Brewing up neighborhood coffee and staying mellow
by Marsha Kay Seff
Published - 11/21/12 - 01:24 PM | 7437 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Owner Nick Cantalupo opened Mission Beach Coffee Break four years ago because he saw a need in the South Mission Beach neighborhood. Today, the coffee house is going strong and on the verge of a menu expansion.                                      Photo by Marsha Kay Seff I Beach & Bay Press
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Neighbors said a coffee shop in South Mission Beach wouldn’t make it, but Nick Cantalupo decided to try it anyway. Now, four years after he opened Mission Beach Coffee Break, the place is going strong. So much so that Cantalupo plans to expand his menu.

“It’s hard to believe,” he said. “Time flies.”

A South Mission Beach surfer, Cantalupo said he started the business simply because the building became available “and I felt the neighborhood had a need … We’re kind of isolated down here,” he said, pointing out that there’s not a Starbucks in sight.

Located just across Mission Boulevard from the popular Pennant Bar, there’s room for a coffee house and a bar, Cantalupo said.

Mission Beach Coffee Break — “about 70 paces to the beach” — is one in a long line of businesses that have occupied the 600-square-foot space through the years. Cantalupo has been told that the average life for businesses in this spot has been two years.

“I’ve doubled that,” he said.

The storefront has housed a custom bathing-suit store, a postal annex and a surfboard shop, according to Cantalupo. Someone even told him that, way back when, it had been a five-and-dime store.

But he’s far more interested in its most recent incarnation, a business built around six inside stools, a surfboard bench, an easy chair and two outside tables and chairs.

On a busy day, Cantapulo said he serves between 400 and 500 customers. On an average day, he figures he serves about 350. Customers include locals, winter students and summer family vacationers. Regulars include several Old Mission Beach Athletic Club old-timers, Cantalupo said.

“They’ve lived here so many years,” he said. “It’s cool getting to know the history of the neighborhood from them.”

Customer Nancy Markins of Arizona said four generations of her family have been vacationing for years in South Mission Beach.

“We’re all for small business ’cause we own one in Phoenix,” she said.

According to Cantalupo, the neighborhood has changed in some ways — and in other ways it hasn’t.

“There is more money and new construction,” he said. “But the vibe stays the same. You know everybody’s name and they all look out for you.”

There are five full- and part-time employees serving up specialty coffees for between $2 and $4. Pastries cost between $2.75 and $4. Breakfast sandwiches are $5.25; a choice of bagels with cream cheese is $2.40, and acai smoothies are $4.75. Cantalupo said he plans to add a lunch menu, featuring panini sandwiches, by fall.

On a recent morning, the shop was out of pastries by 9 a.m.

“It usually lasts ’til 11 or noon,” Cantalupo said, adding that baked goods are delivered every morning.

The best part about running the shop, which is open from 6 a.m. to

9:30 p.m. seven days a week, “is not having a boss,” said Cantalupo, who formerly worked in financial sales. “The worst part about it is the time commitment. But it’s all worth it.”

He has been known to slip away to ride a few waves.

Customers are encouraged to bring their computers since there’s free Wi-Fi “and I don’t care how long they hang out.” Patrons are also encouraged to bring books to exchange.

About every six weeks, on a Thursday from 6 to 9:30 p.m., he offers shows featuring largely unknown local artists.

“I wouldn’t have imagined there would be so many beach-area artists,” he said.

The paintings, which will hang on the walls until the next show, are priced at between $50 and $100.

“It’s priced to sell,” he said.

The coffee house announces dates for the soirees on Facebook.

On Fridays from noon to 2 p.m., Mission Beach Coffee Break features two acoustic guitar players. They offer “beach music, on the mellower side of things.”

Though his hours are long, you can’t beat the cross-section of customers and the laid-back atmosphere of the beach, he said.

• Mission Beach Coffee Break, 2888 Mission Blvd., (858) 488-8482
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