Interview: coffee pro Dennis McQuoid (Beach Bum Cafe)

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Coffee Hawaii

Dennis McQuoid hired Natalie Gustavsson and Michelle Eisen to help him behind Beach Bum's bar.

Dennis McQuoid, the namesake beach bum, opened Beach Bum Cafe on January 23, 2011. The Philadelphia native worked in software sales in San Francisco and moved to Hawaii to surf (and create jobs). McQuoid workshopped with locals and attended the American Barista & Coffee School in Portland to get up to speed. At Beach Bum, he features Hawaiian micro-lots in an effort to support local growers and to educate consumers.

At what point did you know you would work with coffee for a living?

That’s an interesting question. I wanted to run my own business. I had a business before, but I wanted to do something when I came to Hawaii and have my own business, and not be taking a job from somebody else. I want to be creating jobs, which I thought was my duty from having the privilege of living here. One of the criteria was I wanted to do something social in nature. I couldn’t think of anything more social than a coffee shop, I figured, so then I just started the venture of learning about the business and learning about coffee.

Who would you say your coffee mentors were along the way?

I have a list of them, and they’re all really good ones too. I was really fortunate. The first one I had was Andrew Hetzell. He’s a coffee business consultant and he gave me a lot of direction on my business plan. He suggested to me that I had some good ideas, but pointed out that I didn’t know anything about coffee. So he directed me to Shawn Steiman after that and through Shawn I got involved in doing monthly cuppings with other coffee shop owners around here. Pete Licata helped me out a lot. He used to come to the cuppings as well. Between Shawn and Pete and some other people who used to come to it – Leo Gibar from Pavraga Coffee – and Leo was funny because he used to come to the cuppings with really bad coffee that had defects. The thing that was really helpful about that, he used to explain that there were all kinds of different defects. He would explain where the defects came from, whether it was storage or roasting or all sorts of other things. While everybody else was bringing great coffees, he would bring all this awful stuff. And it was really very educational. He helped me out a lot. Just by smelling the coffee, or tasting something, what the problem could be. Especially if you’re getting roasted coffee from somebody and you want to smell it before you buy it and test it out. It was very helpful. Miguel Meza has also been my mentor. For better coffees, I pretty much go through him, put my trust in him for a lot of the stuff I get. The customers are always really happy what I get through them and Rusty’s Hawaiian. They’re all a big support group. And Fred Hokada from Downtown [Coffee]. He’s always very helpful. Matt Milletto, I went to American Barista and Coffee School and I want to mention his as one of my mentors.

Coffee Honolulu
What’s your favorite aspect of operating a coffee bar?

I really enjoy the people who come in. I have great customers. They’re interesting people. They’re all very nice and unique. A lot of them really, really enjoy that I bring specialty items to them that they can’t get anywhere else. They talk about becoming coffee connoisseurs. A lot of them are into food to begin with, so they really enjoy the different aspects of coffee.

What would it take to make Honolulu’s coffee culture great, if it isn’t already?

The culture needs more education, and that’s something I’ve been trying to do. People are learning about different coffees here. People just don’t know about all the different coffees that Hawaii has to offer. They don’t even know about all the different Kona coffees. They know the name Kona, but that’s all they know. They don’t understand that there’s some mediocre Kona. There’s some great Kona, and there’s all different kinds of coffee grown in Kona. It’s the education of the coffees that are available to people, the different flavor profiles they have to offer and different qualities. Many people don’t understand that they can explore things and really learn it. That’s what’s going to make a great coffee culture here.

Describe a typical coffee consumption day for you, from when you wake up.

Most of my coffee consumption starts when I get in here, which is normally about 30 minutes after I wake up. I hop in the shower and come right here. I set up the espresso, make sure it’s ready for the day, and I start out with one, two, maybe three shots of espresso. Then after the machine’s set up I usually have cappuccino or a latte. I’ll have a few cups of coffee during the day and I’ll be tasting things while we’re making them. My coffee consumption, I think if I were to keep track, is pretty staggering. I drink a lot of coffee during the day.

Do you ever brew coffee at home?

I do. I use a sock. I have a cloth filter and I hold it over the cup and just pour. Put the coffee in the filter and pour it in the cup directly. That’s my method. My wife does it too.

Do you ever listen to music here?

Usually we have either classical or some mild jazz or sometimes Hawaiian music. That’s what we stick with, very easy, something that’s just really, really background music and not in your face. I like to be able to have conversations without having to talk over the music. I like it to fill in empty spaces when they’re here.

If you could pull a guest shift at any other coffee bar, where would it be?

I would probably like to go to Los Angeles and do either Intelligentsia or maybe Handsome Roasters would be good too. One of those two. Maybe Intelligentsia because it’s a funky place.

The one in Silver Lake?

The one in Venice…it’s very industrial in there and it would just be fun to work there for a little bit just to get a feel for it.

If you could drink one more shot of espresso, who would you let pull it?

I’d probably ask Pete Licata. He helped me out a lot when I was getting started. He’s really good. You can’t go wrong with him.

Address: 1088 Bishop Street, Honolulu, HI 96813

Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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