Fourtillfour Cafe blends coffee with classic car culture

Fourtillfour Cafe in Encinitas.
(Karen Billing)

Over the last year in Encinitas, the new Fourtillfour Cafe is building a following around good, strong coffee and a love of vintage cars.

Located on the 101 on the corner of West Glaucus, next to Leucadia Floral and Plant, the outdoor cafe is somewhat hidden behind a black fence, where the coffee is served out of a gray trailer with a patio surrounded by greenery.

Embracing the vintage car lifestyle, the cafe hosts Fourtillfour car meet-ups throughout the month: The first Saturday is Porsches, second Sundays are air-cooled Volkswagens, the third Saturday is “Shakedown” featuring vintage European and Japanese domestic cars, and the last Saturday is adventure machines and offload rigs like decked out Land Rovers.

The original Fourtillfour Cafe was founded in Scottsdale, Arizona in 2015 by Nico Samaras and his partner Mia Aguillon.

Fourtillfour Cafe in Encinitas.
(Karen Billing)

“It started with his love of cars,” said cafe manager Jordan Ward of Samaras, who has been building cars in the garage with his dad since he was a teenager.

The name Fourtillfour is a nod to Samaras’ vintage red 1963 356 Porsche —he came up with the play on words as 356 is also four minutes till 4 p.m. The brand is emblazoned on stylish hoodies, hats and t-shirts, on sale in the growing retail section at the cafe.

One of the Fourtillfour’s brand greatest accomplishments was Samaras’ Volkswagen bug that he raced in the Baja 1000, an intense 1,200-mile off-road race from Ensenada to La Paz with a 50-hour time limit. In 2021, the Fourtillfour team finished in 48 and a half hours, the only bug to finish in the race. The vintage machine tricked out for desert driving is now on display at the Encinitas cafe.

In addition to racing, Samaras was also always very much into coffee. What was always a morning ritual became a full-time passion. His Four Coffee takes a modern approach to coffee making, focused heavily on the origin of beans, and the preparation and roasting process.

“I love our coffee,” said Ward. “It definitely speaks for itself.”

Ward describes Four Coffee as a more San Francisco/Bay Area-style coffee. “Our flavor profile really is unique,” Ward said. “It’s a little more on the Italian side, a lot more dark and the notes last longer.” While other San Diego-style coffees may be lighter, Four Coffee aims to bring the chocolatey notes back—a “good strong coffee” to wake you up in the morning or give you an afternoon jolt.

The Fourtillfour Volkswagen.
(Karen Billing)

Four Coffee does only three blends, using the best of the best beans, sourced directly from the farms and small batch roasted to the perfect flavor profile in Scottsdale. The Sunday Motor Club, a complex and sweet Ethiopian and Honduran blend; The 001, which is their lightest with notes of citrus; and The 002, the darkest blend with caramelly and smoky notes. “It’s by far my favorite to drink black in the morning,” Ward said.

The coffee comes in bags as well as tins, a play on oil cans. When customers buy a coffee tin, they can bring it back for a refill at a discounted price, which helps with the cafe’s conservation efforts.

Four Coffee sold in tins at Fourtillfour Cafe.
(Karen Billing)

The menu is simple, focused on traditional, specialty coffee offerings like drip, macchiatos, cortados, mochas and lattes, which can be served with house-made syrups such as bergamot, vanilla, caramel and lavender.

With their small trailer, Fourtillfour has a limited kitchen. They have partnered with Farmshop out of Santa Monica to provide a selection of vegan and gluten-free pastries including croissants, bagels and buttered biscuits. Their breakfast sandwich has been the most popular item, with veggies or bacon with eggs, arugula and a lemon vinaigrette served on a croissant, biscuit or bagel.

The gluten-free bagels are local, from Encinitas’ own Grandview Baking Company: “They’re amazing,” promises Ward.

Ward said admittedly Encinitas is saturated with coffee shops (“Throw a rock and you’ll hit one”) but she said people have started to crave their coffee’s unique flavor profile as well as enjoy their spot as a place to be and take in the sunshine. Customers post up in the patio’s various table settings to work or to chill with a friend for a cup.

“It’s been really fun, I think the neighborhood loves the vibes of being outside and getting stuff done,” said Ward, an Encinitas native.

And people are coming from all over, as far away as Orange County, for the monthly car meet-ups, filling up the parking lot along the 101. The well-attended gatherings are helping to meet Fourtilllfour’s ultimate goal of uniting the community through the ritual of coffee.

Fourtillfour Cafe is open seven days a week from 7 a.m to 2 p.m. 1114 North Coast Highway 101,

FourtillFour Cafe manager Jordan Ward.
(Karen Billing)
A classic car meet-up at Fourtillfour Cafe.
(Fourtillfour Cafe)