Salpi Sleiman is living the American Dream in San Diego.
Just a few years back, the Bay Area native moved down south with visions of one day owning a different kind of coffee shop; where natural ingredients would replace manufactured syrups and refined sugars in creative drinks not offered anywhere else in town.
Instead of going big - and potentially out of business - Sleiman introduced San Diegans to her crafty concoctions by way of Roast Coach, a series of coffee carts that started off in North Park near 30th and Upas streets, and then moved to the East Village. People wanted more of Sleiman’s unique drinks, like the Southern Comfort, a cocktail-shaken cold brew with muddled mint, and the Dealer’s Choice, also made iced or as a pour over with homemade vanilla syrup and cinnamon.
The coffee cart had its perks - mobility being a huge one - but ultimately, Sleiman said her life as a roadside barista, dealing with landlords and moving constantly with all her gear in tow, had run its course.
Along with a silent partner, Sleiman put together a business proposal the duo then pitched to Enlightened Hospitality’s Shane Brennan (Comun Kitchen). The partners struck a deal right then and there, and Holsem Coffee began taking shape at 29th Street and University Avenue.
“We chose to have our flagship here because it’s where I started my cart and made all my friends in San Diego,” said Sleiman about North Park, where Holsem has been open for less than a month. “People are so friendly and generous, and really support the businesses here.”
Sleiman said she hopes that adults will feel like kids again in her “coffee parlour,” which is to say, you might get nostalgic for the soda fountains of your youth. But a jolt from one of seven house roasted coffees, plus three cold brews, and a menu consisting of 17 cocktail-style drinks with house-made fruit purees, syrups and nut milks is North Park, San Diego through and through.
As if sipping a rose and cardamom latte, or perhaps a toasted coconut-infused cold brew isn’t special enough, guests will feel as though they’re sitting in the pages of design porno magazine Dwell thanks to Holsem’s modern lounge, which is filled with a collection of authentic Charles Eames chairs.
Other menu standouts include the dreamy strawberry malt latte, made with Sleiman’s strawberry puree and vanilla whipped cream; and l’orange, which seamlessly blends espresso and orange with its chocolaty undertones.
Besides coffee drinks, Holsem offers teas, sodas made from scratch, a brief food menu that includes sweet or savory rice porridge, plus pastries from the confection queens at Bake Sale. Soon, late night hours will reveal sweet menu items like affogato, the traditional Italian espresso float, but made with a Holsem twist, using flavors from the venerable Gelato Vero as a base.
Yes, it’s all as hip as it sounds, but Sleiman maintains that everyone is welcome at Holsem, attitude free. “We really wanted to create a cocktail program that’s uplifting and inclusive of the average customer,” she said.
Even if a banana bread coffee creation isn’t your idea of a good time, there’s no denying how cool it is that Sleiman and her partners are revolutionizing the latte in San Diego. To prove it, clientele are searching out Sleiman every day at Holsem to say welcome back, and congratulations.
“If you take the time and engage every person, people will want to come back,” Sleiman reminisced about lessons she learned at the Roast Coach. “That’s how a successful business is built. It’s about building relationships.”
Amy T. Granite is a dauntless eater who has written about food in San Diego since 2006. You can follow Granite and her tasty adventures on Twitter and Instagram @saysgranite. Send your mouth-watering ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.