Doormet Cafe: Tasty Edibles, International Coffees, Teas Heat Up South Tampa

Customers arriving at Doormet can hear music streaming from an Internet radio station and can choose from a menu of gourmet soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees, or sample a wide selection of teas, coffees, beers and wines.

The restaurant – which bills itself as The Gourmet Café That Delivers -- is the creation of Hans and Jake Koch, brothers who grew up in South Tampa and graduated from Berkeley Preparatory School before heading off to college and returning to set up shop in their hometown.

The gourmet café has a clean, contemporary feel and serves dishes concocted by Jake, a 28-year-old self-taught chef who says he picked up tricks of the trade by working at Bern's, Pane Rustica and a number of other restaurants around town.

"We always knew we wanted to do something entrepreneurial, ever since we were kids," says 31-year-old Hans, and they also always knew they wanted to launch their business in Tampa.

"We are proud natives. We love Tampa. It's a big city when you want it to be. It's a small town, when you want it to be," Hans says.

It also makes sense to launch a gourmet food delivery service in a place where they are familiar with the demographics and the streets – especially which streets are likely to flood during torrential summer rainstorms, Hans says.

The idea for their business was born from a personal need, Jake says.

"We consistently needed good food that we didn't necessarily have the time to cook," he explains.

Traditionally, food delivery options have been limited mostly to pizza or Chinese, Hans says.

The brothers wondered:  "Hmm. How come there isn't a fresh quality delivery option for people who want to eat well, but also want the convenience of delivery service?'" Hans says.

They launched their business to fill that niche.

"We created Doormet to give people a fresh, quality delivery option. Like gourmet to your door," Hans says.

They began gradually building their business plan about five years ago, then kicked into high gear about three years ago, says Jake, who holds a degree in economics from Vanderbilt University.

"Two years before we opened, not only were we working for other restaurants, but we were really honing the business plan – just working nonstop, day and night," Jake says.

They secured private financing from their family – and tapped out their personal savings, says Hans, who holds degrees in philosophy and political science from Duke University.
 
"We just celebrated our first year April 1," Jake says. "It's been difficult. The first eight months were very scary, very trying.''

They didn't turn their first profit until the start of 2010, but have been seeing business increase every month since then.

The café's menu has been in development for years and continues to be refined, the brothers say.

"I apply all of the cooking techniques that I learned in the various kitchens," Jake says, adding that he has had the good fortune of working alongside some awesome chefs. He also credits his mother's influence, noting she always had fresh herbs in her kitchen – a tradition he has carried over to Doormet.

Jake says he has been refining his recipes for years – testing different combinations to find just the right mix. All along, Hans has been a loyal taster and an honest critic.

"The pizza dough alone took about a year of experimentation," Jake says, noting he tested about 50 variations before being satisfied.

The restaurant's menu mixes flavors in new and interesting ways.

Here's a sampling of some recent chef specials:  southwest sweet potato soup (finished with cilantro, sour cream and tortilla chips, $5), sweet tomato, bacon and bleu pizza (with sweet tomato jam, fontina, crispy smoked bacon and Roquefort bleu cheese, 18-inch, $19) and grouper piccata (pan-seared local grouper, with a classic sauce of lemon, white wine, butter and capers, served with two sides, $22).

Serving All Kinds

During a recent noon hour, Monika and Fred MacFawn, both in their 60s, dropped by to grab some lunch.

Monika, who works nearby, is a regular. "It's convenient. It's reasonably priced. It is friendly. It's fast. I always know that I'm going to get something good, and I like the variety. I like different choices all of the time."

Elizabeth West, another customer, has known Hans and Jake since they went to St. Mary's for elementary school with her oldest son.
"I think I was one of their first customers," the 52-year-old South Tampa woman says. "I think they are fabulous. Hard-working."  Plus, she adds, "The food is delicious. The pizza is way too good."

The food isn't the café's only draw.

Coffee and tea connoisseurs can sample selections from a different region of the world each week. One recent week, they could choose Japanese cherry iced tea, a green sencha with cherry pieces and a touch of rose petals; or Yemen "Arabian mocha," a full-bodied coffee with chocolate and fruity overtones.

The café's unique beer and wine list attracts the college crowd, touting beers including bell's "two-hearted" ale, left hand milk stout and stone "ruination" ipa, as well as wines such jermann pinot griogio and olivier leflaive "les setilles."  

The delivery service option is a convenience for everyone, but a godsend for elderly customers, Jake says.  "We provide a service that they sorely, sorely need.''

Word about the delivery service has spread.

The café receives orders from near and far from people who want to help others who are too preoccupied with events or circumstances to have food on hand, or time to prepare it.

The orders come from family and friends who want to help expectant mothers, or moms who just had babies, people coping with a death in the family, or elderly people who can no longer get out, Jake and Hans say.

Most of these orders come from Hillsborough County, but some have come from places as far away as Jacksonville, Atlanta, Houston and northern California for delivery to friends and relatives here.

Profiting With Online Media

The brothers see a huge potential in marketing through social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, but say they have been so focused on day-to-day business demands that they haven't tapped into that.

So far, they just send weekly e-mails to their subscribers, outlining the coming specials.

While working together can test the best of relationships, Jake and Hans say they rarely have serious disagreements, and when they do, they work them out.

They consider each other best friends, and there is an obvious level of mutual respect.

"When you think about a business partner, trust is tremendously important," Hans says.

Managing the business requires constant attention to detail and frequent chats, Jake says, noting he and Hans meet daily, over a meal, to discuss issues that pop up and how to resolve them.

Right now they're focused on making the South Tampa restaurant at 1155 S. Dale Mabry Hwy, #12, Tampa, FL 33629 (phone: 813-287-3667) the best it can be.

But they believe this is just the beginning.  They envision a time when they may be able to expand to New Tampa, North Tampa, Brandon, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and other Tampa Bay locales.

Over time, they hope to launch a franchise business with locations in other parts of Florida and in major metropolitan areas across the country.

They're betting on their success. They've invested countless hours and staked their life savings on it.

"For us, it was never a consideration of: "Oh, gee, this is a risky proposition, should we or should we not do this." Hans says. "It was: "We are going to do this. What is the concept going to be?"

"You only live once," Jake says. "You've got to go for it.''

B.C. Manion is a freelance writer working out of her 1932 bungalow in South Seminole Heights. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

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