By Marlena Chavira-Medford
Staff WriterSome of Anna Gomez’s best memories were made over a cup of coffee. For years, Gomez and her sister had a tradition of spending weekends with their dad at a neighborhood coffee shop, where they’d “do things like play chess, talk with the other locals or just hang out.”
Those were good times, she said, and they inspired her to one day launch her own coffee shop. She recently made that dream a reality when she opened Orange Blossom Café on South Cedros, a small shop specializing in European-style coffees and crepes. That success, however, has been bittersweet. That’s because Gomez has had to go through “a whole lot of heartache” to get where she is today.
Knowing she wanted to run a coffee shop early in life, Gomez went to college with the intent of learning all she could about the industry. So she earned a degree in business, and worked her way through school as a coffee barista. After graduation she “got a job just to pay the bills” and started developing a business plan for her own coffee venture.
“I decided to start with a coffee kiosk because smaller scale seemed to make more sense,” she said. “So I did everything by the book: I did the business plan, I got the business loan, I ordered a custom coffee kiosk, I lined up all my vendors, I took several coffee classes, I got all my permits and licenses — I had everything ready.”
She quit her job and was just weeks away from opening her coffee kiosk when she got some troubling news.
“The company that was building my coffee kiosk started saying there were delays, and my phone calls weren’t getting returned. It was a red flag. I knew something wasn’t right.”
Gomez said she soon learned that the sales representative she’d been dealing with had cashed her check — along with several other clients’ checks — and left the country. Soon after, the company filed bankruptcy.
Gomez ended up getting a portion of her money back in a settlement, but she “had pretty much lost everything.”
“I had quit my job for this, so I was out of a job. I had stockpiled my grandma’s garage full of coffee cups and beans, which I now had no use for. I had to sell my car to make ends meet. This was the first big risk I’d taken and it blew up in my face. My dream had shattered right before my eyes. I was heartbroken. I was devastated.”
Gomez’s dream fell by the wayside, and she took a job working for an energy company until she was laid off in 2009. Out of work “and pretty much at rock bottom” Gomez said she started to slip into a depression.
That is, until she received an email from Jay Cortel, a former co-worker who had also been laid off. Knowing she had a love of coffee, he wrote to ask if she’d be willing to come work at his Clairemont coffee shop, The Same Old Grind, which he’d bought as an investment several years ago.
Gomez took the offer, and got to work “sprucing up the place” by redecorating, adding free WiFi, and creating signature drinks, like the German chocolate cake latte. Within weeks, sales were up 27 percent.
Getting behind the coffee counter awakened Gomez’s long-time dream of having her own coffee shop.
And so, with encouragement and support from Cortel, she decided to try again. When she found a vacancy on Cedros Avenue, she was able to secure the space with help from Cortel, who is now her boyfriend and “the reason all of this was able to happen.”
“As soon as I got this place, it was like: ‘OK, game on.’” Gomez said she hit the ground running, creating a coffee and crepe menu “with a twist.” Case in point, her signature crepe batter is made with Blue Moon beer because “it has a nice orange zest to it, which works well with savory crepes and sweet crepes.” There are also several baked goodies, like sweet potato cookies with cream cheese icing, as well as house concoctions, such as the Nutella latte, or the peanut butter mocha.
“And none of those are made with flavor syrups,” she added. “I like whole, real ingredients. If you order a peppermint-mocha here, I actually crush up a real peppermint stick by hand, and use real chocolate. It takes longer, but it’s worth it.”
There also are no coffee makers here, as all drinks are either prepared via espresso or French press.
“I didn’t want this place to be typical. After waiting so long for this dream, I wanted to do it right. I feel this is what I was made to do, and I’m finally doing it.”
Orange Blossom Café is located at 224 S. Cedros. It is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit orangeblossomcafe.com.