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Zizzo’s sizzles as new trend in contemporary coffee shops

By NICK C. TONKIN — AUG. 24, 2011


Zizzo’s serves a variety of coffees at its popular drive-through cafe near Santa Barbara’s Camino Real Marketplace. Daily Sound/Victor Maccharoli

In the face of economic uncertainty, Sue and Michael McDonald have transformed South County’s only remaining drive-through coffee shop from a franchise branch into a mom-and-pop store.

Zizzo’s Coffee, on Storke Road just past the Camino Real Marketplace in Goleta, has been going strong for more than two years. The McDonalds say the secret to their success is right in the shop’s motto, “Good Friends, Great Coffee.”

They also credit advice and support from Women’s Economic Ventures, a nonprofit organization that provides training to aspiring small business owners.

Sue, a licensed real estate agent, said she and her husband got their start a few years ago when they decided to do something different with their lives. Both have been self-admitted coffee lovers for many years

and Sue said that a coffee house is one of the few places that can change someone’s mood within 15 minutes.

“You give them that cup of coffee and they leave happy,” Sue said.

That’s when the idea of a coffee house came to them. Being small business novices, the McDonalds’ sought out franchises to avoid having to, “go it alone.”

They found their match in Zizzo’s Coffee, with its upscale granite-and-wood look and surf theme. The company provided the McDonalds with two-week training and operating manuals and they were off.

But after a year, the owner decided to sell and offered the McDonalds the chance to go independent. The prospect seemed daunting, but the McDonalds took it on.

Still new at business, the McDonalds put their networking skills to the test, getting advice from all their business-owning friends. Sue also enrolled in Women’s Economic Ventures’ Self Employment Training course.

While the McDonalds’ friends had plenty of business management advice for them, they didn’t find much encouragement.

“Everyone we talked to said ‘don’t do it,’” Sue laughed.

But Sue said WEV gave plenty of support, even for someone with a business already in hand. The McDonalds had to hammer out a business plan.

“It makes you think of everything,” Sue said.

Things seemed tough at first. They had little experience managing employees and the drive-through meant having more people on hand during the morning and afternoon rushes.

Sue herself admits she had a fear of customer service back then. She described herself in training as, “A deer in headlights,” a problem in an industry where customer service can make or break a shop.

“People will go out of their way to go to a coffee house that has good customer service and not go back to one that doesn’t,” Sue said.

But Sue found herself rising to the challenge, memorizing names, drink orders, and sharing her life with her customers.

As testament, a Zizzo’s regular invited the McDonalds to his wedding.

Sue remembers him sharing the details of the courtship right up to the moment when the man walked in and told the McDonalds, “I proposed.”

Sue recalled the moment after the man left with his coffee that day.

“Michael turned to me and said ‘that’d why we do this business!’” Sue said.

Running their own business has given the McDonalds more control over their lives and new opportunities to make their mark in Goleta. The shop holds bands, movie nights, and even a fireworks viewing party on

the Fourth of July.

“There’s just a lot of flexibility for what you can do for yourself or for the community,” Sue said.

FYI: Zizzo’s Coffee is at 370 Storke Road, Goleta. 571-8888.

WEV is holding orientations for its fall courses on August 25 and 31

from 12—1 p.m. For registration or more information call 965-6073 or

go online to

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