With the saturation -- some say oversaturation -- of chain coffeehouses such as The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Peet's and the granddaddy of them all, Starbucks, entrepreneur Renée Konstantine believes the time is perfect for a locally-owned, down-home and cozy café. After owning Blastoff Coffee Shop for only a matter of weeks, Konstantine and her business partners are seeing the hunch affirmed.


"It's growing steady each day," Konstantine said. "We're going to give Starbucks a run for their money."


Located in the High Desert Primary Care Center on Main Street near E Avenue, Blastoff benefits from HDPC and CareMore medical and office staff who pop into the coffeehouse for a hot cup of joe, iced coffee drink or sweet fruit smoothie.


Also helping to bring in business is Blastoff's handsomely appointed conference room, which has been booked for special staff meetings by local healthcare businesses, including a local hospital's board of directors. No rent is charged for use of the room; however, those who use the conference facility must purchase their coffee, beverages and food - if it is a luncheon meeting - from Blastoff.


"The room is beautiful. It has a nice ambience."


Another niche is the the real estate funding industry. As owners of Premier Citizens Financial in Apple Valley, Konstantine and her husband-business partner Dean Konstantine are well aware that some area lenders have had to close their offices due to the real estate slowdown. They, too, are welcome to meet their clients over a cup of coffee, bagel or Mediterranean phyllo pie at Blastoff.


In fact, Konstantine believes the recent purchase of Blastoff was especially shrewd because a coffee house is almost recession-proof. While many people may think twice before spending $30 or more on a family dinner at a restaurant, most are willing to spend a few dollars or more on a beverage and a treat. And contrary to typical restaurants, a coffeehouse is a place where people can hangout for an hour or more at a time.


"During recessions people like to gather at places and talk," she said. "People can afford a cup of coffee and a piece of pie."


But the real stars of Blastoff are the high school students from nearby Sultana High.


"We're a legend over there," according to Konstantine. "They love our Sparky drink."


(The Sparky is a frosted beverage blend of espresso with cream, caramel and chocolate, ice cream and secret flavors.)


Last Friday night, high school and college students converged by the tens during the weekly teen-oriented Open Mic Night. A stream of singer-guitarists took turns crooning the crowd.


Saturdays are reserved for more adult fare like folk and jazz singers and combos. Hesperia magician Steven Steele will appear at Blastoff on March 29, April 5, 12, and 19.


GRAND REOPENING


Despite its current momentum, Blastoff's start wasn't exactly rocket-like. A concept by local building contractor John Kane, the coffee house was built over a two-year period from April 2005 to its original grand opening in 2007.


"He had the idea and concept," Konstantine said. "There's no other coffeehouse with a conference room."


But Blastoff didn't quite get off the ground, and it was closed by the end of the year.


Meanwhile, the Konstantines were looking for a second business to help offset their mortgage and building companies, which was slowing down due to the economic downturn.


"We came across Blastoff," she said.


The Konstantines were joined by Merle McKnight, who builds zero-energy homes with Dean Konstantine, and McKnight's wife, Kay, in the purchase of Blastoff.


"We're all entrepreneurs."


Although Konstantine works about 12 hours a day, six days a week -- "I really enjoy my Sundays. I've never enjoyed them more" -- the Blastoff manager is Brandon Dauk. And after putting a help wanted ad on Craig's List, they found Forrest Toney, a chemical-enigineering college student who previously worked at Higher Ground, a former Victorville coffeehouse that closed after the owner passed away.


"Both Brandon and Forrest have the passion for the coffee. And Forrest doesn't mind opening at 6:30 in the morning."


They get additional help from the McKnight's children Willie and Doug. Merle, a musician, helps run the open mic night.


Born in Athens, Greece, Dean Konstantine is bringing his Greek heritage of delicious food and drink to Blastoff. New items such as "heart-healthy" mediterannean-style sandwiches, and phyllo pies and just the beginning.


"During the magic show we'll offer waffles and ice cream with caramel and chocolate," Renée Konstantine said.


If Blastoff continues to soar, the Hesperia location will be a flagship of an even grander enterprise. This could be the beginning of a completely new brand of coffeehouses throughout the region.


"We want to get it up and going so it can be like a template," Konstantine said. "We want to put ourselves on the map."