Mary Clare Pulte, co-owner of
Big Surf Cyber Cafe.
New cafe aims to draw the
SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
couple of days before opening night, the Big
Surf Cyber Cafe in Birmingham had the look
of a high-tech beach hut.
There isn't sand, nor sun and surfboards.
All that is required is a blanket of curiosity
and perhaps some lotion to protect against
long exposure to cyber rays.
Despite the fall chill, carpenters put
the finishing touches on a Bermuda mo-
tif and placed the rattan furniture in an arrangement
conducive to socializing. After all, with a coffee bar, espres-
so machine and delicate pastries on display, the place
retains some semblance of a coffeehouse. At most other
coffee cafes, however, the computer-geek touch is less
"We want to bring people together," said Mary Clare
Pulte, a co-owner along with her husband, Robert. "We
think this is a way for people to interact as they're using
Accessing the Internet via the 15 high-speed desktop
terminals at tables around the cafe provides the "plat-
form" for the topics of conversation. Patrons will likely
engage in esoteric comparisons of megahertz, software
proficiency and cyber ambitions. It may sound like a
futuristic setting, but this reality is hardly virtual.
Big Surf Cyber Cafe opened its doors on Oct. 16. To
most newcomers to cyberspace, sitting down for a cap-
puccino with a 90-megahertz link to the Internet at your
table is like having tea and crumpets while riding along
with John Glenn to another uncharted frontier.
Armed with evidence from a market study and a strong
dash of entrepreneurial optimism, owners of the cafe be-
lieve that most people would
rather navigate the Internet
while sipping espresso than
hack away alone, tipping their
Bob Pulte, Mike Walsh and
Mary Clare Pulte pool their
With a quick cost estimate
of the computer hardware and
the training of a staff of 22 coffee/computer experts, it
is strikingly clear that this virtual beach house is built
on plenty of capital — and sheer guts.
It may seem that the Internet is an inevitability of
American life, but using it tends to be a solitary pursuit.
Whether it has potential to start and solidify friendships
outside of cyberspace remains to be seen. Then again,
who predicted that a dried little brown bean would spawn
an industry of cafes and specialty coffees that has kept
keen entrepreneurs awake counting profits?
Ten months ago, co-owner and computer wizard Dan
Barron, a visionary according to Ms. Pulte, was capti-
vated by a successful London cyber-cafe called Cyberia.
Mr. Barron, who sells computer and camera equipment
to the medical industry, captured the imagination of Ms.
Pulte and her husband Robert and cafe co-owners Mike
Walsh and Bryan Pulte.
Mr. Barron now wears the high-tech title of CCO, or
chief conceptual officer. The Pukes provide the sales and
building experience. Ms. Pulte formerly worked in radio
sales and Robert Pulte owns Manor Homes, a custom-
building company in Bloomfield Hills. Bryan Pulte is
Robert's brother and is an interior designer in Denver,
Meanwhile, Mr. Walsh brings a West Coast coffee-
shop management style. A master of business adminis-
tration graduate of the University of Michigan who ran
a coffeehouse in Seattle, a town considered to be the birth-
place of the contemporary cafes, he plans to introduce a
new bean in the metro area titled "Seattle's Best Coffee."
The Big Surf Cyber Cafe is the first of its kind in the
CUCKETY page 52