New coffee shop and eatery Café Cantata opens in Flower Hill Promenade

By Karen Billing

Café Cantata, a new coffee shop and eatery opened up on June 18 in Flower Hill Promenade, filling the space left behind by Pannikin. The new café comes courtesy of Johan Engman, the owner and founder of the popular Fig Tree Café.

“We’ve had a nice little crowd in here and the feedback has been very good,” said Engman. “People are super happy with the design, they think it’s cool and cutting edge.”

Engman said people are raving about the bike on the café’s brick wall — it’s a beach cruiser juxtaposed on the wall so the wheels serve as the “O”s in the word food.

After taking over the space, Engman did a fair amount of remodeling over the last month. A counter top and seating replaced the old pastry display case and Engman brought in reclaimed wood tables and chairs stamped with the café’s name and created several cozy nooks for lingering over coffee. A big brown leather couch sits in the middle of the café and a variety of potted greenery dots the tables and is on display throughout the space.

The café is still connected to Pangea Outpost, but is no longer connected with Dahlmann’s Chocolates.

Engman started off in the restaurant industry when he was 17 years old, working as a busboy. He worked his way up to server and started saving money to open his own place. He opened his first Fig Tree Café in Pacific Beach in 2008 on a shoestring budget with plastic tables and chairs.

He said 2008, in the middle of the economic downturn, was “arguably the worst time to open a restaurant” but it turned out really well, he was able to remodel his space and gain quite a following.

Engman opened his second Fig Tree location in Hillcrest in 2011 and his third last year at Liberty Station.

The opportunity to come to Flower Hill Promenade was one he couldn’t pass up.

“I had always wanted to go up north with the Fig Tree concept but this space wasn’t right because the kitchen is smaller,” Engman said. “I liked this mall and I like being in this area and I wanted to do something different. Pannikin had been a success here for so long I feel like this space is almost iconic for a coffee shop. I felt it was a good idea to keep it as a coffee shop and just switch things up a bit.”

Café Cantata borrows its name from a musical composition: Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Coffee Cantata,” written in 1729. The story of the piece is painted onto one of the walls of the coffee shop — it’s a lighthearted opera that pokes fun at the powerful addiction many of Bach’s townspeople had toward an exotic new substance called coffee. In the piece, a girl named Aria refuses to give up her coffee addiction as she says it is “more delicious than a thousand kisses and sweeter than muscatel wine.”

Musical touches have been added to the design and Engman also hopes to add two to three nights a week of live music.

Cantata serves up three different house blends of coffee daily as well as lattes and machiattos. The café also has a Yama slow drip cold brew coffee maker — an interesting contraption set up at the bar that almost looks like some kind of chemistry experiment. The coffee is cold brewed over 12 hours, at two drops per second, resulting in a coffee that is 67 percent less acidic but higher in caffeine. The café uses the cold brew for its iced coffee, called a C-12.

Engman said they offer a much smaller menu than his Fig Tree locations for the café’s breakfast and lunches, but every bit as delicious.

He said their seasonal berry salad has been very popular, with a cranberry vinaigrette they make in house. Other popular dishes are a vegetarian soy chorizo breakfast burrito or scramble, an eggplant panini, a gluten-free portabella panini on bread from a local bakery and their “very tasty” granola with peanut butter in it.

The café is now open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.. seven days a week. For more information visit or call (858) 925-7297. Flower Hill Promenade is located at 2720 Via De La Valle, Del Mar, CA 92014.