Thunderking: Taking Cold Brew By Storm
Nothing brings more joy to the I Heart Costa Mesa team than connecting with fellow Costa Mesa Superfans. So imagine our jubilation when we unearthed Costa Mesa brother-in-hearts, Rexford “Dean” Tompkins of Thunderking Brewing Company.
Tompkins is a “local boy” who – since April 2015 – has been quietly (and then not-so-quietly) killing it in the cold-brewed coffee space. If you trip and fall anywhere in Costa Mesa, it will likely be straight into a keg of Thunderking cold brew. They’ve gone from concept to DIY bottling at The Hood Kitchen to seeming total tap domination – in just over two years.
Tompkins’ already got his coffee stocked at Barley Forge, Baycrest Spirits, Eastside Minimart, Hi-Time Wine Cellar, Sports Nutrition Superstore, Taco Brat and Windsor Homebrew – with more local locations coming soon. And just to keep it interesting (we’ve discovered Tompkins is nothing if not that) he just this week launched Thunderking Coffee Bar – a culinary collaboration located inside SOCIAL Costa Mesa off 19th Street and Harbor Blvd.
We sat down with him – and his business partner, Brian Kazarian – in their Westside facility to talk coffee, community and (duh!) Costa Mesa.
Home Brew: “Local Boy” Dean Tompkins (Above) with Partner Brian Kazarian (Below) Are The Team Behind Thunderking Brewing Company in Costa Mesa, California
On paper, Tompkins is a hair stylist turned coffeepreneur. But behind the scenes, he’s more of a modern-day renaissance man with a jack-of-all-trades skill set. He’s quick to learn, easy to bore and always on to the next new idea. So the steadfast, systematically-thoughtful Kazarian is a natural business yin to Tompkins’ yang.
“I started out bootstrapping all of this over at The Hood,” said Tompkins. “As it grew beyond what I could do myself, a friend recommended Brian to me. From day one, he’s been a great fit. I’m always bringing my crazy ideas to Brian.”
“And I’m always shooting them down,” deadpanned Kazarian. “This guy wants to go chasing every idea down the rabbit hole and I’m like, ‘No. We’re just bottling some coffee right now.’
“If anything, I am holding him back,” continued Kazarian. “But the way I see it, we need to harness that energy into what’s happening today. Let’s just focus on connecting with more places in Costa Mesa, first. Everything else can come later.”
“But Brian, I have this great, new idea,” joked Tompkins. “You gotta hear it!”
“Put it on the list!” returned Kazarian with a good-natured eye roll.
The mix of Tompkins’ reach-for-the-stars and Kazarian’s grow-where-you’re-planted is clearly working for them. And don’t let their casual banter fool you. These guys are whip smart, hardworking and driven to achieve.
“I think the secret is that we communicate really well,” shared Kazarian. “I’m never venting about Dean behind his back. If I have a problem, I just take it straight to him and we work it out then and there.”
“Communication is so key in a partnership, it’s everything,” agreed Tompkins.
That Coffee Though: Costa Mesa-Made Thunderking Cold Brew is Double-Filtered, Smooth and Oh So Easy To Drink
So what is it about Thunderking that keeps locals clamoring for more?
“We’re manly men doing gentle things with coffee,” laughed Tompkins. “I always say that Thunderking coffee is a chocolatey blend that’s easy-to-drink. Because of our cold-brew process, it’s naturally sweet. No bitterness at all. It finishes very light and easy. We also double-filter everything. The pH of our coffee is similar to water, so ‘gentle’ really is the best word for it.
“Something I hear a lot – I hate it, but I hear it a lot – is, ‘Hey, your coffee is actually good!’ I’m always like, ‘Well, what did you think? We’re just about looking cool?’ I mean, we do look cool, but c’mon man – we’re making some delicious stuff right here.”
While Kazarian runs production back at the shop, Tompkins is focused on getting bottles of the black stuff into as many hands as possible. As the face of Thunderking, you’ll find him pounding the pavement around town, growing the brand one sip at a time.
“It was like that with Barley Forge,” said Tompkins. “I went in there really early on wearing the first Thunderking Brewing shirt. The guy behind the bar, Patrick, was like, ‘Hey, what’s on your shirt?’ I told him it was coffee and he said he wanted to try some. So I came back with a batch and he loved it.
“Then their first anniversary came around and we did a collaboration. We cold-brewed their Patsy beer – which was basically us doing our regular coffee process, but using their beer instead of water. They served it up at the brewery and it was a huge hit. So now Barley Forge has Thunderking coffee on tap.”
“You can stick with just coffee if you’re the designated driver,” added Kazarian. “Or you can get a shot of Thunderking in your beer. They go really well together.”
Costa Mesa Collab: The Brand New Thunderking Coffee Bar Is Now Serving Breakfast, Lunch and Creative Coffee Concoctions At SOCIAL Costa Mesa – 512 West 19th Street
Something else that goes really well together is coffee and breakfast. So lucky us, the brand new Thunderking Coffee Bar launched this week over at SOCIAL Costa Mesa. Thoughtfully-crafted breakfast burritos, donuts, chilaquiles, avocado toast, cereal and more – served alongside an entire menu of unexpected-yet-exceptional coffee concoctions – enjoyed in the sleek, SOCIAL setting.
“Doing the coffee bar has been so fun,” said Tompkins about his latest project. “SOCIAL was the first place that carried our coffee, so building this new thing with Drew and Dan and the rest of the team has a nice symmetry about it. We’ve come full circle.”
True to SOCIAL Costa Mesa form, the food is blow-your-mind delicious. Well-balanced and creative – with options for both breakfast and lunch – the menu is built on a foundation of excellent ingredients. You can tell they’re also having fun experimenting as they brave this new frontier.
“The never-ending cereal bowl was my idea,” said Tompkins. “Unlike most of my ideas, it actually made the menu. I’m always going back into the kitchen and bugging Jose and the chefs back there. Of course, I’ve got all these crazy suggestions. They’re very patient with me but a lot of my stuff still gets vetoed.”
“I feel their pain,” joked Kazarian. “Jose and I should start a support group.”
In addition to sit-down meals, Thunderking Coffee Bar will offer grab-and-go options for busy locals just passing through.
“We’re right by the 55 Freeway so it makes all kinds of sense,” said Tompkins.
Take Me Home: ‘Second Home’ Is The New Lounge / Art Space / Co-Working Area Located Right Next Door To SOCIAL
But if you do have time to sit and hang, there’s another unexpected addition waiting for you at SOCIAL: Second Home.
“Second Home is a kind of art gallery, creative lounge, co-working space next door to Thunderking Coffee Bar,” said Tompkins. “You can grab a coffee and sandwich and head next door to relax or work.”
Second Home has plenty of comfy places to settle in, plus wifi from 8am – 3pm each day.
Throughout all of Thunderking’s endeavors, Costa Mesa remains a common thread. They proudly claim “Costa Mesa, California” on bottles, logos, decals and pretty much all the swag.
“Costa Mesa will always be at the core of Thunderking,” said Tompkins. “We fought really hard to get this space. Every real estate person kept showing us places in Santa Ana. I was like, ‘Nah, man. It’s in our logo. We can’t not be here.’
“My mom grew up here. My dad’s been here since ’62. My wife and I were both born at Hoag – same doctor, different years. My parents went to Mesa. I went to Mesa. I don’t know what else to say. This is just my town, period.”
As a long-term resident of Costa Mesa, what does Tompkins think of all the recent growth happening around town?
“What we have here in Costa Mesa is a very special thing,” said Tompkins. “If you want to live here because you love it, you need to work your butt off so you can afford it. It’s that simple.
“You hear people say stuff all the time, like, ‘Living in Southern California has become too crazy. I’m moving to Texas.’ I say, good for you, man – move to Texas. I pay an obscene amount of money to rent my house, but I love my neighborhood. I have great friends and neighbors. I love every single thing about my life, except my rent. So working hard to afford this life is just the sacrifice I need to make to have it.
“There’s a lot of things you can do to make it work here, so many jobs and opportunities. Our community definitely gives. I believe passion is attractive. So when you’re doing something all the way, working hard – opportunities will come into your life. People will be generous with you. They’ll want to collaborate or help you out. But you gotta put in the work.
“The good news is that Costa Mesa is an inclusive place. We’re not snobs at all. We’re going to include you and we’re not going to turn you away. Maybe we’re too inclusive, at times, because you hear, ‘Oh, Costa Mesa. You guys are totally a cult.’
“It’s like, ‘Yeah, man! Come on in. Costa Mesa is the best cult ever. Drink the Costa Mesa Kool-Aid. You’ll learn to love it, too.’ I know I’m a believer.” ♥
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