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Lobdell: Kéan Coffee offers another shot

February 03, 2011|By William Lobdell

At 5 p.m. June 30, 2004 — the last day of his employment contract — Martin Diedrich was told he no longer had a job at Diedrich Coffee, the company he had founded more than two decades earlier and taken public in 1996.

Driving home that evening to his Eastside Costa Mesa house, Diedrich vowed to start over and open a single coffeehouse, just as he did in Tustin in 1986 (his second location opened a year later on East 17th Street in Costa Mesa).

With the Fourth of July weekend approaching, he didn't tell his wife about his job loss or his idea of opening another coffeehouse. He didn't want to spoil the Independence Day celebration.

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Instead, he spent the holiday in a seemingly carefree mood, attending the Mariners Fourth of July parade with his young son Kéan, enjoying his neighborhood's annual block party and lighting off fireworks.

But in his mind, he was plotting.

"I knew my wife, Karen, would have a lot of questions [about a new venture], and I knew I better have an answer to each one," Martin Diedrich said.

When they finally sat down and talked, he answered each concern his wife had, and she gave her blessing.

"This is in my blood; it's what I was born to do," said Martin Diedrich, who was one of the pioneers of the coffeehouse craze in America and especially Orange County.

He represents the third Diedrich generation tied to the coffee business, having grown up on his parents' coffee plantation in Guatemala.

The couple, now married 14 years, found the blank canvas before them enthralling. They could create the coffeehouse of their dreams, far from the cookie-cutter and cost-cutting approach of the corporate coffee world.

"The idea was to take coffee to the next level, to make it a culinary art," Martin Diedrich said.

He approached angel investors and raised about $700,000 for his new venture.

Even today, the public perception is that Martin Diedrich, 52, got rich when he took his company public, but he said he barely broke even in the end.

Because the public company had kept Diedrich's family name, he decided to call his business Kéan Coffee after his now 12-year-old son, a move designed to symbolize that this was the next generation of coffeehouses.

Martin Diedrich leased a high-profile location at Irvine Avenue and Westcliff Drive in Newport Beach — a retail space rejected by several chain coffeehouses, interestingly enough — and he and Karen decorated the interior themselves.

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