Finally: National City is home to a coffee shop that isn’t a Starbucks
Vintage Esquina and Coffee also is embracing community’s car culture
The vintage car parts for sale in a display cabinet near the entrance are the first indication Esquina Vintage and Coffee is not your average coffee shop.
Located on the esquina, or corner, of National City Boulevard and Seventh Street, the new coffee spot is unique for a number of reasons.
For starters, it’s the lone mom-and-pop coffee shop in a city where the only other option for coffee is Starbucks. Its menu features traditional Mexican offerings, including cafe de la olla (coffee) and pan dulce (bread), as well as new-fashioned drinks such as ginger cucumber lemonade.
On the side, the shop offers a small selection of vintage car parts — fog lights, turn signals, bumper guards and more. The car parts help decorate the space, along with other car memorabilia.
It’s a theme that reflects a shared passion between co-owners Fabian Gil, Rene Acevedo and Alberto Castañeda. The trio are proud members of the San Diego chapter of the international Viejitos Car Club.
It’s also reflective of a city where the automotive industry is part of its rich history and heritage. (Think the dealerships that line the signature Mile of Cars, or the small auto shops scattered across the west side.)
“This is where a big part of the (local) car culture started,” Acevedo said.
He and Gil pointed to the days when lowriders cruised down Highland Avenue before the city outlawed the popular pastime in 1992.
For his part, Acevedo has sold antique car parts at car shows and swap meets since he was a kid. In the past, he contemplated opening an auto parts store but felt there was not enough demand for it.
When the opportunity to open a coffee shop presented itself — in this case Gil stumbled upon the vacant space — the trio didn’t think twice about the idea of a theme centered around vintage cars, especially considering an apparent shift in the perception of cars such as lowriders, they said.
“It made sense to us,” Acevedo said, noting that just last month a car club hosted a lowrider car show in Kimball Park. With special permission from the City Council, a parade of lowriders cruised down Highland Avenue.
Gil, Acevedo and Castañeda are excited about the coffee shop’s potential to positively impact the community. They said they believe the business will help revitalize the area and become a hub for the community, a place to call their own.
The space includes rooms that Gil, Acevedo and Castañeda envision as retail space for small businesses, including a barber supply company and a keys and locksmith business.
The trio also plans to use the walls to showcase local artists and photographers.
Gil has seen first hand how a community-driven coffee venture can transform a neighborhood with a similar setup. He and his wife are part owners of Project Reo Collective, a coffee shop that opened in June 2017 in the Paradise Hills neighborhood of San Diego. The shop serves as a space to exhibit local art and a spot for the community to come together.
The idea was born out of the families’ efforts to revitalize the neighborhood by way of movie nights, cleanups and mural paintings.
Gil said he’s proud that Esquina Vintage and Coffee offers a similar space in National City.
“I truly believe we’re starting something big here,” he said.
If the coffee shop’s grand opening on Oct. 13 is any indication, Gil is not wrong. Scores of clients packed the coffee shop. Outside, lowriders lined the street. It felt like a celebration of coffee, culture and community.
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