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Friday, Apr 12, 2024

Passions Percolate at Deja Brew

Vannak Seang met Mariana Covarrubias in the mid 2010s when both were attending classes and working toward their culinary arts degrees at the Art Institute of California – San Diego.

Despite coming from two very different worlds – Seang is the son of a family that fled Cambodia in the 1970s, Covarrubias was raised in Tijuana – they became close friends at the school.

After graduating in 2016 – Seang earning a degree in hospitality management, Covarrubias earned hers in food and beverage management – they stayed in contact. Two years later, the friends reconnected as partners on a business venture that allows their passions to percolate at Deja Brew Lounge.

Seang said the two “emptied out our savings” to open Deja Brew and also took out some loans to open the 5,000-square-foot spot that used to house a commercial salon.

The venue on University Avenue is open seven days a week, serving coffee, matcha, tea and lemonade, along with house made pastries and more.

“We made Deja Brew a safe haven for creativity,” Seang said. “San Diego is a mixture of cultures. And just like Marianne is Hispanic and I’m Asian, our menu is diverse. Our items are very different from the cookie cutter types of lattes and flavors you see around North Park.”

Seang said the lounge offers food and beverages that represent “the culture and the flavors we grew up with, from the Hispanic dulce de leche and mazapan peanut candy to Asian flavors with combinations of tea that we import from Asia for our teas and matchas.”

Seang said the majority of Deja Brew customers are Asian, and that the most popular drinks include its “Dirty Taro,” a taro latte with two shots of espresso, Cambodian coffee (like the more well-known Vietnamese coffee, only a darker roast, he said), and Coconut Pandan, made with pandan extract, matcha and coconut milk.

Coconut Drink Honors Founder’s Grandfather

The coconut pandan drink was created to honor Seang’s late grandfather, Sambo Chhim, and pay homage to one of his grandfather’s favorite desserts.

“My grandfather passed away the same year I was supposed to graduate college and he was the biggest influence in my life,” Seang said. “He helped raise me from when I was a young child. He was in the war and moved his entire family from Cambodia to come here. I appreciate the sacrifices he made for us to be here.”

Seang is a native San Diegan who grew up in City Heights. His grandfather fled Cambodia with his family during the Khmer Rouge regime that ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s.


Chhim went first to the Philippines and then the family went to Thailand for a while before landing in San Diego. The family moved to Temecula when Seang was in middle school but didn’t stay long, going back to San Diego.


“We bought a house but it was a little too quiet there,” Seang said.

“There wasn’t a big Asian community in Temecula. The Asian community in Mira Mesa is far more vast than it is in Temecula.”

During his years at Mira Mesa High School, Seang said he was part of an award-winning Regional Occupation Program that allowed students to learn business management and culinary arts, proctoring with professional chefs. He said he ran the culinary course as a junior, when the program was recognized nationally, and when he was a senior.

Seang said his mother has encouraged his creativity since he was young.

“For our communities, especially the Asian community, it’s a big deal,” he said. “Outside of nail salons or pho shops, not many Cambodians have businesses.” 

Deja Brew Lounge


FOUNDERS: Vannak Seang and Mariana Covarrubias

HEADQUARTERS: 2528 University Ave.

BUSINESS: Coffee lounge


WEBSITE: dejabrewlounge.com

CONTACT: (619) 230-5224

NOTABLE: Among a flurry of interesting menu items, Deja Brew’s “L.A.” beverage combines horchata and activated charcoal


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