There’s the design term “industrial chic”—clean, corrugated metal, intentionally exposed ceilings—and then there’s straight-up industrial. As in: located in a true industrial space, surrounded on all sides by, well, industry. Café Fiero definitely reps the latter. Located on Fiero Lane in one of SLO’s most bustling industrial parks, this new café represents a beacon of deliciousness amid warehouses, tech offices, and medical buildings. At Café Fiero, fresh, fast eats are plentiful, and the Thai beef potato curry is always hot.
Despite rainy weather, co-owner Robin Covey happily showed me the floor-to-ceiling roll-up doors, which—along with extremely high ceilings—give the space a joyful open-air effect. At one point, the site was a hub of activity for the local tech industry, with employees working upstairs (now an office area where cookbooks and blueprints occupy most of the desk space).
Business partners Robin and Shanny Covey are known for creating some of SLO’s most enduring, worldly haunts, including SLO hot spots Novo and Luna Red and Robin’s of Cambria. As you might have guessed, this newest venture offers up all the global fusion flavors and fresh, local produce you’ve come to expect.
Chef Nathan Clapp, himself a world traveler, is all about bringing unexpected flavors to the average lunch break.
“I went to Italy to learn Italian food; cooked in Naples and Rome, then went to Australia because hey—it’s the other side of the world,” the 30-year-old chef said. “Then, I went on a cruise ship, because I wasn’t done traveling. Eventually, my girlfriend brought me to SLO. I love working with this team; there’s so many fun ideas flying around.”
How’s this for fun? Lunch can be simple and verdant—a fresh market salad or a veggie stir-fry—or it can be totally lavish (the braised pork belly bahn mi sandwich is stacked high with cucumber, mint, cilantro, house pickled carrots, daikon, serrano peppers, and sriracha mayo). Either way, you are going to get in and out quickly for $5 to $15. Consider this a solution for working people who want to nosh affordably and conscientiously, then get on with their lives.
According to the owners, breakfast has been a boon for this very reason. Nearby workers flood through the café doors daily in search of real, honest grub served with an exotic kick (there are few options nearby besides fast food joints).
Breakfast at Café Fiero means cold brew coffee (a custom Coastal Peaks blend), breakfast burritos wrapped in local Lompoc tortillas, and assorted pastries far better than your standard “blueberry muffin.” Instead, you’ll find doughnuts covered in raspberry glaze and black berries or fluffy balls of Brioche-esque fried dough sprinkled with garam masala sugar.
Pastry Chef Russell Thomas, formerly of Two Cooks Catering, is loving every second of his new sweet-tooth gig.
“The chocolate torte is killer; gluten free with caramel sauce and market candied kumquats,” Russell said. “Ten years of catering a lot of savory food and a fair share of breakfast foods, it’s really awesome to do just desserts.”
It’s true—that chocolate torte looks, and tastes, just as good under the deli case at Café Fiero as it would plated at Novo.
There’s no doubt about it: This working class food—made with the same care and ingredients as you’ll find at eateries like Luna Red—is surprisingly upscale. So, why did the owners decide to open shop in such an everyday location?
Well, it has a lot to do with Robin and Shanny’s other operation, Mint + Craft, a 1,300-square-foot café slated to open this spring on Monterey Street, next to Williams-Sonoma. This small hangout will offer indoor and outdoor seating, exceptionally made deli items, and fresh coffee, all with a casual feel. Did I mention it will also be very, very small?
“We wouldn’t be able to open Mint + Craft without having a commissary kitchen and a place for a walk-in freezer,” Robin said. “So, we will be preparing a lot of our offerings here and then finish them off downtown. Then, we got to thinking about how we could feed the population who work right here, in this area.
These days, a team of cooks is busy churning out those in-demand lunch and breakfast items alongside desserts and other treats for Novo, which also has a bit of a space problem. Soon, the items for Mint + Craft will also be prepared in the ample space. It’s interesting and exhilarating to see fine dining and casual food perform a revolutionary dance, side by side.
If you ask Robin, all food should be local, nutritious, and delicious—even the food you munch with one hand while finishing a report with the other.
During my tour, he showed off a bowl of beautifully colored daikon radishes procured from the Madonna Plaza farmers’ market in SLO this past Saturday.
Glowing hot pink and purple, they stood out against the sheen of gray metal. From the Fresno farm where the radishes were grown to your bahn mi sandwich, these veggies tell the story of how everyday food can be elevated with quiet grace.
In this way, every computer programmer or clerical worker who orders the sandwich is elevated, too. This is what the team lives for, all day, every day.
“We absolutely love the lunch rush,” Robin said.
Fast, fresh eats
Café Fiero is located at 709 Fiero Lane, No. 35, in San Luis Obispo. For more information or to order online, go to cafefiero.com or call 632-9100. Hours are Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Keep your eyes peeled for catering offerings coming in the future. Mint + Craft will open in the spring 2017 at 848 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo. For more information, go to mintandcraft.com.