Where: Ascend Coffee Roasters, 1080 W San Marcos Blvd, San Marcos, CA 92078
Open: Daily 7 to 5 p.m.
What: Batch Brewed Black Coffee House Coffee (Single-origin Costa Rica)
Tasting Notes: Milk chocolate, grapefruit, bright.
What I’m listening to: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “Death Wish.”
I love the pop-in. Pre-COVID-19, I used to always pop into people’s homes for a surprise visit. There were no expectations, and since I usually brought coffee or a six-pack, I was often welcomed with open arms. Of course, the pandemic changed the reality of the pop-in.
Still, it motivated me to find other ways to connect, like convincing my editor that the paper needed a column about coffee and the local purveyors who serve it.
You’re here, so…I think it worked.
Restaurant Row in San Marcos has been in flux for years. On top of that, the coronavirus pandemic laid bare how dependent the hospitality business is on its customers.
So when Erin Harper and her business partners at Old Cal Coffee were considering the future, they faced a big question: How do we create something sustainable in the face of uncertainty?
Erin’s partners decided it was time for a new direction away from coffee. Erin had already started her coffee roasting business under the Ascend Coffee Roasters banner to open a new location in Vista. She’s bucking the trend by focusing on and featuring accessible dark roasts, but she wasn’t ready to leave the community she spent a dozen years serving at Old Cal Coffee.
At the dawn of 2023, the Old Cal Coffee sign came down, and the Ascend Coffee Roasters sign went up. Erin has taken over the location and put her stamp on things.
There is new signage and a new menu, but most faces, both behind the counter and stepping up to order, are the same. In late January, a red ribbon was strung to commemorate the grand opening of a new-old business in San Marcos.
I ordered my standard black drip coffee that morning and watched employees, customers, and city officials cheer as the blades of oversized scissors sliced through the ribbon. There was a palpable relief at having kept a local business — albeit one with a new name — around to be a hub in the community for a little longer.
I’ve popped into Ascend a few times since the grand opening. The future is still wide open, and proposals for the redevelopment of Restaurant Row are still on the table. How long will it take before they come to fruition? Your guess is good as mine. In the meantime, the staff is still making drinks and serving pastries, and the future Ascend Coffee Roasters location is still moving forward.
Erin’s experience is an excellent reminder that being flexible is just as important as staying focused. It’s a fine line to walk. Without a doubt, there will be more plans, adjustments, and opportunities to pursue in her future.
Erin’s been a repeat guest on Roast! West Coast. Please search for the show on your favorite podcast platform, or stream it here.
I’ve been photographing my daily coffee experience in 2023. These instant photos have been unedited because, well, that would defeat the point of attempting to stay in the moment with my cup of coffee.
Follow @roastwestcoast on Instagram for a sampling of these snaps, or head to www.roastwestcoast.com, where I’ll post each monthly collection. Here are a few of my favorites from last month. Always tip your baristas, and be sure to drink good coffee.