New Leucadia cafe specializes in live culture food, drinks

Live Culture Cafe partners Patrick Otterson, left, and Michael ZonFrilli with employees Izzy Brown and Olive Wheadon in their new Leucadia restaurant.
(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

At newly opened Live Culture Cafe in Leucadia, there’s live music on weekend nights and Saturday morning yoga classes. But the culture referred to in the restaurant’s name isn’t about the arts or spiritual practices. It’s the living bacteria kind.

Live Culture Cafe, which opened in March in the former Yocadia Creamery shop on North Coast Highway, sells a mix of food, drinks and desserts made with live cultures, including kombucha on tap, live culture frozen yogurt, vegan cultured coconut milk soft-serve and sandwiches made with sourdough bread.

Founding partner and chef Michael ZonFrilli, 49, said the shop’s menu offers a wide range of decadent dessert bowls, floats, shakes and parfaits, but they’re delivered with a difference.

“The idea is functional indulgence,” said ZonFrilli, a La Costa resident. “We want families to come and enjoy getting ice cream together and not feel guilty about it. They’re not eating wasted calories. They’re getting live cultures and organic ingredients and a lot less sugar.”

ZonFrilli is the co-founder of Bambucha Kombucha, a 2-year-old kombucha brand brewed in Vista and distributed throughout Southern California. It’s sold by the bottle in Gelson’s, Jimbo’s, Cardiff Seaside Market and other supermarkets, and on tap in more than 50 bars and restaurants. He started the company two years ago with fellow chef Steven Strupp, also of La Costa.

ZonFrilli said it wasn’t ever in his plans to open a restaurant, but when he’d drive past the struggling yogurt shop on his way to surf at Beacon’s Beach each week, he thought the 600-square-foot, 25-seat indoor/outdoor shop would be a great way to showcase the Bambucha brand in more ways than just as a carbonated soft drink.

His partners in the restaurant venture are Carlsbad resident Patrick Otterson, a former Bambucha brand ambassador who now manages the cafe, and Brent Geren, who owns the property.

The shop serves four varieties of soft-serve, including chocolate and vanilla live culture frozen yogurts, an ice cream made with vegan cultured coconut milk and an acai superfood sorbet. Those are served by the cone or cup for $4 to $6 or in sundae-like bowls with fruit, nuts, cookies, toppings and sauces for $6 to $8. There are also coffee drinks, vegan and gluten-free baked desserts from Island Girl and sourdough baton loaves from Bread and Cie. Toasted sandwiches, including salami and mozzarella, ham and Swiss, turkey and cheddar and brie with fig jam and apples, range from $5 to $8.

A toasted Mozzarella, roasted tomato and pesto sandwich on sourdough bread at the Live Culture Cafe in Leucadia.
(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The menu’s stars are the 16-ounce kombucha fro-yo floats, the tropical coconut shake with mango kombucha and pineapple, and the nitro cold brew coffee float. All five varieties of Bambucha Kombucha are on tap, sold for $4 for a 12-ounce glass to $9 for a refillable 32-ounce growler. There’s also a $7 kombucha flight, with four 5-ounce tasting portions. The flavors are Blueberry Tart, Mango Masala, Hibiscus Rose, Thai Ginger and Orange Blossom.

ZonFrilli was inspired to create the five globally inspired Bambucha flavors from his more than 20 years as a chef. Raised in New Jersey, he moved to San Diego 20 years ago to serve as opening chef at the now-defunct Bellefleur Winery in Carlsbad. He later worked at L’Auberge Del Mar and ran a French market cafe in San Marcos. He spent a year as corporate chef for the Blue Ocean restaurant group, eight years as a culinary instructor at the now-closed Art Institute of California in San Diego and a year working with Joshua Korn’s Culimetric restaurant consulting group.

But his desire to build his own brand led him to launch Bambucha in 2017. He first tasted kombucha — a tart fermented tea rich in beneficial acids and probiotics — while living on an organic farm in Oregon in his early 20s. But he fell in love with the product when he tasted the bottled JT’s kombucha drinks a couple of years ago. Bambucha products are made with whole organic fruits, fresh-shaved ginger and turmeric roots, herbs and spices. The company will add three hard kombucha flavors to its product line in the fall.

Since opening three months ago, Otterson said customer feedback has been excellent but frozen dessert sales have been slow amid the cool and gloomy weather this spring. They’re hoping a change in the weather this summer will bring in new customers who will be won over with the unique and healthy product mix.

“We’re getting excellent reviews. People come back when they’ve tried what we’re serving because we use quality ingredients and they’re good for you,” ZonFrilli said.

Live Culture Cafe

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.
Where: 1076 N. Coast Highway, Leucadia
Phone: (760) 274-7215