When Cal Poly Pomona students arrive on campus, they have around 100 majors and minors they can pick from. When they graduate and enter the workforce, their options are far more expansive.
While many follow a clear path from their major to their career, others take a leap of faith into the world of entrepreneurism.
Food science students could open an unconventional coffee company, for example. Or a business student and a hospitality student could team up to create a new line of beer-based ice cream.
They differ in the details, but share a common thread — a desire to work for oneself, to create for the sake of creating, and a willingness to accept risk as a natural part of opportunity.
Whence Floweth the Coffee
Paul Del Mundo thought he wanted to study chemical engineering, but he was wrong. A year after arriving on campus, he realized his passions lay elsewhere — at least in part. He enjoyed the chemistry of chemical engineering, but he had an itch for something culinary.
“I spent time in the program and realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do as a career,” Del Mundo says. “When I switched to food science I realized that was my calling.”
And the rest of Del Mundo’s time at Cal Poly Pomona followed a familiar formula. He went to class, he socialized. He met a girl he really liked, a fellow food science student named Julie Nguyen.
“We met in food science and we ended up dating,” Del Mundo says. “We always ended up at coffee and tea shops.”
After graduating, Del Mundo found himself employed as a technician making flavors and aromas for industry. It wasn’t long before the familiar itch returned.
“I was still missing something,” he says. “I was creating something for a company. I wanted to create something for myself.”
Del Mundo and his now-girlfriend, Nguyen, began dreaming big dreams. He quit his job and gave himself a three-month ultimatum to figure out where to go next.
Amid their brainstorming sessions, Del Mundo and Nguyen hit upon an idea that sprung from their mutual love of beverages, coffee and tea.
“All the coffee shops we were going to had the same feel, the same menu,” Nguyen says. “We thought, ‘Why can’t we create something different?’”
“I noticed that coffee shops were developing a notion of pretension — ‘If you don’t know coffee my way, you don’t know coffee at all.’ — We wanted to break from that,” Del Mundo says. “The craft brewery scene had a big influence on us. We wanted the atmosphere and camaraderie of a craft brewery but without having to order a beer all the time.”
Contra Coffee & Tea was born.
The company would do something novel with its coffees and teas, Nguyen and Del Mundo decided. They would use a food-science trick, nitrogenation, to offer a substitute to dairy.
By pumping the coffee and tea full of super tiny nitrogen gas bubbles, they could simulate the creaminess of dairy, without adding calories, fat or flavors.
“It makes it creamy without cream. Our plain black coffee looks like chocolate milk,” Del Mundo says. “We have an Earl Grey tea that’s unsweetened. It’s really, really nice and creamy.”
It might sound strange, but it’s not an uncommon technique in the beer industry. Del Mundo and Nguyen’s food science background just helped them adapt it to a new use.
“That came in handy when we were trying to get the whole nitro process to work,” Nguyen says.
Contra started off modestly, operating as a booth that appeared at farmer’s markets. They soon developed a loyal fan base and expanded into a temporary pop-up shop that shared a Downtown Santa Ana storefront with an ice cream shop. Like a craft brewery, Contra’s products all come chilled and on tap, and range from jasmine tea, to Vietnamese iced coffee, and something they call an India pale coffee, which marries the flavors of beer and coffee into a non-alcoholic drink. They are now beginning to distribute their nitro beverages to L.A. and O.C. food establishments, and working on getting a permanent production space of their own.
Nguyen and Del Mundo say the experience has been scary and stressful, but rewarding — “crazy but fun,” Nguyen says.
“The reality is I have to pay rent. I have to pay student loans off, but I can freely create any time I want without seeking permission from a manager,” Del Mundo says. “That concept lets me sleep well.”
Where the beer doth freeze
While Del Mundo and Nguyen were busy figuring out how to tweak coffee with tricks from the brewing industry, another pair of Cal Poly Pomona students was busy cooking up something similar in many ways, yet completely different.
Sam Howland and Bryan Marasco have been friends since first grade. They went to elementary school together, junior high together, high school together and Cal Poly Pomona together. Here, Howland chose to study hospitality management while Marasco chose marketing.
Howland’s education at the Collins College required him to find an internship in the hospitality industry. When he learned of an opportunity to work at Dale Bros. Brewery in Upland, which made one of his and Marasco’s favorite beers, he jumped on it. That internship evolved into a full-time position as a brewer for Dale Bros.
The two also shared an interest in making their own ice cream. With Howland employed at a brewery, their two hobbies began blending.
“As an employee I was able to take home a beer or two,” Howland says. “I had been making ice cream for some time before that and was always trying different recipes.”
“One day Sam poured some beer into his ice cream blend as an experiment.” Marasco says. “It ended up being very delicious. And the concept just continued to expand from there, trying different flavor and beer combinations.”
Marasco moved from taste tester to business partner when the two finally decided to make a go of taking their beer ice cream to the public. Their idea grew with the help of Poly Founders, a student entrepreneurial club that hosts the annual Bronco Startup Challenge, a competition in which students develop a business concept and vie to win seed money. They dubbed their concept Scoops on Tap.
We always wanted to start a business, so we thought, ‘Why not do it with this ice cream?’” Howland says. “We had already been thinking of Scoops on Tap for a while, and we had been developing the idea, but we hadn’t put much on paper. The competition required us to create a business plan.
“We would not be where we are now without creating those documents and without taking the time to think about it.”
Early this summer, Howland and Marasco began selling their ice cream at some of the small events Dale Bros. holds throughout the year
“It became this thing where people were demanding the ice cream,” Howland says. “That motivated us.”
Things are looking good so far. The pair have made appearances at several festivals in the area, and are even in talks with local restaurants and retail businesses to sell Scoops on Tap ice cream.
“Right now we have 11 different ice creams that we’re producing,” Howland says. “We started out with just two that were under the Dale Bros label. Now we’re making ice cream with four breweries.”
Howland says he and Marasco have taken some big risks to get this far, but like the founders of Contra Coffee, he says it’s worth it.
“We’ve put our own money into it because we believe in it,” Howland says. “That’s a really scary thing. Every day we’re wondering if we’re doing the right thing, but the best part is knowing we have something of our own.”