Dark Horse rides into La Mesa

Posted: August 24th, 2018 | Features, Top Stories | No Comments

Sara Butler | Contributing Editor

New things are brewing over at Dark Horse Coffee Roasters.

The coffee shop — originally founded in Normal Heights in 2013 — opened a La Mesa location on Friday, Aug. 10. The new storefront, located at 4350 Palm Ave., previously housed Blue Lagoon Coffee.

A look inside the new La Mesa location (Photo courtesy of Bryan Charlson)

Yet the owners aren’t hungry for expansion. Ultimately, their decisions to open more Dark Horse locations derive from the initiative of co-workers. When employees express an interest to take on more responsibility, Daniel and Bryan take note and adapt accordingly.

“We’ll give them the proper training and resources to succeed, but without our co-workers wanting to grow with us then we wouldn’t — we would just be at one store,” Daniel said.

“We grow with our people,” Bryan added. “If we don’t have people who want to grow with us, then we’re fine where we’re at. We have people showing initiative who want to run that store [in La Mesa], so we keep going step by step.”

Most of Daniel and Bryan’s team members have been with them for more than three years, which Bryan noted is uncommon in a coffee shop setting because of the industry’s high turnover. This employee dedication to Dark Horse — both the art of coffee and the community spirit — is arguably a major aspect of its success.

Co-founders Daniel (far left) and Bryan (far right) visiting the farmers they buy
their coffee beans from in Uraga, Guji region of Ethiopia (Photo by Mike Charlson)

Case in point — when Dark Horse’s first employee Drew Taylor decided to move away but wanted to continue with the San Diego-based business, they collaborated and opened a Truckee location. Drew and his wife Cassidy, who both run the store, introduced the idea of adding an espresso bar, which is now also a major staple of the Uptown shops.

The newest Dark Horse spot, located at 4350 Palm Ave. in La Mesa (Photo courtesy of Bryan Charlson)

Back home, due to the high costs and increasing density of Uptown neighborhoods, many Dark Horse local employees moved out to the eastern regions of the county, such as La Mesa. This eastern migration of their team helped them decide where to expand to next.

La Mesa’s location will be different from the others, but they “aren’t sure how yet.” However, this uncertainty common in all the shops, as they are always morphing based on the people behind the bar at each location.

“All of our shops are pretty different character-wise,” Bryan said.

“It just depends on who is working there,” Daniel added. “They change — we’ve always changed to who is with us. We’ve always adapted to our customers and to our co-workers. Dark Horse is not me, and it’s not Bryan. It’s an evolving thing.”

One confirmed new element in the La Mesa location will be a food program. The kitchen will be led by former employee Jacob, who recently rejoined the team. The new La Mesa location is smaller than the others and will be utilizing a shared kitchen with Mutual Friend, an ice cream shop that the brothers are also launching soon.

Though the menu is still in development, it will start with items such as toast using bread from Wayfair bread in Bird Rock. Eventually, the food program will roll out to the Uptown locations.

La Mesa’s drink menu will remain the same. Patrons can still enjoy items from the espresso bar, such as well-known honey and cinnamon latte The Champ, as well as Dark Horse’s original three drinks: pour overs, French Press coffees, and Cold Brew. The latter has been Dark Horse’s most popular item since day one.

“Cold Brew — just a straight, black, Cold Brew iced off coffee — has always been our number one [seller] since we opened. Even in the wintertime,” Daniel said. “I feel like that’s just what we’re known for, accidentally. I mean, we didn’t try to go out trying to be the ‘Cold Brew Guys.’ … We just had it because we liked it and it took off.”

“That’s kind of the ethos of Dark Horse — we do stuff because we like it, and if other people like it too then that’s really cool to see,” Bryan added. This ethos expands to the drinks they serve, merchandise they sell, and decisions to expand throughout San Diego.

— Reach Sara Butler at

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