Shannon Neffendorf found his love for European coffee culture through Blockbuster. No, not through whimsical movies with stars sipping cups of coffee at street cafes in Italy, but rather through his work with the company.
After graduating from Texas Tech, Neffendorf got a job working as an accountant at the former video store. Lucky for him, they sent him to Milan quite often.
“I made some friends there through work, and while I was there we would meet every morning and have an espresso and brioche,” Neffendorf says.
This simple start to the day, the culture of those interactions at small cafes, had a sincere, lasting impression on him.
“The quality of the coffee was different,” Neffendorf says. “But what was most impactful was the culture around it. Everyone was there, and if you went to the one cafe on your block, it’s not like you went across town. It’s a really vibrant, but brief interaction.”
Back in North Dallas, he had a hard time forgetting about the coffee culture, which he couldn't find in our city. So, he started reading books about coffee, learning everything he could and in 2006 began roasting beans at home.
Then, he started Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters.
“It was honestly born of frustration from working in the corporate work and not being able to find good coffee,” Neffendorf says.
For one year, he moonlighted in the coffee business, traversing the city hours before sunrise, then putting on a suit and heading to Blockbuster.
After a year, he was able to quit his job counting beans and focus on beans of a different kind. In 2010 he bought the space that is now Davis Street Espresso, which didn’t open until 2013 (it was a garage and needed a lot of work).
“One of the things I’ve always been interested in is culture, so when I’m traveling, I'm always thinking about what makes that place unique,” Neffendorf says.
He wanted to create that same specific culture at Davis Street Espresso, but that vision had some growing pains.
He opened with just a crew of three people, and was able to closely manage the nuances of the space, achieving the ambiance and culture he was striving for. Then, his staff grew to 10, and he saw that essence was getting lost. Not everyone understood what they were doing and why.
“So, we went through this entrepreneurial process and looking at who we were and what we’re doing. We came up with a vision statement: Creating a culture of hospitality where none existed through delicious coffee and things that pair with it,” Neffendorf says.
He looks at coffee and what he serves to his community on a pendulum between pretentious and empathetic.
“You are either, as a tendency, so concerned about the quality of the food that you don’t listen to anybody, or you want to make everyone happy,” Neffendorf says.
The goal, he says, is to pursue the tension between those ideas.
But coffee was just the starting point. Neffendorf is continually expanding. Three years ago he introduced Five Mile Chocolate, named after a creek near his house. He says this house-made confection was the next logical step — he loves coffee and chocolate equally.
Also, he often visits coffee farmers, and cocoa grows in some of the same areas that coffee does just at different altitudes.
And like much of what Neffendorf dabbles in, he wanted to find a way to deliver chocolate in the purest form possible. He tested batches searching one specific "sugar point" that he could apply to all of his chocolate so when customers taste different chocolates, all subjectivity is removed and the only thing they’re “tasting” is different cocoas.
“We want to lay it bare and say this is the farmers’ work, and you’re able to taste the farmers' work with how we present it,” Neffendorf says. “I don’t want to say it’s ‘pure,’ but it is a balanced, less subjective way. So when you buy our chocolates you’re buying from this farm in Tanzania and this farm in Guatemala and you can taste them side by side. So our core line is 75% single-origin. It’s made only with cacao and organic sugar.”
What comes after coffee and chocolate? Bread, naturally. Nefferdorf has installed a full bakery under the name Candor.
“Candor just means honesty, frankness ... and that’s probably named after our baker a little bit, she’s blunt and honest,” Neffendorf says.
The need for bread came from the same place as coffee; he couldn’t find the type of sourdough here as he did when he would travel. They started baking bread for in-house purposes five years ago and officially made it a business two-and-a-half years ago.
“Something we struggled with was being a bakery and logistics. It’s hard to deliver wholesale every day. We bake three main loaves and mostly just sell it here,” he says.
They use Barton Springs Mills for the wheat loaves and Panhandle Milling flour for the rustic white bread.
In mid-March when the pandemic struck, the bread program took off. His culture-driven coffee shop turned into a much-needed community pantry, something he’d been wanting to transition toward anyway, but then he was forced to almost overnight.
He says they had their best month ever in the spring. At the height of the shelter-in-place orders, they were selling 300 to 400 loaves a week.
Now they’ve settled in around 200 a week.
“In the long run, we want to mill our flour,” Neffendorf says sedately, as if he's going to the store to pick up a gallon of milk. “We bought a warehouse about a month ago.
“A creamery is next,” Neffendorf says.
Goats, not cows.
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Again, like it's not a big deal to start a creamery.
It was suggested that he might need to move to a big farm; but Neffendorf softly shook his head and laughed. He has a few acres around Oak Cliff, including a five-acre farm off East Kiest Boulevard where he's starting to grow fruit. (Oh yeah, for the fruit program.)
But, the culture and community in Oak Cliff are too important to Neffendorf to ever leave. It's part of what inspired him to start Davis Street Espresso in the first place.
Davis Street Espresso, 819 W. Davis Street (North Oak Cliff). Open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.