Cafe X - Cynthia and Khea Pollard

Cynthia and Khea Pollard, owners of Cafe X in southeast San Diego

Café X had me at “peach cobbler cinnamon rolls.” But the more I learned about the purpose behind this mother-daughter owned coffee house, the more I liked. Balancing gluttony with a good cause? In my mind, those are net-zero calories. 

In 2016, Khea Pollard completed a community fellowship program that required ideation of a community action project. “At the time, I was really focused on southeast San Diego as that’s where I grew up, that’s where my mom was raised, and we have family that has lived there for years,” Pollard explains. “I knew that at one point in time, there was a really strong Black community there. Economically, there were a lot of businesses that closed for reasons like gentrification and cost of living. I was very adamant about reviving and revitalizing that neighborhood.”

Cafe X - Pastry

One of the pastries on the menu at Cafe X

Pollard began to envision a communal space that would be reflective of Black culture and values that would help to build economic and entrepreneurial opportunities for the community. “I thought about the way coffee can bring people together,” she says. At the time, there was only a single Starbucks in the neighborhood. Pollard began to shop around the idea of a coffee house that ran as a cooperative—a worker-owned enterprise—to be a hub for arts, culture, and education. “I just had this desire to build something—an asset,” she says. “ It’s not a nonprofit. Even though my background, my master's is in nonprofit leadership and management, I wanted to really have a business because it is a tool to build wealth and eliminate the idea that it has to be locked into capitalist corporate structure.”

Pollard built out the infrastructure of Café X with her mother, Cynthia. Their first location was shuttered due to the pandemic but now they’ve reopened on Imperial Avenue at 1835 Creative Studios. In addition to hosting workshops, musical events, game nights, and fundraisers, Café X is at its core a celebration of marginalized vendors in San Diego. Diane Brown of Sweet Treats by Thick is the main pastry supplier for Café X. From decadent peach cobbler cinnamon rolls to ‘Ol Skool’ peanut butter chews and a little something called the “Ooey, Gooey, Cheekie” (reminiscent of a crisp-edged blondie with cream cheese and powdered sugar), the offerings are unique, vivacious, and full of soul. 

During the pandemic, Café X created a custom blend called the X Factor House Blend. Made with Ethiopian and Papua New Guinea coffee beans, it’s the base of every coffee drink ordered. “This blend is so special,” says Pollard. “It’s rich, but not too rich. It’s light enough to be a breakfast coffee with a medium roast level.” They sell the house blend in the shop as well as online. Cafe X also serves Cafe Moto and is currently developing a partnership with Motherland Coffee Roasters, a San Diego-based company sourcing beans from Africa where the founder was born. 

At the moment, Café X is focused on their internship program in collaboration with the San Diego Workforce Partnership. “We have 16 to 24 interns that we’re training with leadership skills and life skills,” says Pollard. “We’re training them to be baristas, roasters, growers, buyers… there are different elements of the coffee industry that we train on. You just don't know what the other people will latch on to. We love just training them, whether they stay with us or not. That's one of the most rewarding things about the organization.” 

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Sabrina Medora is a food writer and hospitality insider. Her pieces have appeared in Food & Wine, Plate Magazine, The Kitchn, Wine Enthusiast, and more. In 2018, she founded Un-Plated, dedicated to sharing the stories of those in the restaurant industry.

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