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Noticing Neighbors HITIDES Coffee


Looking for your next destination getaway? HITIDES Coffee wants to help kick off your summer. This Hawaiian inspired coffee shop is located at the corner of 18th & Cherry. It was opened just one year ago by Johnny and Michele Dawbarn, two passionate travelers that have a love for the Islands. In the middle of a landlocked city, they have created a space that adds a tropical feel to coffee breaks.




With owners and baristas that collaborate on menu flavors, the items offer a unique spin to familiar favorites. So you can enjoy your vanilla latté, or take a chance and try the Black Lava Sea Salt Latté. With a space that champions creativity, it gives coffee fans a chance to try something new. I sat down with Johnny Dawbarn, the owner, to talk about the stories behind the coffee shop.





Hayley:

For anyone that has not come out to the Crossroads to see you, can you talk a little bit about HITIDES Coffee and what you're about?


Johnny: Yes, absolutely. HITIDES opened February 12th of last year, so we're just past our year anniversary. It's pretty wild. We took a chance in opening at a point where people weren't 100% comfortable getting back out, but there were vaccinations happening. We took the chance to say, hey, maybe we can be a little bit of a getaway for people to feel like they’ve traveled since the theme is so on par with that. So we went for it and have been very humbled by how well it's worked. Hayley: So HITIDES is the coffee shop upfront, and that’s what people see when they first come in. But it also shares space with your Collective EX creative team in the space behind it, right? Johnny: Yes, so the Collective EX has been in the building where HITIDES resides. The Collective actually just hit our four year mark, which is kind of crazy, I can't believe it's gone by that fast.

The creative studio space was here prior to HITIDES, and then coffee was obviously a good fit for the atmosphere. We think the point of a coffee shop is to have great creative conversations that are based around a really good cup of coffee. Or in our case, a really good donut or bagel, whatever you prefer.

A lot of those creative conversations can start here. Plus, it's a great stumble-in when people see: hey, it's a coffee shop. I'm going to go check it out. Oh, my gosh. What else is going on here? Oh, it’s also a creative studio. Wow, look at all this! It’s fun to see people put it together for the first time. We've got a florist, we've got print making


Hayley:

Yeah!


Johnny:

Go, Hayley! Also woodworking, custom signage, lasering, and the cut and sew aspect with the sewing machines. It's a great bridge for people who come in and are curious about what else is going on in the space. It just creates an extra layer or dimension to what's happening within the coffee shop, which I believe can be very positive and contagious—especially for other creatives.


Hayley:

Yes, it's interesting you say that. The first time I came in, I didn't know about this back studio space yet, but I just remember thinking: Whoa, there's an actual wooden Tiki bar for placing orders! Plus, all the furniture is so interesting. At first, I did not realize you all had made a lot of these pieces yourselves.

Johnny:

The coffee shop is a great example of how we all work together as a collective, because the build out was done by the members. So when you look at the woodworking, design patterns, and fabric used on upholsteries or awnings around the coffee shop—all the detailing was all done by the Collective EX members. As a designer and illustrator, I teed up a lot of the looks, but then went to the different areas of expertise within the studio to say: Okay, we need metal work here, and we need this sewing stuff here. We're going to silk screen this pattern onto this fabric, and then we're going to custom sew this into pillows or into upholstery for these pre-existing chairs that we bought that were just very boring. We customized every piece to bring it on brand with the HITIDES overall design aesthetic.

Hayley: How would you describe the HITIDES aesthetic? Johnny: We call it inspired by the Hawaiian culture, and by the Islands itself. So a lot of the themes are based on that. We use the word ‘inspired’ purposely because we're continuing to still learn about the culture. Hayley: What drew you to it?


Johnny:

As a visual artist, I've always been fascinated by the artistry and the symbolisms that go into what's native to the Islands. It’s been purposely done in a way that is trying to be as respectful to that as possible without recreating because obviously, I don't have that history, but I admire it greatly and have studied it and just absolutely love it. When we visit Hawaii, we always make a point to go visit different artists who might be the third generation in doing this kind of artwork. Or we'll visit places like the Polynesian Cultural Center and learn from it. The colors, florals, and flavors are all inspired by the things that we've experienced. We've been about a half a dozen times to Maui and the big Island, Hawaii and O‘ahu, and every time I go, it's magical. I'm so inspired flying over a live volcano that's active and seeing it pour into the ocean—you’re watching land being formed in front of your eyes. Where else does that happen? It's a humbling experience. Then you learn some of the stories that go along with it, and start wondering: why was the artwork carved in this way? Or what is the significance of this pattern? You start to see those things connect, and I find that really inspiring. That's what we are trying to create, while we’re obviously the furthest we could be from the oceans.


Hayley:

Very landlocked.


