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Pannikin Founder Bob Sinclair Dies in NM Crash

Posted on 09 August 2011 by John Rippo

SD premier coffee man victim of injuries in motorcycle accident.
Bob Sinclair, founder of Pannikin Coffee & Tea  and later of Cafe Moto, died on August 6 after sustaining injuries in a motorcycle crash in New Mexico on July 28.
The crash occurred around 4.30 p.m. as Sinclair travelled east on NM 502 and attempted a left turn onto County Road 101 East. For unknown reasons he lost control of his Ducati motorcycle and was thrown from the seat. Head injuries were extensive though he wore a helmet. Transferred to the ICU at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Santa Fe, he lingered in a coma until August 6.
Robert “Bob” Sinclair was born in Hollywood on November 1, 1942 and grew up on a farm in Antelope Valley. After four years in the navy, most of them in San Diego, he and his first wife opened a cookware store on La Jolla’s Prospect Street. An incidental product was whole bean coffee and an antique roaster set up in his home garage on Rosemont Street fed the appetites of a growing number of La Jollans. The shop soon sold more coffee than cookware and the Pannikin was born.
Eventually, Sinclair established several coffeehouses throughout the county and a second retail shop on Girard Street in La Jolla. A large roastery was sited at the corner of 13th and J Streets in what is now East Village. A flair for location was always evident and The Pannikin counted the former Santa Fe Railroad station in Leucadia as its most magnificent jewel. Another location sits across the street from La Jolla Cove and operates as a restaurant. Along the way, Sinclair supplied every one of the early coffeehouses in San Diego in the 80’s and quickly became respected as San Diego’s premier coffee roaster.  Hundreds of restaurants, cafés and bars throughout the county and elsewhere became Sinclair’s clients and under the wholesale entity now known as Cafe Moto, the business continues to expand.
Bob Sinclair’s Pannikin set a style for coffeehouses in San Diego for layout, design and signature coffees that endures. He introduced whole bean specialty coffee to San Diego, revived coffee roasting singlehandedly here and was the first to create public awareness of coffees’ diversity. His business model and taste helped frame the style of many coffeehouses that elevated them from offbeat hangouts to the comfortably chic places they’ve become. There is perhaps no one individual with more significance to more aspects of San Diego’s coffee and allied trades than Bob Sinclair, dead  at the age of 69.

Front page image by Nan Palmero, Creative Commons

7 Comments For This Post

  1. Tony Ciani Says:

    Bob will be remembered as a great man with a wonderful heart and spirit.

  2. Christopher Canole Says:

    Great article…to be added to the many, many Sinclair stories.

  3. Jonny Says:

    Great story John.
    Bob and the Pannikin were a great influence in my time here in San Diego. Have been to and enjoyed most every location except the original store on Prospect which was gone by the time I arrived here in 1991.
    Here’s to Bob, he will be missed.

  4. Michael Oliver Says:

    “Bob” Sinclair was an “early mentor” to me in San Diego, 1982. After Joining GreenTree Grocers in Kearney Mesa (HIS recommendation) i was able to tell many about “Pannikin”. I did ALL my Holiday shopping there (at Pannikin) due in Great part to Mrs Sinclairs imperial acquisitions from Latin America. They had the FIRST DARK Chocolate in S.D. County. They/He left an impression on me et al that will be long remembered.

  5. Grace Bernal Says:

    Nicely written article. I am incredibly saddened by the news of Bob’s passing. The Pannikin especially in the 80’s was THE place for many wonderful and intellectual conversations to take place. It was a magical time in La Jolla village. I learned so much from Bob, Gay, and their children. Thank you Bob for bringing such a special touch and great contributions to the San Diego community.

  6. Carol Jahnkow Says:

    I had heard about his death, but didn’t know any of the details. I’m really saddened by this and send my condolences to his family. I remember all the Pannikin locations well and have loved them all, especially Leucadia location.

  7. Susanne Says:

    It’s sad to learn this way about the man behind my favorite coffee house, Pannikin-Leucadia. I love it even more now.

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