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From Cart to Café: M.A.D. FiX’s Dottie’s Top Five Tips For Transitioning Into A Brick-And-Mortar

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From Cart to Café: M.A.D. FiX’s Dottie’s Top Five Tips For Transitioning Into A Brick-And-Mortar

Words by Marcel Reyes, Staff Writer. Photos by Jose Lopez, SDCN Contributor. 

Dottie Necool, Co-owner of M.A.D. FiX, posing at the cafe's courtyard. Photo by Jose Lopez.

Dottie Necool, Co-owner of M.A.D. FiX, posing at the cafe's courtyard. Photo by Jose Lopez.

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. 

Clockwise: Brandi Kirschbaum, Antonio Zepeda, Dottie Necool and Chanel Konja. Photo by Jose Lopez.

Clockwise: Brandi Kirschbaum, Antonio Zepeda, Dottie Necool and Chanel Konja. Photo by Jose Lopez.

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.

The M.A.D. Fix team showing Sean Barnes (posing in the center) some love. Photo by Jose Lopez.

The M.A.D. Fix team showing Sean Barnes (posing in the center) some love. Photo by Jose Lopez.

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.

The M.A.D. FiX Brew Bar. Photo by Jose Lopez.

The M.A.D. FiX Brew Bar. Photo by Jose Lopez.

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.

V60's and Love and Aesthetics dandy mugs. Photo by Jose Lopez. 

V60's and Love and Aesthetics dandy mugs. Photo by Jose Lopez. 


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.”

Dottie enjoys a cup of coffee in front of the welcoming red portals at M.A.D. FiX. Photo by Jose Lopez. 

Dottie enjoys a cup of coffee in front of the welcoming red portals at M.A.D. FiX. Photo by Jose Lopez. 

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. 

The M.A.D. FiX Team has gone bananas. Photo by Jose Lopez. 

The M.A.D. FiX Team has gone bananas. Photo by Jose Lopez. 

Tom Ford Models, I mean the M.A.D. FiX Team. Photo by Jose Lopez. 

Tom Ford Models, I mean the M.A.D. FiX Team. Photo by Jose Lopez. 

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.

Dottie and Jose Lopez, SDCN Contributor. 

Dottie and Jose Lopez, SDCN Contributor. 

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San Diego Unites Again: Thursday Night Throwdown at James Coffee

Written by Pablo Lara, SDCN Assistant Editor | Photos by Jared Armijo-Wardle

By 7 pm the San Diego winter had obscured the sky, but the magnetic power of coffee attracted the multitude to James Coffee Co illuminating the young night.  With the New Year comes a new season of TNT’s, making this the third organized by the San Diego Coffee Network. A quick glance inside the event and one could easily tell that our community is unified and talent is emerging. An outstanding 61 Baristas entered the competition, making for a prolonged but certainly fun night. 

The Night's Bracket Consisting of 61 Participants!

The Night's Bracket Consisting of 61 Participants!

 

The chic neighborhood of Little Italy houses a peculiar warehouse, one that’s quickly becoming San Diego’s ultimate man cave. We are talking about James Coffee, a handsome space consisting of white walls, dark steel, industrial ceilings and dark wood details.  The newly re-vamped location proved to be a provocative enclosure for our industry gathering.

James Coffee's Façade, With it's Signature Owl Welcoming the Crowd.

James Coffee's Façade, With it's Signature Owl Welcoming the Crowd.

 

David Kennedy, Founder of James Coffee with his Brother and Father, decided to relocate the production facility to the warehouse where his coffee bar was located. Roasting and packaging are now visible and the coffee bar welcomes people as they arrive. The space is impressive, now offering a rich selection of business, all exuding aesthetic and trend. Grab a pour over and shop over at Ajax Shoppe, Turquoise, Specks and the coming soon Homesteez and Urban Shave.

David Kennedy (Wearing Baseball Cap), Co-owner of James Coffee. Dylan Barista at James Coffee.

David Kennedy (Wearing Baseball Cap), Co-owner of James Coffee. Dylan Barista at James Coffee.

Judging the pours were Sheridan Owings, Trader for InterAmerican Coffee; Rigo Hernandez, Sales Manager for Cafe Virtuoso and Shad Baiz, owner of Solutions Espresso Service. And by now this group has become familiar with the style of each returning competitor, especially of those who’s noteworthy pours have graced the judge’s table.

