In the spring of last year, with the pandemic breathing fire across the world, Brandon Brewster did what some might consider to be a positively daft thing. He and his wife, Alicia, bought the Double Rainbow ice cream shop and cafe on First Street.
We had to ask: Did you have any second thoughts about taking such a risk when such long-time Benicia establishments as First Street Cafe, Camellia Tea Room, and even Baskin-Robbins, were closing or about to close?
“No, I didn’t,” Brewster said over the phone the other day. “I felt it was a great opportunity. I knew it’d be a great experience for our daughters and make us feel more part of the community.” Their daughters, Aleena and Jazmin, both students at Benicia schools, jumped at the idea. “There wasn’t much hesitation from them,” he added with a laugh.
Up and down First, and all throughout the Industrial Park, Benicia businesses have been rocking and rolling like ships at sea during a heavy storm. All have shown creativity and extraordinary business chops merely to keep the doors open, and some are actually booming during a time in which the only certainty has been uncertainty. A few brave souls, like the Brewster family, have even dared to launch a whole new thing.
Two more are Suzanne Castleman and Emily Hendrix, owners of Creative Clips on East H Street. They opened their new dog and cat grooming salon in September of last year “right smack in the middle of the fun,” joked Castleman, who sold a house she owned in order to finance the venture.
Even in the best of times, starting a business is fraught with challenges. So why, then, would you start one now? “Because we’re crazy,” answered Hendrix, to which Castleman responded with gleeful laughter.
“We knew that Covid wouldn’t last forever,” Castleman added, and that there was an opportunity here waiting to be seized by those with the courage to seize it. Many people adopted pets during the crisis, fostering dogs or cats that were being kept at animal shelters. Castleman and Hendix saw that these people, as well as other pet owners, were in need of the services they could supply.
“Everything fell into place for us,” said Castleman. And since they opened, their business hasn’t just grown, added Hendrix, “it’s exploded.”
Brandon Brewster also saw an open door and decided to walk through it. A former employee at a high tech company across the bay, he was sick of the commute and wanted to spend more time with his daughters and wife, a dance movement therapist at Napa State Hospital. This led him to become the sole proprietor of California’s only Dapper Doughnut franchise. His gourmet doughnut stand became a fixture at the Benicia farmer’s market, and in March 2020 he was ready to start selling his creations in a space within Double Rainbow.
Then, boom! The first of the Covid-related shutdowns forced the cafe to close, and with it, Dapper Doughnut before it could even offer a single mini-doughnut to a customer. “We figured we’ll just sit tight until it reopens,” explained Brewster. “It would just be fifteen days, then a month, then a few more months after that…”
Amid the shutdowns and restrictions, in which his catering and farmer’s market business evaporated, he remained optimistic. Able to make the purchase without debt, he and Alicia bought Double Rainbow from the previous owner outright, reopening it in June of last year. The next month, doughnuts freshly made and decorated to order joined the menu along with, nowadays, specialty sundaes constructed in honor of Benicia institutions such as the Valero refinery and the Camel Barn.
“People are coming back out again,” said the cautiously optimistic Brewster, in words that could speak for everyone who runs a business or works at one in town. “We’re going in a positive direction. It’s exciting.”