By TYLER FAUROT
On April 1 of 2022, the ownership of Twiggs Café and Bakery was transferred from Dan Stringfield and Bernie Horan to Adrian Arancibia. Twenty-five years of ownership have seen Horan and Stringfield expand a humble coffee shop into a neighborhood legacy, and they say the business is in good hands with Arancibia at the helm.
“Adrian and I were talking about five years ago,” Horan recalled. “He talked about wanting to open something like Twiggs simply because he liked it.”
Dan Stringfield and Bernie Horan first met at a New Year’s Eve Party in 1996 and came to own Twiggs shortly after in the spring of 1997 on the corner of Park and Madison. Starting out, they were the only two employees working Twiggs, clocking hours from six in the morning to midnight. During their time as owners and operators, they’ve opened multiple locations and a walk-in retail bakery. Their second location is on Adams Ave.
Scott Kessler, executive director of the Adams Avenue Business Association, said that their longtime legacy in the community is owed to Horan and Stringfield’s intimate involvement in the business.
“Twiggs is hands-on, they’re in there all the time,” Kessler explained. “They’re running that business and when you look up and down the avenue, there’s one main factor; the dedication and skill base of the owner to keep it going.”
On Horan’s birthday of June of 1997, having only been open for a few weeks, Stringfield let him take his usual thirty minute break. He set aside a white table cloth with fine china and a birthday dinner from the nearby Parkhouse Eatery.
“He let me enjoy those thirty minutes while he ran the whole shop by himself,” Horan recalled fondly.
The business has since expanded to include a litany of employees, whom Horan regards as his and Stringfield’s “children,” some working decades at a time.
More than just a space to grab an espresso, Twiggs has come to be known as a kind of neighborhood staple. Horan said the term that was in vogue at the time for a place such as theirs was a “third space.”
“In those days people wrote a mission statement for a business,” Horan says. “Our mission was to create a community center, a hub where people felt comfortable to come and hang out. In the early days that’s what we were. Twiggs became that ‘third space.’ It was a place where you weren’t at home or at work, where you could hang out locally.”
University Heights is home to a sizable recovery community. Groups like AA and CODA host meetings in a private room at Twiggs. Students have frequented the coffee shop as a kind of study hall. Arancibia was himself one of those regulars at Twiggs while an undergrad at UC San Diego.
“Dan and I have always been invested in the community,” Horan said. “I sat on the [University Heights] community association board as president, and spent about 10 years active in the community that way. We’ve donated a lot of money and time to the community raising funds for things like the Diversionary Theater and Alcoholics Anonymous. Fundraisers for people in the community for folks that have come on hard times. I think you form a community by being a participant in it.”
Adrian Arancibia is no stranger to community involvement and organizing. As an educator, Arancibia is an English professor at Miramar College, and has taught at every level of public education from Pre-K to university. Most recently, he was elected to the school board for Sweetwater Union High School District in 2020.
As a member of the Taco Shop Poets collective, Arancibia helped found the former Voz Alta Project Gallery in Barrio Logan and served as vice president for the space’s board of directors. Performance and art is something that Arancibia hopes to reinvigorate at Twiggs.
“There’s a consistency of what people want to see and hear, not that I’ll be programming anywhere near as much as when I was at Voz Alta,” Arancibia said. “This year I was happy to arrange seven or eight events. But this opens up a spot where we can do things. There’s the green room [at the Park Avenue location], and we have cameras for videos so we won’t have to rent equipment. Someone could just use it if they have a video projector.”
Kessler said he is excited about the new elements that will be brought to the business under Arancibia’s management.
“I first met Adrian back when he was starting the Taco Shop Poets,” Kessler said. “Having an artist take over the management I’m excited about the cultural components he brings to it. It’s a new element for the neighborhood.”
Since their conversation five years ago, Arancibia had explored the option of a few buildings in the Chula Vista area and Horan was looking to sell Twiggs to a different buyer. Neither of those ventures came to fruition and the two found themselves conversing again in the Park Avenue location of Twiggs in March of 2021.
“Adrian said ‘I just wish Twiggs were for sale’ and I was surprised because I thought he knew that it was for sale at the time,” Horan remembers. “He was so excited [when I told him]. I can still remember he was sitting in his chair and he jumped up and was like ‘I’ve got to tell my wife, I can’t believe this is happening.’ It made me feel good.”
“That part was a shock. I told my girls and they were like, ‘What!’,” Arancibia recalled. “I’d been bringing my girls since they were young and they said even back then, ‘wouldn’t it be so cool to own Twiggs?’ For a child to feel that way about a space, we need more spaces like that. There aren’t spaces where people identify themselves with. That’s a testament to what a community space should be.”
A few days ahead of the transition, Arancibia introduced himself and his family to the regulars that frequent the shop. During their conversations, a number of customers stressed the importance of leaving Twiggs the way it is.
“We sat down next to a couple inside, and they said, ‘we’ve been to all these other coffee places, and there’s no place that makes you really feel at home,’” Arancibia says. “Talking about that ‘third space,’ with gentrification, this is the problem. That sense of ties to a community is no longer as prominent. This is kind of like anti-gentrification, actually investing back and keeping it within the community. It’s a place-keeper.”
Horan said that Arancibia’s vision for Twiggs is to preserve it the way it is, rather than change it.
“He has the same feeling about people that Dan and I have had the whole time we’ve had our business,” Horan says.
“To me, I’m not just buying a business, I’m buying something with its own culture,” Arancibia added. “To keep on that legacy is something that’s really important. A lot of it is continuation of spirit, the idea that my kids and my students can have some place where they can appreciate those things, too.”
Closing the Circle
On the final week as owners of Twiggs, Horan and Stringfield were still in the shop, thanking their regulars for their continued support and helping Arancibia transition into the position. On March 31, their last day as owners, they were making their rounds shaking hands at the Park Avenue location.
Stringfield had once again set up a white tablecloth with fine china and two pork chop dinners from Parkhouse Eatery. Workers at Parkhouse also brought over a dessert for the both of them to enjoy. Twenty-five years after their excursion into the business, Dan and Bernie shared a dinner to commemorate their legacy.
“They closed the circle,” Arancibia said fondly.
Horan said that they have a space in South Carolina and intend to spend time traveling during their retirement, but will be in the shop now and again to check in.