The New Jersey native came to San Diego via Cleveland, where he went to college and got his first taste of coffee brewing.
Finding a serviceable way of blending cycling with his favorite drink came naturally to O’Brien, who’s driven a car once his entire life, and has never had a driver’s license.
But it wasn’t until he moved to San Diego and began working at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, that he became truly passionate about peddling coffee, inventing a new way to “pedal” his product to the marketplace.
“Once at the end of a shift, I invited a couple of my co-workers over to my house where I had 10 bikes in my living room,” recalled O’Brien. “It was a joke that I ought to put a cafe on the back of one of those bikes. I woke up the next morning and began sketching it.”
The coffee connoisseur took three years to perfect a functioning, mobile coffee cart. Afterwards, for nine months, O’Brien drove his homemade mobile coffee cart to Pacific Highway south of Fiesta Island close to Old Town where he worked a stretch of self-described “nowhere road,” catering primarily to cyclists.
His rolling cart was not only O’Brien’s entree into the craft-coffee industry locally, it was his inspiration to find a new permanent, stationary home.
“It’s like a beached whale,” said O’Brien of his old coffee cart, which he still serves from daily and vows never to take out on the road again. “It doesn’t roll well — but it rolls. It moves with the speed of a guy with a cane.”
Nonetheless, O’Brien’s once-mobile coffee cart has served its purpose. And it still draws cyclists to his new “Goldilocks” location midway along Grand Avenue, not too close, nor too far away, from the beach.
“It seemed like this place (PB) needed a good haul-out coffee spot,” said O’Brien, adding, “I’m here for the people, not the coffee.”
It really isn’t surprising that coffee and cycling make such a smooth blend, noted O’Brien.
“Early morning rides are nice because of lower traffic, and because it’s nice to have a spot to stop along the way, or have a conversation about the experience afterward,” he said pointing out Grand Avenue is near Mount Soledad, one his favorite places to bike ride. “There are 13 (cycling) routes up there that you won’t believe existed,” the small-business owner said adding the scenery is like “going through a botanical garden.”
Coffee Cycle has been open since Sept. 28. Asked if he’d ever consider franchising, O’Brien answered not right away. “I’m passionate about this location becoming a cornerstone of the community,” he said.
O’Brien noted the menu at Coffee Cycle focuses on organic, fresh and high-quality products, most of which are locally based.
“We don’t have coffee sitting around getting old,” he said. “I brew everything to order.”
Demonstrating, O’Brien did a “pour over,” spilling steaming water into an individual cup.
“It’s not just about making money,” he concluded. It’s about being here and doing what I do.”
Where: 1632 Grand Ave.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily,