Snowy skies and frosted windshields outside, beach vibes within. A new tiki-inspired cafe — tucked away in the East Crossroads — offers a warm, inviting atmosphere and tropical transformations of classic treats and sips.
The concept: Blend the flavors of surf and sunsets with perennial staples like coffee, donuts and ice cream.
“It’s an all-inclusive trifecta of what you might want — depending on the time of day and time of year,” said Johnny Dawbarn, who this week launched HITIDES Coffee with his wife, Michele, as an in-store cafe within Collective Ex. “This is a natural evolution for us — the next step in collaboration and bringing an artisan-focused option to the market.”
Click here to follow HITIDES on Instagram and watch for the cafe’s official opening date.
Hotly anticipated favorites include HITIDES’ cool takes on dole whip and a “Death by Chocolate” hot cocoa and donut combo, he added, noting the duo already has identified the tiki spot’s likely signature drink: the Black Lava Mocha.
“It actually works as either a mocha or hot chocolate — we’re talking black lava sea salt and caramel, plus other secret ingredients,” Dawbarn said. “We’ve been having fun making stuff, which is obviously a great sign.”
That good-vibes feeling hits the beach as a feast for the eyes along with the taste buds, he added, noting a wide variety of newly added island and tiki style decor that completes the space.
“I’ve spent the past couple of months hunting antique shops, eBay, other sites looking for fun memorabilia and souvenir type items to display as part of the theme,” Dawbarn said. “It’s everything from velvet paintings to ukeleles — all with the caveat that I love tiki bars, but I wasn’t going to pay a lot. Hopefully you’ll be able to feel my ‘thrill of the hunt’ when you see how it all comes together.”
The Dawbarns also operate SewKC, a leading Kansas City apparel company, within the Collective Ex space, which functions as a hub for makers, designers, artists and other creatives — as well as shoppers venturing into the mixed retail space.
Click here to learn more about SewKC and Collective Ex.
HITIDES is expected to officially open as early as late January with final preparations currently wrapping up in the cafe, previously home to Thou Mayest (which opened as Thee Outpost in 2019 and closed its Crossroads location mid-summer amid pandemic-era stresses). A soft opening began Friday.
The new space features a reconfigured kitchen area and cafe to make a more efficient and accommodating experience — especially to fit the new concepts, Dawbarn said.
“We’ve added in a bar that people will be able to sit around, which is something we didn’t have before,” he said. “Regulars said they wished they had a place they could come in, sit down and chat with us while they are drinking their coffee and working.”
Roasting for the new brand is fully owned and operated by Christopher Oppenhuis, founder of Marcell Coffee, a private label roasting operation that helps keep a slew of iconic Kansas City coffee shops caffeinated and specializes in barrel-aged blends with the city’s top distilleries.
Click here to read more about Marcell Coffee Projects.
“We’ve been working with him on exclusive roasts for HITIDES, so we’ll have our own profiles,” said Dawnbarn, noting the Collective Ex and SewKC teams also have been experimenting with a range of chai and other teas, as well as lemonade, for the menu.
“It’s a little more on the citrus and spice side,” he said of the tea, emphasizing the flavors’ adherence to the tropical theme. “We’re also using coconut milk in our ice cream for the same reason. It’s on theme, but it works really well with our recipes.”
The Snoasis-branded ice cream in the cafe — confections also created by the Dawbarns — are dairy free and expected to come in four flavors each day, ranging from fruity to savory and chocolate, he said.
For baked offerings, HITIDES turned to collaborators at established Kansas City eateries — bagels are set to be delivered daily to the cafe from Meshuggah Bagels, and donuts will arrive from Donutology.
“Just like we’re not necessarily experts ourselves in coffee, we’re big fans of donuts, but not experts. So we reached out to Donutology,” Dawbarn explained. “The idea is we’ll have their classic favorites and some exclusives to us that really play into our overarching menu and theme.”
The cafe itself features custom-designed wallpaper and furniture with the tiki-vibe, as well as fixtures constructed by Dawbarn and Collective Ex members. It’s a mix of obvious and subtle homages to the spirit of the shared workspace, he said.
“Obviously with COVID hitting, there’s less of the sitting-around-and-working-in-a-cafe like you normally would, but it will come back,” Dawbarn said. “Creative people especially want to be surrounded by others of the same mindset. Inspiration has a contagious vibe, and when you see others getting things done, you’re more likely to create yourself.”
The duo is excited for HITIDES to serve as a catalyst for more activity in the East Crossroads, they said, noting an incremental slow down that started with the cancellation of First Fridays in late summer 2019, chilled further in the coming winter, and then hit a near-standstill during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Click here to read about how SewKC and Collective Ex survived 2020.
“In those early months of the pandemic, it was really weird downtown in general. If you hadn’t gotten the memo, you’d probably have thought you missed some kind of evacuation,” Dawbarn said.
“But we’ve got a lot of new growth in this area in particular,” he continued. “We’re starting to see some of the more normal behaviors — just with people wearing masks. Shoppers coming in. People doing photography shoots against the murals and ivy outside. They’re walking around, headed to Lifted Spirits or City Barrel. We’re excited to help the neighborhood hit that stride again.”
Tiki shop trivia
The Victoria Arduino espresso machine at HITIDES is believed to be the only lever-system being used for coffee in Kansas City, said Dawbarn.
“It’s basically utilizing 1940s espresso-making technology in Italy that claims to pull the perfect shot every time. It’s not a pump system that pushes and pulls water through like a lot of newer machines do,” he said of the critical piece of equipment. “It’s a brand new machine — it’s just an evolved take on that technology. The well-balanced shot is all in the lever pressure and pull. The crema that comes out is the perfect balance and the shot rides the line perfectly on bitterness versus not-bittter.”