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New Cafe, Restaurant & Listening Bar Heads to National City

Friends of Friends will soon hit the streets as the city’s newest one-stop hangout on East 8th, serving up coffees, smash burgers & plenty of vinyl
Rendering Courtesy of Friends of Friends

By Jeannine Boisse

The next hot San Diego destination? National City, according to Friends of Friends co-founders and co-owners Marco Laguna and chef Brandon James-Keeper. It seems they’re onto something, considering heritage local favorites like Neiderfrank’s Ice Cream and trendy spots such as Mujer Divina Cafe. There’s also Market on 8th Food Hall and Parco, a modern coliving-style apartment complex with an expanding roster of ground-floor retail and restaurant spaces.

And soon there will be a new kid on the block adding to the appeal: Friends of Friends, a café, restaurant, and vinyl listening bar will finally open its doors within the next two months after more than a year in delays. Three concepts under one roof, Friends of Friends is the spot Laguna and James-Keeper say they wish had existed for them as young creatives in San Diego. 

Stepping inside, Friends of Friends has taken great consideration for each sector of the business and how its prospective customers will interact with them and their fellow patrons. There’s a nostalgic touch to its interior decor, that might take you back to your grandma’s house, your neighbor’s backyard, a memorable Padres game, or a long-closed San Diego bar. 

“Growing up in the South Bay, there were not many spaces for mutual friends to congregate, to hang out in a space that felt safe and felt like we were seen,” Laguna says—so they built one.

Pour Music Taste is the space’s in-house vinyl listening bar, bedecked in a mural by local artist Nicholas Danger, vintage radios, and tables covered in drink coasters from other San Diego bars and breweries. There, guests can sit and listen to a featured set from a local music selector and sip on their libation of choice. Eventually, Laguna may bring in artists from the city’s vibrant live music scene à la Tiny Desk style. 

The breezeblock-lined bar will pour a little bit of everything, transitioning from a full coffee menu in the morning to beer (with rotating draft options), wine, and more, including zero-proof beverages, in the evenings. 

Laguna is an expert in the San Diego coffee scene, bringing his experience from Public Square Coffee in La Mesa and boasting an extensive network of roasters and baristas. However, Laguna understands that not all of us are coffee connoisseurs. “It can be intimidating going into a coffee shop and seeing items or terms you might not recognize,” Laguna explains. “We are creating a bridge for a community that maybe is not so used to the specialty coffee scene, with ingredients that they are familiar with, making it more approachable,” he says.

According to Coffee Director Brivin Yousef, the menu will have Mexican, South American, and Filipino influences. The team will play around with housemade syrups, familiar ingredients you might remember from your childhood, and even palo santo, with offerings like a Calamansi and Tamarind coffee soda, Buko Pandan Latte, and Ur Nana’s Choco (a Mexican Mocha). 

The space’s restaurant, Wavy Burgers, has its own distinct aesthetic, with lived-in touches and art curated by chef James-Keeper. A mural at the entrance by friend, artist, and Hayes Burger founder Ernesto Villanueva tells the origin story of Wavy and Friends of Friends. The shelves near the order and pickup windows are adorned with Padres bobbleheads from the chef’s personal collection, along with keepsakes from his travels in Mexico.

Wavy has built quite a following with pop-ups around San Diego, best known for its “OG” smash burger, Porto “Burg” (a Garlic Confit Portobello mushroom sandwich), and homemade ice cream flavors like Matcha & Strawberry, Lemon Poppyseed Cheesecake, and a Peanut Butter Miso with banana and Dominican Chocolate. 

At the business’s first brick-and-mortar, James-Keeper will introduce a breakfast menu to complement the coffee bar, with breakfast burritos and sandwiches, and new creations that nod to his half-Filipino heritage. “You’ll see a lot of different sauces and meats utilized in Filipino cuisine, which is why I chose sandwiches. I think it’s the most fun vehicle to be creative,” James-Keeper says. 

Wavy’s seating area features round-edged tables laser-etched with its logo and flanked by rattan chairs. The stadium seating along the wall, however, is the only area with accessible power outlets. “That’s with intention, as well. We want the space to be more of a community gathering spot than a study hall,” Laguna explains. The setup functions like a kind of invisible hand guiding guests to forgo their phones and laptops and immerse themselves in Friends of Friends’ multi-pronged experience.

The building’s third concept, Noah Henderson’s 10K Coffee Lab, functions as a workshop for coffee masterminds and entrepreneurs. Roasters can rent storage space for green coffee shipments, reserve time on the industrial roasting machines, and utilize the bagging station and lab equipment for coffee cupping. Professional baristas are also welcome to the lab space to practice for coffee competitions.

The facility offers a community setting for fledgling coffee businesses to network and seek mentorship. The owners plan to partner with a local non-profit to offer workplace training and career development in the lucrative coffee field.

Ultimately, Laguna says, “the whole idea has been to create a community space where creatives can gather, network, and get good, quality food that’s not super expensive. [They can] have great beer and coffee options and listen to good music. It all really stemmed [wanting to create] a space that was by us and for us.”

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