The Mental Bar is filling a void that has long been missing from the Southeastern part of the city of San Diego – a community-minded, wellness-forward gathering space that offers a “vacation mindset,” say owners Tommy and Daneyel Walker.
Opened for business last September along Imperial Avenue in the Encanto Village – part of the Black Arts and Culture District – The Mental Bar offers what the Walkers, a husband-and-wife team who met in a local church and still live in the area, call “a cool tea-coffee-wellness spot in an underserved community.”
“The Mental Bar is really for the community,” said Tommy Walker, 41. “That was our intention, to hopefully grow that to multiple communities. But it was important to start there. We could have picked North Park but Southeast was most important for us.”
A cozy nook just under 860 square feet with indoor and outdoor seating, The Mental Bar is open from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. daily. It is a place that the Walkers say allows for relaxation, engaging conversations and promotes wellness with therapeutic and restorative refreshments.
The Walkers’ eclectic menu includes all-natural CBD-infused coffees, and ginseng-laden teas. They also sell bagged coffees and teas, stainless steel and glass tea infusers and mugs, and even a facial scrub, most available either in-store or online.
The website – thementalbar.com – also offers a blog with monthly posts that share insights on coffee and tea as well as lifestyle, business and relationship tips.
“The Mental Bar started out as first creating a space, implementing a product that brings people in the community together and providing a place to create ideas, cultivate community and hang out with neighbors,” said Daneyel Walker, 45. “Coffee is the one thing that brings every culture together.”
Tommy Walker said the wellness component that the spot offers takes on even greater importance in an area where health-centered stores like Sprouts, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are nonexistent.
“We are trying to create that wellness approach in the community,” he said. “We are catered not just to physical wellness but mental wellness as well.”
Walker said that they have partnered with a friend of his to offer patrons a home wellness card and phone app that alerts users to their sodium, cholesterol and stress levels; keto needs; hydration status and more — and comes with a health coach.
“These are the kinds of different things we don’t have access to in our community,” he said. “You can come to the café and not only get a great experience with a beverage but at the same time we have this side thing where you can find out exactly how you’re doing.”
The Mental Bar originally was going to be a studio where Daneyel Walker was to teach yoga. Walker, an MRI technologist by trade, is also a meditation teacher and a reiki healer. But the yoga studio idea didn’t pan out, so the Walkers kept the name when they decided to open a coffee shop instead.
Tommy Walker, a native New Yorker who came to San Diego via the U.S. Navy when he was 19, was previously an operations manager for FedEx Express for nearly 12 years, and was also a real estate agent and Realtor.
He currently runs Chula Vista-headquartered DJW Logistics which he founded and funded on his own in 2019.
DJW Logistics is a transportation company with 115 employees – including COO Daneyel Walker – that contracts with Amazon to provide last-mile deliveries to people’s doorsteps.
A Los Angeles native who moved to San Diego when she was 23, Daneyel Walker said The Mental Bar, like DJW Logistics, was also self-funded. She admits that the couple struggled financially at times to push through, “but it was all worth it.”
Tommy Walker said their goal is to see The Mental Bar grow “as far as we can take it,” and mentioned hearing from people as far away as Augusta, Georgia, to expand East, but Daneyel Walker said that a more reasonable goal would be to “start getting into every district in San Diego first.”
The couple has made some noise in their own district, and beyond. They were mentioned during San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria’s 2023 State of the City address. Gloria said that the Walkers “wanted their community to be beautiful, free of weeds and graffiti and revitalized with street repairs and new streetlights and sidewalks – not only in Paradise Hills where they live, but also Encanto, where they work.” Gloria complimented the couple for joining groups, committees and boards that take a proactive stance to help improve communities.