Since Coffee Importers opened in 1975, the family business has continually expanded and evolved to meet ever-growing demand.
Owner Jim Miller moved to Dana Point in 1982, later taking over the store for his parents. Over the years, Miller has expanded on the family legacy, now looking forward to a future in which his daughter will continue that legacy.
“It just kind of evolved. It wasn’t like we sat down in 1979 and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ ” Miller says. “We were just going to have a little coffee shop.”
“My mom was kind of upset, because she just wanted a little cutesy gift shop and sell coffee and tea and be this quaint little place, because it just got so busy,” Miller continues. “At one point, my mom was complaining, ‘I can’t even talk to my customers; it’s too busy in here.’ ”
Miller explains that that’s why they moved the espresso bar next door.
In 1982, Coffee Importers opened an ice cream store, selling Bud’s Ice Cream from San Francisco. More than 40 years later, the shop has gone through a few different ice cream suppliers. Lately, Coffee Importers serves Lappert’s Ice Cream, which Miller noticed sells incredibly well.
In 1994, Coffee Importers expanded to open a deli and juice bar.
“It’s been an evolution of things, and I think what came out of it was that people love to talk and they love to gather; they love to have a place to go meet, and I feel like we offer them that,” Miller says.
Any day of the week, Miller says the patio space is filled with regulars.
Though Coffee Importers offers a wide variety of food and beverage options, Miller’s first passion is coffee.
“I really spend a lot of time on coffee,” Miller says. “For many years, I went to coffee classes; I did all those barista things. We were doing latte art before people knew there was latte art.”
What makes Coffee Importers coffee so good is the attention to detail, Miller says.
Starting with good ingredients, Miller ensures that the coffee is always fresh. Coffee Importers goes through 300 pounds of coffee a week, he says.
“It’s always fresh, quality,” Miller says. “And then how we brew it, I won’t tell you the secret, but we brew our coffee differently than most other places do.”
Consistency has been key in Coffee Importers’ success, Miller says, adding that it’s essential to serve the same quality in all the cafe offers from week to week.
“To have good coffee, to have good ice cream, have good food and a good juice bar and have everything work and everybody like it, that’s a real trick,” Miller says. “Because usually what happens is most businesses, they have a passion for one thing.”
“Like I’m passionate about my deli, I’m passionate about my ice cream store; I have all these passions that I’m working on that I think are important,” Miller adds. “And then we try to do the best we can with the quality and the atmosphere and the service.”
Ultimately, what makes Coffee Importers so successful is the hard-working staff and loyal customers, Miller says.
In the early ’90s, Miller offered to donate coffee for school events while attending his son’s high school’s open house. From there, Miller began delivering coffee to local schools, churches, nonprofits, social clubs and more.
“That was the best thing I ever did for my business, and I still do it to this day,” Miller says. “When they need coffee, I’m the go-to guy for the coffee, and that comes from the early years of doing that.”
“But that’s the best thing I do for the community,” Miller continues. “So, when you go out and you give back to the community, the community gives back to you.”
In turn, Dana Point Times readers have consistently voted Coffee Importers as the recipient of the many Golden and Silver Lantern awards spanning nine different categories of the Best of Dana Point People’s Choice Lantern awards.
Coffee Importers has earned the most medals to date, receiving 80 since the “Best of Dana Point” first launched.
Over the years, Coffee Importers has been a finalist—either Gold or Silver Lantern recipient—13 times for Best Bagels; 10 times for Best Breakfast; 15 times for Best Menu for Healthy Choices; 15 times for Best Cup of Coffee; once for Best Cup of Tea; nine times for Best Sandwich; 15 times for Best Spot to Cure a Sweet Tooth; once for Best Harbor Eatery; and once for Best Lunch Spot.
Reflecting on his years of providing coffee and actively participating in the community, Miller believes that’s helped build the business.
“That’s another way that you talk about interweaving yourself into the community; you become part of the community,” Miller says. “I also was very active, not just on the Town Center committee, but I was also on the Harbor Revitalization Committee back in 1998, 1999 and with that, I’ve been a champion of the Harbor revitalization for almost 23 years now.”
“Now, because of that, I’m kind of a fixture in the community,” Miller adds. “That’s why everybody knows Coffee Importers.”
Looking ahead, Miller aims to continue the family legacy and bring in his daughter, Meredith, to take over the business. Miller looks to continue expanding, adding a full bakery when Meredith, an executive pastry chef at a St. Regis Hotel, takes over.