Walking into M.A.D. FiX Coffee, a charmingly refurbished carriage attachment in the courtyard next to Love & Aesthetics in the Fir Street Cottages of Little Italy, it’s easy to see the beauty of the space. Under a large sail in the courtyard, a shady patio of tables is dappled with golden bands of late afternoon sun. Dottie Necool must have stood here transfixed in early February dreaming of the perfect home for the next phase of her coffee venture.
Sean Barnes, the extremely talented curator and designer of L&A, collaborated with M.A.D. FiX Owners Dottie Necool and Brandi Kirschbaum to bring to life their café vision, working with contractor Chris Gaus to customize fixtures such as shelves with copper piping to complement the copper counters. A red door was the very first change made to the space, a welcoming and auspicious color. Then the “Dream” marquee light was ordered and delivered. This shop is representative of the dreams of so many, especially Dottie, who wanted a cool place for their friends to gather that was an alternative to the big corporate franchises and had a totally unintimidating vibe that was elusive in the fleet of new specialty cafés.
M.A.D FiX opened in May 18, 2013, two years ago, on C Street between 6th and 7th on the trolley line. It wasn’t only a freestanding cart, it also had a railing for tables and chairs and a bit of a pop-up café set up. It catered to the nearby corporate businesses and banks, and the nearby tourist mall crowd at Horton Plaza. Its main clientele were the many international students at the language school nearby. Dottie wanted to open it because of her own love of coffee. At the time, Dottie was serving Dark Horse roasts and was one of their first wholesale accounts.
Early 2015, Sean called Dottie to inform her of the newly vacant space in the neighboring building of his courtyard. And on May 18, 2015, M.A.D. FiX opened its beautiful red café doors to the Little Italy locals and metropolitan tourists of San Diego.
M.A.D FiX uses Calabria's espresso, with the endorsement of Arne & Todd from Calabria who trained their whole staff coming to the cafe before and after opening, tweaking the machines to fine-tune for best possible product. M.A.D. FiX also uses Swell for their cold brew and decaf drinks, one of The Swell Coffee Roasting Company’s first café partnerships.
Brandi Kirschbaum, Dottie’s partner in the new venture, chalks their business relationship up to friendly chemistry: “I remember the first time I ever met Dottie. I was instantly impressed by her. She was this rock star business owner crafting killer coffee drinks and everyone she came in contact with adored her. I’ve always been a huge fan of coffee and coffee shops and it had always been my dream to own a coffee shop. I knew Dottie was the perfect person to be in business with when all the anxiety that held me back just disappeared and I wasn't scared to take that leap of faith with her and once I saw the location I was instantly in love. Nowadays, we're always joking about how pre-coffee people tend to be a little sluggish and zombie-like and then they take that first sip and their "instant human" ready to go about their day and we helped wake them up! It's such a great feeling to see people happy.”
With that commitment to service in mind and without further ado, here are Dottie’s 5 Tips For Transitioning From a Coffee Cart to a Bricks-And-Mortar!
1.) Figure out WHY you want to switch from cart to bricks and mortar.
Is it because you want to expand? Do you want more of a park-and-sit kind of place, rather than grab and go? Do you want more help, rather than a-one-man-show, so you can have a life outside of your business? Within the first year of my cart, I had already started trying to give it more of an outdoor patio cafe feel, rather than just a street side coffee shop. I remember the days when my regular customer Deana would say to me "Dottie, I could just hangout here all day. Every time I come and have coffee and eat my lunch here with you it's like an escape from the daily grind and gives me something to look forward to." After my one year party I was so excited about the new patio seating for up to 12 people next my cart, enough to have events there. When your business hits that point of growth and success, moving into a bigger permanent space is an organic next step in expansion.
2.) Do the research to see why it would be a better business model.
Make sure it's worth the investment and the overhead. Figure out why it's better. More customers? More space might help with increasing capacity to meet more transactions an hour? Are customers asking for it to be a shop rather than cart? Consult with an expert and analyze your dashboards. Find out the statistics. And of course, if it’s a response to your culture, and you want to model a culture in a shop, in the décor and in the vibe, then that is just as much a factor. It definitely was for me.
3.) Be patient, and wait for the right scale of a place.
It doesn't make sense to go from cart to a huge restaurant. Find the right fit. Finding the right fit is so important. Not just on rent cost, but size and setup. Make the scale in proportion to your vision. Don't get a space so big you can't fill it. Don't pick a location you know nothing about. It will make your life and marketing so much easier and successful if you know who you're marketing to. Make sure the flow is right. Pretend it's your new home, feel it out, visualize you and your staff there behind that counter, imagine the colors and menu board and espresso bar set-up. Don't feel it? Don't pick it! It's your place of business and home away from home... make people feel welcome by choosing a space you sincerely love.
4.) Figure out your investor situation before jumping into the financial prep process.
Most people get an investor or a business partner either because they don't have enough of the capital themselves, or they need to increase their credit line possibilities. Take the time to make sure you pick the right person. If you are passionate, dedicated, and believe in your brand and business - then you need someone who believes in you and your product 100% as well. Also, money is the toughest subject in any business relationship, so you want to make sure you pick someone who knows how much it's going to take and HOW long both of your investments will possibly take before seeing any return. Make sure it's a right fit, a true partnership, and that it’s someone who understands your vision and wants to preserve it. Last tip on that, is write a very clear and fair business contract.
5.) BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.
Only YOU know what you're capable of. Believe in yourself and others will believe too! Every day, remind yourself WHY you are doing this. Why you get up so dang early being a part of people’s days! Know what you’re worth, and how amazing you are for taking a risk in a competitive world. Be a boss. Be yourself. BE NICE and WORK HARD ...it pays off.
Check out M.A.D. FiX Coffee at 621 West Fir Street, walk right into the courtyard between L&A and Vitreum: 7am – 7pm every day, summer weekends until 9pm! Along with their crafted espresso drinks, they are serving Mark Pelliccia’s quiches and pastries from The Raspberry Factory. They also serve Nomad Donuts everyday except Tuesdays.