In our quest to profile Central Coast Local destinations, we begin at a coffee shop with its paw prints scattered through the sleepy town of 10,000.  Top Dog Café gives us a story of economic revival during this downturn, and reminds us that good service, friendly locals, and quality product will prevail no matter the economic environment.

Photo by Cathie L. on Yelp.com

Photo by Cathie L. on Yelp.com

Top Dog is a café is ruggedly styled as a coffee farm, but with the high ceilings, large front windows, and comfortable chatter of a neighborhood shop.  The café has two locations – at 857 Main Street in the center of Downtown Morro Bay, and at 14 North Ocean Street in Cayucos.

Patrick Bietz and partner Suzanne Maury purchased the coffee bar formerly known as “Two Dogs” five years ago and right before the economic crash.  Two Dogs had locations in Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. Two Dogs was bordering on financial insolvent when Bietz stepped in.

Bietz let the San Luis Obispo location close and focused his effort in Morro Bay.  He moved the business across the street to a spacious location with two large rooms for seating, a kitchen, empty space in back, and windows making up the entirety of the front wall.  For Bietz, most important step was to set the right environment.

“For the first two years, the vision for the business was to get it financially viable and healthy,” said Bietz.

When pressed on what he meant by “healthy”, Bietz continued, “The culture of a business finds a demographic. So I looked at the culture.”

Photo by Daniel C. on Yelp.com

Photo by Daniel C. on Yelp.com

Bietz designed the interior of Top Dog with a rough, unfinished quality.  He lined the walls with sheet metal from his neighbor’s barn, and lined it with raw 2×6 wood beams, a fact which he is proud of.

“The lumber is a special order, a real 2×6. You can’t get it anymore.”

The effect of the interior sets the tone for the shop perfectly.

“I wanted everything to be big, heavy, beefy, rough and unfinished. I don’t want to be a corporate knockoff, so I did it myself.”

Culture isn’t just appearance though, and Bietz knew he needed to provide a high quality product along with the alluring interior.

To go with the traditional coffee bar and pastry selection, Top Dog added a kitchen.  For breakfast, they serve an assortment of egg burritos, bagels, and sandwiches.  In the last few years, Bietz has focused on expanding his lunch menu, which offers fresh sandwiches and soups.  The food is quality, with a touch of gourmet, and won’t take you over 10 bucks.

Another relatively new addition is the garden out back.  Bietz renovated the back to include a patio with tables, and a garden with tables hidden amongst the ferns.

Bietz became most animated when I asked him about the coffee Top Dog serves.

Photo by Milt S. on Yelp.com

Photo by Milt S. on Yelp.com

“I took a roasting class and bought a coffee roaster.  That coffee you are drinking now? That is fresh a roasted earlier this morning. We roast all of our own coffee using the best quality beans.”

We have covered the interior, the quality food, the fresh coffee, but the true glue of Top Dog comes with the baristas and the clientele.  It is a situation where the clients really make Top Dog an attraction.

If the clientele and baristas all seem to know each other, it is because most of them do.

Bietz recognizes this draw.

“We have a great local flavor,” he said.  “It is a community center. You can come in here… people say it is like Cheers where everybody knows your name.”

Prior to owning the coffee shop, Bietz worked in the film business for 25 years doing post-production work, and then he owned a Gold’s Gym chain around the Santa Barbara area.  When he had the opportunity to own a sinking coffee shop in sleepy Morro Bay, he jumped on it.

The business has grown since.  He began with a small shop and two employees, and in just five years, through tough economic times, he has two roomy shops and over 20 employees.  Every year, his business has grown in profitability.

So if you haven’t yet, check out Top Dog in Morro Bay.  Expect a quality product and good people-watching. And expect to have a barista ask for (and remember) your name.