Coffee Importers Looks to Open Bakery at Ocean Institute

Breeana Greenberg

Though Coffee Importers has evolved over its nearly 50-year history, expanding from a coffee shop to adding an ice cream shop, bagels, smoothies and more, owner Jim Miller has been looking to expand once more and bring in a bakery for years now. 

Coffee Importers opened in the Dana Point Harbor in 1975 and has grown as a family business in the decades since then. Jim took over the business for his parents in 1982. Now, he’s looking to continue the family legacy with his daughter, Meredith Miller, at the helm. 

Baking is Meredith’s passion, Jim said. 

“My daughter went to culinary school, and one of the things we had been talking about since she was 19 years old was that we were going to do a bakery,” Jim said. 

Jim and Meredith are a step closer to making that dream become a reality as they partner with the Ocean Institute to open a new Coffee Importers location in the place of the marine education nonprofit’s gift shop.

Meredith, who previously served as an executive pastry chef at a St. Regis Hotel in Atlanta, took over operations for the beachside Boneyard Café at Doheny State Beach for her father, before that business closed in 2019.

“She came in and took over running Boneyard and did a fantastic job,” Jim said. “To this day, people still rave about the Boneyard Café and how great it was. Nothing’s replaced it.”

Since Meredith first moved back from Atlanta 12 years ago, the idea to build a bakery has been “very conceptual,” Meredith said. 

In 2018, Jim said he closed Boneyard Café anticipating the commencement of the harbor revitalization. After numerous delays pushed back the start of landside construction, including the ramifications of the COVID pandemic, Jim noted that he and Meredith were anxious to get the café concept off the ground.

“Frustration is mounting, like I want to get this bakery café going, and last year, I went to (Ocean Institute President and CEO Wendy Leavell), and I said, ‘Hey, I really think this could be a good concept,’ ” Jim said. 

“She liked it. It took a while for the board to kind of wrap their heads around putting in a full deli café,” Jim said.

Meredith added that there “always seems to be some hurdle, and so this opportunity kind of presented itself with the Ocean Institute. … It’s something we’ve been trying to do for a long time.”

Though the idea is still in its infancy and still has plenty of hurdles to overcome, Jim said he’s excited to get the ball rolling on the café project. After many false starts to the bakery idea, Meredith noted that she was hesitant to get too excited. 

“I’ll be excited when we have a lease and plans and we’re actually moving forward with it, but for now, I’m just reserved and waiting to see what happens,” Meredith said. 

“We’ve been at this for 20 years, so it’s been a whole lot of ‘OK, it’s going to happen,’ nothing’s happening, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s going to happen,’ nothing happened,” Meredith continued. “So, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, you let me know when something’s really happening, and then I’ll have feelings.’ ”

Since news first broke of the potential partnership between Coffee Importers and the Ocean Institute, Jim said he’s received positive feedback from customers. 

Meredith added that she’d like to emphasize to community members that “we’re not trying to go anywhere.”

“We want to stay in Dana Point, ideally in the harbor,” Meredith said. “For our customer base, that’s been a big concern of theirs, especially over the last couple of years as to, are we going to stay in business? Are we going to stay here?”

“We didn’t really have an answer,” Meredith continued. “Ideally, we’ve always wanted to be in the harbor. We felt like that’s always been our home. So, this gives us the opportunity to maintain that and kind of takes the pressure off of what’s happening.”

After nearly 50 years of serving visitors and locals in the harbor, Meredith noted her family has “built relationships with the community.”

“We want to stay in Dana Point, we want to stay in the harbor, we want to make that work,” Meredith said. “We don’t know how that looks necessarily in the future, but the Ocean Institute with this opportunity has given us … an open door.”

The partnership with the Ocean Institute has been a year in the making, Jim said. Now, Jim said he’s got “a lot of work now to get all the permits and stuff, and that’s what I’m starting to work on. It’s going to take some time, and it’s really an opportunity for us to do this.”

“If an opportunity comes available here in the new harbor, which we don’t know what’s going to happen, we’ll take a look at that at that time,” Jim continued. “We want to stay in the Dana Point Harbor, for sure; that’s our home. In the meantime, we have something to get going on.”

Once he gets necessary permits to construct the bakery at the site of the Ocean Institute’s gift shop, then he’ll be able to finish plans and start getting construction bids, Jim said.

“We’re at the very beginning of the whole process,” Jim said. 

In the meantime, Jim said he’s not planning on closing the harbor location until construction reaches his location and they’re asked to close or move.

Since the Orange County Board of Supervisors extended the Ocean Institute’s lease until 2065, Jim noted that joining the marine education nonprofit’s campus will give him a longer lease to “build our brand.”

“The other thing is the Ocean Institute is doing a fantastic job with the leadership of Wendy and her team right now; I think they’re doing the best they’ve ever done in terms of events and public outreach,” Jim said. 

Jim added that he’s excited to be a part of the Ocean Institute campus for events such as Mermade Market, the Tall Ships Festival and its monthly Distinguished Speaker series. 

“I think it’ll be really synergistic,” Jim said. “I also think the timing can be good, too, during construction of the new harbor. We’ll have a place to send our customers during construction.”

Meredith added that having worked with and catered events for the Ocean Institute in the past, she saw the move as an “old partnership getting revived.”

Having run a coffee cart at the Ocean Institute when the campus first opened, Jim said he knows “the facility very well, so I think it’s going to be a good fit.”

Jim noted that he’s planning on “stepping into retirement” and leaving the new café at the Ocean Institute to Meredith to operate.

“It gives her a place to be hers, which is what she’s always wanted,” Jim said. “I can, over the next four or five years, step down.”

Working alongside her father over the years has been “a labor of love,” Meredith said. 

“The most important part is that (he) and I greatly respect each other’s strengths and differences,” Meredith said. “It’s not going to be fun when he really retires and then it’s just me.”

If all goes well with permitting and plans, Jim noted that they hope to start on construction in 2025.

“It’s the biggest project we’ve ever done,” Jim said. “It goes back to the beginning, though; we’ve always wanted to do a bakery-café. We think it’s a good location, and we think it’ll be a great spot for a little bakery café and it’ll keep us in the Dana Point Harbor,” Jim continued.

An Ocean Institute representative was not available to comment ahead of press time.

Breeana Greenberg EYE ON DP,News Headlines,Business Community,cafe,Coffee Importers,Dana Point,Jim Miller,Juice and Espresso Bar,local business,Marine Education Nonprofit,meredith miller,Ocean Institute,Orange County,Scoop Deck,The Coffee Importers

2024-01-10 22:14:26 , Dana Point Times

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