Johnny:

Yeah. Very dead center. But it's cool because we're really playing into the escapism aspect of what people want, especially post-pandemic. There's that aspect of giving people an escape. But it also can just be in your daily life. If you can take five minutes to stop by, or an hour to come here to work, it removes you from the normalcy of an everyday grind. That's how we want to position ourselves.


Hayley:

I've heard you mention this idea of redefining the coffee break. Can you explain that?


Johnny:

Yes! Changing coffee ‘breaks,’ which was a nice play on the changing breaks of waves. The HITIDES name is playing into the whole high and low tides of the ocean, and knowing when is the best time to be in the water and the pulling of waves. Then I love the idea of changing what coffee breaks can be. When someone pictures it, there's an expectation of what a coffee break is or should be. And hopefully we're doing it in a slightly different way by surprising you with different combinations of recipes that we have and the partners we partner with. Just like on the creative side with the Collective, where we really lean into different people's expertise of sewing, floral design, metal work, and woodworking—the same thing is happening on the HITIDES side. We are leaning into the experts who do bagels. Meshuggah Bagels is an amazing company, and quite frankly, I don't think anybody has a better bagel than them. Hayley: Agreed. Johnny: I love them. So I reached out to them to partner and told them the idea of taking their bagel as a base, that's so delicious, and presenting it with a spin that's unexpected using our own recipes. Another example of partnership is Donutology, another great company. We don't need to own donuts as a craft, so we went to someone who really knows how to make amazing donuts. Then we can serve them warm with different tropical inspired toppings. Just those little details that can surprise you, because not every donut shop serves you warm donuts. Hayley: It’s in those details.

Johnny: It's just a nice little touch. When people come in, we aim for the resort mentality of when you go, you get that little extra attention, and it just feels so good. You're pampered a little bit. Obviously we're trying to do that with the means of what a structural coffee shop allows, but that's why there's a lot of attention to the details. I love details.


Hayley:

With the ingredients the menu uses, it’s not surprising to hear you say that. You've leaned into some neat partnerships with flavors and where you're sourcing some of your ingredients. Could you talk about that?


Johnny:

Sure. In addition to the partnerships with local businesses, we started partnering with over a half dozen Hawaiian based companies that are providing a huge range of products for us that, quite frankly, are amazing in flavor and what it adds to our recipes. It’s top quality, and it's also supporting the culture we love. Hayley: What are some examples? Johnny: So our honey is sourced from Hawaii, through the Big Island’s Hawaiian Rainbow Bee honey. They're an amazing company, and we have worked out a deal where we're getting huge quantities, which has helped them, especially since the tourism business has been down because of less travel in the last couple of years. They’ve told us that purchases like what we're doing are actually helpful to them.

Our granola is from a great lady, and she's considered the grandma of granola in Hilo, Hawaii. She provides granola to most of the resorts on the island, because locals know it's amazing. We tried it, and of course agreed it's phenomenal, and so partnered up with her.

She also expressed gratitude for being able to keep working because the volume of our orders was often enough to keep her in the kitchen while her other orders were down. Also, our Shaka Tea, is— Hayley: Phenomenal. Johnny: It's phenomenal, right? So our hot teas and iced teas are made from a mamaki tea. It's grown on the Islands. Hayley: Wow. Johnny:

They have farms there. In fact, we were invited to go visit the farms when travel is back up to normal, so we've been trying to reschedule the trip and go visit with all these different people and see how their facilities run.

Hayley: What a neat invitation. Johnny: Shaka Tea has been amazing. They're a husband and wife company that has been hustling and just killing it—and we love the product. They've been so accommodating.

Hawaiian Sun has also been amazing. They're kind of a classic Hawaiian staple, if you've ever been to the island.


Hayley:

Those are the cans in the cooler up front, right?

Johnny:

Yeah, the cans. We also get other ingredients from them, too. They do syrups and they do powders, among other things. They've been around a very long time. In fact, the very first time I ever went to Hawaii, it was served on the plane going there, and it was like, Holy, jaw dropping, amazing flavors—and so we incorporate those into the recipes. Those are just a few of the companies, but it's cool because it brings a little bit of that authenticity to the shop. It's a way we can support the culture. And like I said, in some cases, it's just better than what we could find anywhere else. So it's just like a win across the board, which is amazing.


Hayley:

One thing I didn't know until I started coming here awhile, is that you all have a secret menu. Johnny: Oh yes! Hayley: People need to know about this.


Johnny:

Well if you want to know about it, it's one of those things where we occasionally tease it on Insta. You definitely have to follow us at @HITIDEScoffee. It's a cool system because we put it in place to have some fun. I always love places that have a secret menu. There are a couple of places out west that we visit, and when you find out about it you feel like you're part of something exclusive, which I love! So we try to capture that same feeling, but it's also a great way for us to test new recipes that we're playing around with.


Hayley: How does that help you with testing out flavors?


