various, sometimes unbound, celebrations. The bus has a captain’s swivel chair with one arm, a living room-style sitting chair, shiny wooden floors and other endearing qualities of any customized school bus.

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“On my gosh; At this point, I wish that I had kept sort of a journal, an Anthony Bourdain-like “No Reservations” or “Kitchen Confidential” situation,” Annie said. “I’ve been doing it for so many years, the memories are expansive and there hasn’t been a bad tour, except for maybe one.

“Most of the memories just revolve around joy and reconnection, some hilarity, some inappropriateness, which of course means what happens on the Brew Cruz, stays on the Brew Cruz.”

While accompanying larger groups was fine, a more intimate option soon seemed wise.

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The 1964 VW bus at the Dream Inn in Santa Cruz takes guests around town. Image © James Raia/2023

“I knew when I was searching for a secondary vehicle I wanted something smaller to be able to facilitate small groups and to be able to get around town easier,” Annie said. “I knew I wanted to get a VW bus. I mean, whose dream is it not to at some point drive or own a VW bus, especially if you have some sort of family nostalgia.”

The result is a 1964 VW van. For several years, the 13-window microbus has been parked in front the Dream Inn, the surf city boutique hotel perched along West Cliff Drive and overlooking Cowell Beach. It was purchased a few cities away after a national search.

It’s a perfect match. The hotel celebrated its 60th anniversary in March. The VW bus, its myriad siblings still surfers’ favorites, will soon turn 60. Guests of the hotel are often passengers on the facility’s unofficial mascot.

Whether she’s driving the International or VW to brewpubs, parties, weddings or a wake, the small business on wheels personifies the city’s work spirit and history.

“Everyone had one; everyone had a story,” Annie said. “My own mother-in-law had a VW bus that she towed my now husband around in for most of his young life. And Santa Cruz? Our funky beach town? It has many of those stories.

“It’s almost instantaneous when the bus goes out that somebody’s going to walk up and start chatting or asking questions about it or regaling their own stories. But the younger generation I love because, whether they’ll ever drive one, with popular culture trends, you could argue they (the buses) never went away. They are definitely considered cool in cross-culture now.”

Not long ago, Annie recalls being at the Dream Inn cleaning the inside of the VW. While listening to a podcast she heard a saxophone. She turned down the podcast, looked out the window and there was a teenage boy standing in front of the vehicle playing “Happy Birthday” on his saxophone. The boy’s parents were filming the performance on a mobile phone to send it to their son’s grandfather, a VW enthusiast, on his 80th birthday.

“I was like, ‘What is this? I don’t know what’s going on,” Annie said. “But whatever it is, it’s amazing for so many different reasons.”

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Article Last Updated: May 16, 2023.

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