Drift Benicia: Drifting into Town—and Beyond

Photos by Michael Van Auken

Be transported to another place without hopping on a plane (or even crossing the bridge) when you enter Benicia’s Drift Benicia, a new coffee shop and the brainchild of co-owners Monica Dito and Ryan Birch. The power duo has been involved in the food and beverage industry for many years and have been planning this new venture for a while, but had trouble finding available locations that felt like the right fit.

That perfect spot to hold Drift Benicia has ended up being the space that Java Pointe Cafe once occupied, which happens to be walking distance from the couple’s home where they and their children reside.

“When I lived overseas in Switzerland, there was a no-car zone,” Dito says.

“The downtown area had all the stores and schools; you had to walk or bike everywhere, and I loved it. It forced me to get out. When I came back to America, I thought ‘how can I do that?’ Everyone has huge commutes and is so disconnected. When I moved to Benicia it was just amazing…everything on First Street is so accessible.”

At first, the couple was just going to focus on Drift offering coffee and pastries (which they do), but there’s much more to how it has evolved.

“We offer butterfly pea tea made with wild hibiscus flower, something that we brew in-house that has a mild flavor,” Dito says. “When you mix it with anything acidic, like our lemonade, it turns from blue to purple, but if it’s in a latte, it stays blue. We also have a very high ceremonial grade matcha, which is infused with lavender in vanilla. We’re always looking for something new and exciting…we don’t want something set for 20 years. We want to allow people to experience new things without having to travel all around.”

three coffee and tea drinks in glass containers at Drift Benicia

And then there’s the pizza, which many people begged for after sampling their local food truck, Mangia2 (Mangia Squared).

“It’s evolved,” Dito says. “I committed to the kitchen trying recipe after recipe, note-taking, and researching to come up with this pizza crust…normal focaccia doesn’t have a very long shelf life. With our pizza, we start a few days before…it’s a lot of manual work. It goes through a whole process of letting it rise, stretch, rise, stretch. It’s not a fast food pizza. All the gasses are released during the fermentation process, so you won’t get a bloated feeling. It’s how pizza should be, like in Italy. A lot of our inspiration came from our trip to Italy where all we did was eat pizza.”

Though Dito and Birch are both Italian-American, they ultimately decided against that influence when naming their space.

“We considered an Italian name for a cafe, like Dolce Vita Cafe or Bella Cafe,” says Birch. “We didn’t want to tie ourselves down to that identity. I was keeping atop the storms that were happening in January and all this driftwood that was coming in. I love to collect natural wood and build garden beds or re-use it for art. Wouldn’t it be cool if we took that and used pieces as accent pieces? The inspiration was really our love of reuse and you can see that in our cafe. The garbage bin is a reused wood palette. Our tabletops as well as wood slabs that have been repurposed. It’s kind of a vibe, too. Relax, float, and be light, let the waves take you where they may, wherever you end up. We love to hear our customers’ takes on the name.”

There’s something for everyone at Drift, and the couple is just as passionate about supporting our community as they are about creating a welcoming atmosphere and delicious refreshments. They’ve donated free coffee to those participating in coastal cleanups and even had a free lemonade day for high schoolers. Currently, Birch has been focused on expanding their beer collection and has just launched a wine club (not your typical vino found at the grocery store) for anyone interested in joining. Patrons can also look forward to unique events.

“We have a lot of ideas that involve the community that will be launching,” Birch says.

“We’ve been discussing an Italian conversation night. We’ll put on some music, people can come in to enjoy an authentic dish, have a glass of wine, and can practice speaking the language. Monica is fluent in at least four languages, and the best way to always learn a language is to be in that environment. We want to give people an opportunity to experience that. We have a number of couples who have traveled to Italy and they say ‘I feel like I’ve been transported back!’”

Drift is open daily from 7am-4pm. For more information, visit Driftbenicia.com.

Storefront of Drift Benicia