Johnny:

Well once we put it on the secret menu, if it tracks and does really well, then that's usually a good sign for us to perfect it. Then it moves up to the main menu, and we replace its spot with other secret menu items.


Hayley:

Got it.


Johnny:

It's always fluctuating. Sometimes there'll be something on there that we’ll only have for a few weeks. But we're like, yeah, it's good, but it's not quite there. It's missing something. So let's stop doing that until we figure it out. We'll write the recipe down and revisit it at another time. Or later we'll get a new ingredient and be like, oh, I wonder if that will fit that drink we were playing around with a couple of months ago. Then you try it again, and sometimes that's what makes it stick. Hayley: That makes sense. Johnny: With the secret menu, you just have to ask. You have to know about it, which is fun. I think it's a good vibe. The people that do know will come in and be like, “What's new?” Hayley: So those are the magic words.


Johnny:

You can always just ask. It's secret, but not so secret.


Hayley:

The menu items seem very collaborative, with ideas from everyone on the team. Is that true?


Johnny:

Definitely. It's fun to come up with those new ideas. We all as a team will bring things forward and say, what about this? Or I was playing with this flavor, or what if we went this direction? It usually yields something pretty unexpected.


Hayley:

It's interesting how when you bring people together, you get something better than if you were to workshop it by yourself.


Johnny:

100%. That collaboration is the sweet spot that Collective EX has always been based on. That “X” marks the spot mentality of like, we're better when we're working together than working as individuals by ourselves.

We’ve carried that over into the HITIDES space, which is wonderful to see. I'm still always surprised by the unexpected things that come about in collaboration. What it yields is amazing.


Hayley:

I have a last question.


Johnny:

Sure.


Hayley:

Since opening HITIDES and having people come in and see regulars, how have you seen goodness through that? How have you been positively impacted by the people that come in?


Johnny:

Yeah, it's definitely there. The whole space is a vibe in itself. I would say 99% of the people that come in, ‘get’ it. There's always going to be that 1% that are just in and out, it might not be their thing and that's okay. But the ones that do connect really make it. The ones where we're lucky enough to hear stories of how it becomes meaningful to them. Just recently, there was an older couple that spent their honeymoon in Hawaii and discovered our shop. They hadn't been there since their honeymoon, so now they come here because it reminds them of that amazing memory. Or we'll have people who bring in their baby and it will be their first ice cream. Hayley: Oh! Johnny: And you're like, oh, my gosh, that's monumental. I mean, it's small. But to us, you're part of someone else's story. That's a pretty powerful thing.

Then there’s just everybody in between. You will get a lot of creatives that come in and see what's going on, and they want to be a part of it. It's such a positive thing for someone to say that they see the energy here, and ask: How can I be a part of this? Like, how can I contribute? Then they end up coming in and turning it around by inspiring you because they show you this wonderful craft that they do.

Hayley: Like you said, it’s contagious.

Johnny: Coffee is such an interesting thing because it really is a means to this bigger idea of connecting. Coffee is what brought you together, but the connection is what’s happening amongst people.


Hayley:

Right.


Johnny:

We work with Marcel Coffee and have to give them props, because we're working with an amazing roaster. He's been doing it for 30 plus years, and he's a master at it. So once again, leaning into somebody that knows what they're doing, because people come in for that. While they're around the coffee, people connect with each other. Whether it's a business meeting, or meeting up with a friend to sit next to each other while you’re both working satellite. People are having these connections, and they feel like they're a part of something. I take that as a positive vibe, and I think it is a big deal. Hayley: Absolutely. Johnny: It's a pleasure to meet amazing people, and we get people from all over the country coming in. We had an older couple come in yesterday, and they were on their way to Tennessee from Colorado. They booked one night in Kansas City and were wandering around when they stumbled on our shop. The guy had spent some time in Hawaii while he was in the military when he was younger—


Hayley:

Oh, wow.


Johnny:

And during that time, she had gone and visited him. So when they walked into our place, those memories started flowing back. To be able to provide that experience for people, I mean, how does it get any better than that?



Meet your HITIDES baristas:




“What I love about working at Hitides is the diversity of the staff, as well as the clientele. I love seeing all the creatives in the area, and making personal connections along the way.” -Raine Bryant










“My favorite thing about working at Hi tides is all the people I have gotten to meet through working here. And being able to put a smile on someone's face. It may seem like it is just coffee or just ice cream. But I like to think it is a break in peoples day to relax and enjoy something delicious. It is important to take a pause sometimes. And Hi tides creates a great environment to do that.

If I can make even just one person’s day while I'm at work I feel successful.” -Kate Belshe






Keep up with the latest from HiTIDES Coffee through their website, Facebook and Instagram.


All media originally published by HiTIDES Coffee, Collective EX, Google Maps User DC, Sam Olson, and Nick Bardo via their online platforms.

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