JJ Cutbirth made the career leap from medical real estate development to coffee, and named his coffee business accordingly.
  • JJ Cutbirth made the career leap from medical real estate development to coffee, and named his coffee business accordingly.
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As the specialty coffee business has gained in popularity, it's become an appealing choice for non-service industry professionals pursuing a second career. A couple such cases have led to new roasting shops in the county.

Leap Coffee

5611 Palmer Way, Suite D, Carlsbad

JJ Cutbirth took a deliberate and methodical approach to get into coffee roasting with Leap Coffee in Carlsbad. Four years ago, he made the decision to move on from his 13-year career in medical real estate development. "I had that mini epiphany," he recalls, asking himself, What am I going to do with my life?" He realized, "It's not going to be medical real estate."

Cutbirth tendered notice, but worked another three years completing development projects while he pursued coffee on the side. Cutbirth joined the Specialty Coffee Association and began attending the trade organization's events. He got involved in the Roaster's Guild, the Barista Guild, took online courses, and went to Portland to attend the American Barista & Coffee School.

When he bought a custom-built Diedrich Roaster, Cutbirth spent four days with the manufacturer learning the ins and outs of the machine and the thermodynamic principles behind its design.

Cutbirth finally opened his Leap Coffee shop in April, and began serving his own fresh roasted beans this summer. While several shops have opened in coastal Carlsbad this year, Leap's the only specialty coffee in its business park-dense east side, just east of El Camino Real near Palomar Airport. He says word of mouth has driven a lot of interest. "We're superstoked to be part of the community and get a business going here."

Chad Bell left a Bay Area tech job behind a couple years ago, settling here with a desire to work for himself. Coming from a San Francisco neighborhood with four specialty coffee roasters within a three-block radius, he saw an opportunity in San Diego. "One day, I was looking for pour over coffee," he recalls, "and couldn't find it anywhere downtown."

He specifically went looking for the two Roast Coach coffee carts owned by local coffee entrepreneur Salpi Sleiman, but didn't find them active. With a little web research, he discovered they were actually for sale. At the time, Sleiman was busy readying the launch of her Holsem Coffee storefront in North Park, and sold the coffee carts to Bell.

Achilles Coffee Roasters

703 Ash Street, Downtown San Diego

In the time since, a number of specialty coffee shops opened in the downtown area, but none near Bell's home on Cortez Hill. In May, he remedied that by opening Achilles Coffee Roasters at the corner of Seventh and Ash Street, where he permanently moved one of the Roast Coach carts inside a small storefront space.

He also moved in his coffee roaster. Bell started roasting beans in July 2015 out of a rented garage space, and credits trial and error for developing his coffee-roasting skills over the past year. "Fortunately, I had the carts, so I could start serving coffee to people," he says with a laugh. "I actually had a test market."

The second Roast Coach still serves daily in front of Meze Greek Fusion restaurant at Sixth Avenue and J Street.

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