The new Dane Coffee café: cozier than the usual mall coffee shop
When last we saw Brielle Clark, she had secured a cottage license allowing her to roast coffee in her North Park kitchen. She and her bandmate/husband Scott used it to launch Dane Coffee in 2014, roasting a pound at a time to provide beans to local retailers, make the occasional coffee beer collaboration, and pop up at a handful of farmers markets.
5500 Grossmont Center Drive, Suite 165, San Diego
As 2016 approached, the Clarks looked forward to the arrival of a new, larger coffee roaster, and of their first child. Some day, they told me, they would set up a little café for their fledgling coffee enterprise. But the homespun business wasn’t in much of a hurry. As Scott said, they would take “baby steps.”
Last year, that someday finally arrived, and they started looking for retail locations in the North Park area. For one, the micro-roaster had established a following in its home neighborhood, with Dane Coffee beans retailing in the likes of Barons grocery store and Parkside Market. But as Dane steadily added other neighborhood groceries such as Windmill Farms in Del Cerro, and Stumps Family Marketplace in Point Loma, the two-pound roaster in the Clark’s kitchen starting working overtime.
“We had to get out of our kitchen, basically,” says Brielle with a laugh, “Our production was building pretty fast, and the neighbors started to wonder what was happening.”
A friend turned them on to the growing emphasis on locally owned businesses at La Mesa’s Grossmont Center mall, and eight months ago, they signed a lease on a small storefront. They moved roasting operations into the shop, and were readying for a spring opening when the pandemic hit.
Although Covid ups and downs left them paying rent on a retail storefront they couldn’t open yet, it brought a silver lining. “I got even more busy” Brielle tells me, “because people were drinking more coffee at home.”
The pick-up in wholesale business helped the Clarks pay their new rent, and they were finally able to open to the public as of mid-August. It can’t host sit-down customers yet, so Brielle hasn’t been able to outfit fully the European-inspired café she’d envisions, with cozy chairs and a rug in front of a faux fireplace. But reclaimed wood, plants, and eclectic décor gives it a much homier appearance than any other mall coffee shop I’ve seen.
Brielle keeps a record player behind the bar, drawing from a vinyl selection ranging from old Sergio Mendes albums to 70s garage rock. She works the shop herself most days, tending to the coffee roaster between customers. After years of roasting only, she says, “It’s fun to actually serve a cup of coffee, to make our own drinks.”
Opening a coffee shop during a heat wave wasn’t the ideal, but in addition to drip and pour over drinks, the former bartender developed a menu of delicately flavored coffee mocktails using Dane’s organic Peruvian cold brew. This week she was serving the Mexican hot chocolate inspired Cocoa & Cinnamon, the vanilla infused Orange Blossom, and the Hint of Mint, especially refreshing in the summer heat.
As Dane Coffee works to build a following in La Mesa, its baby steps expansion will continue. By winter, the Clarks will add an espresso machine to help it compete with the mall Starbucks. And with baby number two due in the fall, Brielle is eyeing a way to increase batch sizes of her growing in demand coffee. “I definitely need a bigger roaster,” she says.