From left to right: Rigo Hernandez, Sheridan Owings and Shad Baiz. 

From left to right: Rigo Hernandez, Sheridan Owings and Shad Baiz. 

Let’s talk Brew Bar! Deligthing our palates for the night was an outstanding selection of pour-overs and cold-brews from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, Swell Café and James Coffee.  Mark from Bird Rock brewed an earthy and sweet Tano Batak and a refreshing cold-brew made with their Panama La Esmeralda Leon Geisha, natural processed with hints of peach and jasmine. Sarah from James Coffee brewed a Kenya AA Plus Nguvu, with notes of sweet molasses, complex acidity and clove aromatics. Mari from Swell Café brewed a washed Custapec Chiapas, a sweet brew with hints of citrus and bakers chocolate. A stop at the Brew Bar can lead to great conversations, allowing you to learn about these local roasters. 

Jacob of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters and James Coffee's Linea  La Marzocco .

Jacob of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters and James Coffee's Linea La Marzocco.

The battle started with the heart pours, a simple yet underestimated pour. In this round we saw 61 different hearts, each shedding light on the particular styles of each participant. The winning hearts had even contrast and elaborated ripples, even the most similar pours were differentiated by the slightest embellishment. 

It was time for the rosettas to take the stage. James Coffee’s espresso machine, a Linea by La Marzocco, became more familiar for the remaining latte artists. They were able to achieve detailed rosettas that harmonized with the simple yet sexy notNeutral black handless cups used at James Coffee.  

 

All the teams and individuals that attended the event enriched the community. We were delighted to have in our crowd the team from Augie's Coffee Roasters, Joshua Bonner of Ladies and Gentlemen, Swell Cafe, the peeps from Dark Horse Coffee Roasters, the lovely ladies from Café Virtuoso, talented baristas from Caffe Calabria, the smiling faces of the Café Moto team, Lofty Coffee, baristas from Muir Woods Café, Peets, Young Hickory, the charming gals of InterAmerican, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, Coffee and Tea Collective and new establishments such as Heartwork Coffee Bar and Bean Bar. From Tijuana we had participants from the new Electric Coffee Roasters, the newly expanded Dinastia 12 and longtime supporters from Das Cortez.

The tulip round brought certain intensity to the game. Crafting contrasting and even layers under pressure commands focus. Excelling in this category and making it to the top eight were Austin of Augie's, James of ChocXO, Jacob of Bird Rock, Marco of Elixir, Max, Jonathan of Calabria, Savannah of Virtuoso and Mike of Lofty.  

The Elite Eight, coined by Matthew Barahura, SDCN Founder and SDTNT M.C., would now be asked to demonstrate their free pour ability. For this round Jacob made a five-layered tulip and a six-layered tulip, saving him a spot in the top four. Austin poured three four-layered tulips, all with perfect hearts at their cusp. Jonathan crafted two rosettas and a three-layered tulip in a shot glass that unfortunately spilled.  Max created a beautiful swan, reminiscent of a paisley. Jacob eliminated Marco’s five-layered tulip and Jonathan knocked out Savannah’s intricate heart pour.

 

In the end, Jacob of Bird Rock and Max found themselves in a dual for first. With the Final Countdown playing in the background and much concentration, both opponents enchanted the crowd with two elegant pours. Jacob made a perfectly structured seven-layered tulip and Max created a whimsical ribboned heart. In the final "Three-two-one!" call by the evening's M.C., Jacob White of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters took first place!

 

The night came to a close and Jacob was not the only one to take home a prize. The raffle winners took prizes donated by local business such as Bean Bar, The Cheese Store of San Diego, Ajax Shoppe and Specs. We thank all our collaborators ( especially Carli Mitchell for pulling shots all night), and our gracious hosts from James Coffee. We opened the third season of San Diego’s Thursday Night Throwdowns with great energy and a broadened community. Next time you are in Little Italy get a drink made by the champ, Jacob White, at the new Bird Rock on the corner of Kettner & Juniper. Our next TNT will be hosted by the Bean Bar in East Village, see you then! 

Jacob White Winner of Round One of Season Three SDTNT!

Jacob White Winner of Round One of Season Three SDTNT!

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