Cafe Positano owner trades daily grind for a fresh coffee


Making a great cup of coffee is a much more complex process than adding hot water to ground-up beans.

“The thing about coffee,” said Tim Cusac, owner of Cafe Positano, “from the time that it’s grown to the time it ends up in your cup there are hundreds of ways to spoil it.”

That’s why Cusac buys only top-grade green coffee beans from Guatemala and Brazil, and only roasts small batches at a time himself. The result is some of the freshest espresso and flavorful coffee around.

And now there’s more than one place to get it.

Cusac recently opened a second Cafe Positano in the Del Rayo Village shopping center on San Dieguito Road, to the delight of the employees and shoppers of the neighboring businesses, and nearby residents.

“I’m thrilled,” said customer Joel Newman. “They have very good coffee and there’s nothing else around. We like they have frozen yogurt too.”

Cusac describes his newest coffee shop as a “best of” the Cafe Positano shop on Paseo Delicias and Rancho Santa Fe Sandwich, which he also owns.

Along with the same selection of Cafe Positano coffee, teas, and sweet and savory pastries baked on-site, Cusac offers Rancho Santa Fe Sandwich’s popular frozen yogurt, sandwiches and salads.

Cusac took over the sandwich shop and Cafe Positano in 2005. After 17-years in the high-tech corporate world, the family man said he burned out.

“I figured if I’m going to work as hard as I do, then I should do it for me and my family,” he said.

Now, his daily grind may keep him working harder than ever, but at least he’s having a lot more fun.

Cusac said he gets a thrill working behind the counter, interacting with customers and seeing them greet each other.

“I’m a very social guy,” Cusac said. “In a business like this, especially in a community environment, it really lends itself to enjoying all the people.”

He also loves coffee.

When he discovered the shop’s original owner Tim Walsh roasted his own beans, Cusac was eager to learn the trade. After spending six months with Walsh and learning from other international masters, Cusac roasts his own coffee in a commercial roaster “in a secret, undisclosed location, also known as the garage.”

He is considered a craft roaster because he uses smell to identify when the coffee is perfectly roasted, which varies from batch to batch. This work requires a close nose as the coffee cracks like popcorn, but twice.

“I spend a lot of time smelling the beans, especially in the last few minutes,” Cusac said.

How does he know when they’re done?

“The point the coffee stops smelling like baked bread with a bit of an edge, and suddenly smells sweeter,” he said.

A perfect cup of coffee is also dependent on the many steps of preparation that come after roasting, including how it’s stored, ground and brewed.

“It’s not rocket science,” Cusac said. “But it is kind of an art form.”

All of this sounds like it might make for an expensive cup of joe, but Cafe Positano’s prices are on par or lower with larger chains.

Cusac said he’s not worried about the competition because coffee is a regionalized business.

“People take their coffee wherever they happen to be,” he said. “There is plenty of business for everyone.”