Far northern California is an ideal motorcycling destination for many reasons, from the rugged coastal scenery to the majestic redwoods to the hidden backroads with almost no traffic. Now there’s another reason, a new moto-centric gathering place called the Black Lightning Motorcycle Café.
The café, which opened in October 2013, is a lifelong dream come true for owner Jeff Hesseltine.
“I’ve been a rider for over 30 years,” Hesseltine said. “I started with dirt bikes as a kid and my first vehicle was a street bike. I raced AFM during college and was 5th overall in my class for the 1989 season in 450 production. I’ve been dreaming of owning a motorcycle shop since I was 16.”
After graduating college, Hesseltine settled down, started a family and became a general contractor, an occupation that was rewarding but took a toll on his body. Ready for a change, Hesseltine decided to turn to his passion into a new career.
“Other motorcycle shops already existed in the region, giving me the extra challenge to create something unique. I decided to open a motorcycle boutique and coffeehouse with an industrial chic theme.”
Hesseltine’s experience as a contractor allowed him to turn his dream into a reality. I stumbled upon the Black Lightning Motorcycle Café recently when passing through Eureka on a camping trip with my fiancée. We were looking for a place to have breakfast, and when the café popped up on an Internet search, I insisted we check it out.
Located on the corner of U.S. Route 101 (aka Redwood Highway) and F Street in downtown Eureka, the café has floor-to-ceiling windows, hardwood floors and a large mural on one wall depicting Rollie Free in his bathing suit pursuing a land-speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1948, aboard a Vincent Black Lightning. The large, modern space looks like something you’d expect to find in San Francisco or Los Angeles, not a small town with less than 30,000 residents. But, thanks to its low-key, hometown vibe, you won’t find any big-city snootiness.
“My goal with opening the café was to create a place that would help put motorcycling and motorcycles in a positive light. I wanted to create a space like Cheers, ‘where everybody knows your name,’” Hesseltine told me.
An earthy color scheme, cozy seating areas and a European-inspired breakfast-and-lunch menu make the café an ideal escape for anyone, whether they’re a motorcyclist or not. The panini sandwiches are all named after motorcycle marques, such as the Ducati (tomato, mozzarella, basil and balsamic vinegar), the Triumph (roast beef, grilled onion, tomato, swiss cheese and horseradish mayo) and the Bultaco (chipotle chicken, monterey jack and guacamole). Specialty coffees, craft beers, sodas, soups and more are also available.
Pro tip: Order the sweet German pancakes (they made Carrie swoon) and the savory potato-and-beef filled pasty (a British pastry made from a recipe handed down by Hesseltine’s grandmother).
If you are a motorcycle enthusiast, the Black Lightning will draw you in like a Venus flytrap. Many drool-worthy motorcycles are on display, including a battered old Ducati Falcon, a gorgeous Triumph dirt tracker and a one-off, Ducati-based Acme Rocket Bike custom called Café 9. The walls are covered with motorcycle art, there are shelves and racks loaded with motorcycle apparel, helmets, parts and other gear available for sale, and a big-screen TV shows classics like “On Any Sunday.”
“We show races and videos daily and have live bands once a month,” said Hesseltine. “We even brought the documentary ‘Why We Ride’ to the area and had Hollywood actor and AMA board member Perry King introduce it to the Eureka audience.” There are plans in the works for motorcycle shows, swap meets and a motorcycle festival.
Open just six months, word is getting out. Hesseltine told me a Canadian rider found out about the café on the Internet and made it his destination, riding through Washington, Oregon and into California to get there. So, if you’re planning to ride up or down the Pacific coast, or to visit the redwoods, Crater Lake or any of the don’t-miss destinations in this region, put the Black Lightning Motorcycle Café on your list of must-visit places. Hesseltine will probably be behind the counter, ready for some bench racing. Stop by for a visit and tell him your name.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Black Lightning Motorcycle Café
440 F Street
Eureka, CA 95501
Monday – Thursday, 7am – 5pm
Friday, 7am – 7pm
Saturday, 8am – 4pm
Sundays, 9am – 4pm