3260 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights
Normal Heights coffee roaster Dark Horse will soon become a Golden Hill coffee roaster. Following more than a year of planning and construction, the company soft-opened its new retail shop on 25th Street just before Thanksgiving. It features more seating than the company’s other San Diego locations, including a spacious outdoor patio with large picnic tables.
811 25th Street, Golden Hill
Part of the delay in setting up this shop was waiting to find new roasting equipment. Once installation is complete, the site will house the company’s newly acquired, 12kg Diedrich IR-12 roaster. The early-model roaster was built by hand in California back in the 1980s, before Diedrich moved operations to a factory in Idaho. The vintage equipment doesn’t feature the bells and whistles of some of the new-fangled, high-tech, automated roasters popping up around town these days. However, Diedrich made its name 30 years ago by innovating an infrared roasting process that’s said to yield more evenly cooked and less-acidic beans due to a lack of open flame, and the weathered machinery visible behind the shop counter lends attitude to the new location.
Dark Horse has worked off a 3kg Diedrich since opening on Adams Avenue in early 2013, so the coffee profile won’t change, though co-owner Bryan Charlson notes the new gear “will help quadruple our production for expanding our wholesale and retail departments.” This is already the business’s fourth retail location, including a small counter in North Park and a satellite shop in Truckee, so that 3-kilo machine in Normal Heights has been going 12 hours a day to keep up with demand until the new machine is ready to cook.
Helping founder and head roaster Daniel Charlson with that has been industry vet Mike Helms. The former Caffé Calabria roaster and San Diego Coffee Network cofounder has joined Dark Horse to manage the new shop and will add his roasting acumen to the cause as necessary. Helms says the two have been trading six-hour shifts to ensure they have enough beans going into the holidays.
Once roasting operations have shifted to Golden Hill, the Charlsons plan to renovate the original Normal Heights location to better match the look of the newer shops. They will also add espresso drinks, so all their San Diego locations will include those along with cold brew on tap and pour over.
Another popular aspect of Dark Horse shops that carries over to the new location in a big way is the presence of vegan pastries made by Papa G’s Donuts. Papa G’s had been operating on a cottage license, working in limited capacity out of a home kitchen. Now the small company operates out of Dark Horse Golden Hill.
Bryan Charlson says, “We have installed a state-of-the-art ‘compact’ bakery in our kitchen,” where Papa G’s “will be baking all of the original fan favorites (donuts, muffins, scones etc.) as well as testing exciting new things like vegan donut bread pudding and pocket pies.”