Back in 2013, a change in California law allowed individuals to sell food prepared in home kitchens. Such “Cottage Food Operations” also applies to coffee, and for nearly a year husband-and-wife team Scott and Brielle Clark have taken the opportunity to start a very small scale roasting company out of their home — Dane Coffee, named for the breed of their beloved dog London.
Brielle’s interest in roasting sprung from 13 years working as a barista, including time spent at North Park roaster Caffé Calabria, where she says, “I got to learn about roasting, because it was right in front of me.”
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Noticing her interest, Scott gave her a five-ounce roaster as a Christmas present, and both got so involved in the hobby, they decided to put a twist on some of their long-term plans. “We were thinking about opening a café,” Scott says, “but obviously capital and money is hard to come by. So, we thought, let’s start from the back door and work our way to the front door of the coffee business.”
The Clarks bought a pair of slightly larger roasters, got their cottage license, and started producing coffee by the pound. Initially they sold to friends, then began providing small batches to neighborhood markets near their North Park home, including Parkside Market and Lucky Dutch Juice. They’ve also gained a toehold at the Pacific Beach Tuesday Farmers’ Market and at the monthly BLVD Market on El Cajon Boulevard. Dane aims for a brighter, medium roast profile, but because they cook in such small batches, the Clarks are able to cater to return customers who message them ahead of time to order something darker.
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While taking it slow, a year into it, Dane Coffee is beginning to gather momentum. Dane has already participated in craft-beer collaborations with Monkey Paw and Oceanside’s Bagby Beer Co., and the Clarks are scheduled to pour coffee at events produced by Williams Sonoma and San Diego Coffee Network. The arrival of a new 1 kg roaster from Turkey this fall will effectively allow the Clarks to triple their output as they hope to find more outlets for distribution. As Scott puts it, “We’re trying to baby step it, aggressively.”
While they do still hope to open a coffee shop, it probably won’t happen quickly either, as the Clarks have plenty on their plate already. Both Scott and Brielle maintain jobs in the service industry, plus they write and perform music together as local garage two-piece the Steinbacks. Scott also plays drums for ’90s post-punk band Lucy’s Fur Coat.
But, whether it’s next year or the year after, Brielle figures here, too, the homegrown business will start small and keep it simple. “I really just want to find the right location and something that is tiny,” she says. “I feel like a lot of cafés look similar. I’m just trying to go for vintage French, something European. Just a croissant and a coffee.” And maybe a very large dog.