By Margie M. Palmer
Coffee shops are a dime a dozen, which is why when Nathan Tobiason decided to open Refill in Hillcrest, he let his passion for cold brew be his guide.
For those of you who have yet to hop on the cold brew train, you should know it’s nothing like its warm-steeped counterpart. Unlike a hot cup of Joe, cold brew is prepared by using room-temperature water. And because this methodology has a marked impact on the flavor, and caffeine extraction rate from, cold brew coffee can take up to 24 hours to prepare.
The result is a beverage that has a higher caffeine content and an oftentimes bold sweetness that isn’t found in your standard cup of coffee.
The San Diego native turned café owner said he’s always been a fan of what he calls “the diner culture.” Tobiason also has an affinity for comfortable coffeehouses that are a great place to share a bite with friends. And when he learned a storefront in the Jonathan Segal-designed Mr Robinson building on the corner of Park Boulevard and Robinson Avenue was in need of a tenant, he decided to make his move.
“I’m friends with the son of the guy who owns [the building where Refill is] and once I heard the spot was available, and saw the location, I just really wanted to pursue it,” Tobaison said.
The timeframe from Refill’s inception to its opening date took months.
“It took a really long time. I think the initial plan really started in October and we didn’t open until mid-July,” he said, adding that the design, layout and furniture was both collaborative and extensive. “I went to school for product design and sculpture, and I worked with local artist Phil Audia, who is in Little Italy. We met for months and planned out layout, furniture, tables, the metal bar and all of that.”
The months-long process was not in vain; feedback to date has been more than positive.
“We’ve been open just over a month, we love the neighborhood and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. There aren’t really any coffee or café options [southeast of Refill toward Balboa Park], which has also been really helpful,” Tobiason said. “It’s fun to have people come in and try a couple of the cold brews and to be able to expose people to different flavors. We have four on tap. We have a Ugandan French roast, which is very chocolatey, and we also have an Ethiopian cold brew that is much more fruity.”
The fact that they have four cold brew coffees on tap isn’t the only thing that differentiates Refill from some of the other neighborhood cafes. Another unique aspect of the space is that half of it is inside while the other 50 percent is outside. The indoor/outdoor areas are separated by a big sliding glass wall, Tobaison said.
“We keep it closed on warmer days so we can have the air conditioning running and open on more reasonable days, which allows us to utilize San Diego’s weather,” he added.
Refill may be in its infancy but the café owner has high hopes for the future. “It is my hope that this cafe becomes a great meeting place for the residents of Hillcrest,” Tobiason said. “The open design, great coffee and light fare make for a great place to gather.”
—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines in a myriad of news publications for the past 10 years. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.