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California native, owner of Dickinson’s first modern-style coffee shop, keeps busy with the boom

Press Photo by Katherine Grandstrand David Sims stands behind the counter at Expresso in north Dickinson on Tuesday. Sims, a California native, was one of the first to bring espressos and cappuccinos to the area. The small business owner still thrives thanks to his shop being surrounded by hotels with oilfield workers living in them.

For nearly 20 years, David Sims has been completing one mission in Dickinson: make exceptional espresso drinks.

For the past 15 years, he’s been serving up lattes, cappuccinos and Big Train blended drinks at Expresso in north Dickinson.

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“I knew I loved coffee and enjoyed the coffee house scene that was kind of emerging when I got into the business in the early ’90s,” Sims said.

While not the first place to serve espresso in Dickinson — that honor went to Center Court in the Prairie Hills Mall a few weeks before Sims opened his first shop — he has been serving the extra-strong coffee drinks the longest.

“We were Cafe Espresso at The Novel Place and I had to have something close enough and everybody who wrote a check would write ‘Cafe Expresso,’” Sims said. “I said, ‘That’s not too far off.”

The name Expresso combines express and espresso, David said.

Sims moved here from San Diego to escape the city life. His son’s mother was from Dickinson.

“Most people are surprised that a Californian is in Dickinson, N.D., before the oil boom,” David said.

He even met his wife, Ann Marie, through the coffee shop.

“Right after I graduated (from massage school), I was working for Dr. Steve Lester, who was a chiropractor at the mall,” said Ann Marie Sims, a Grassy Butte native. “He’d always send me down to David’s shop to get the coffee drinks for all the doctors, so I was kind of the go-fer. … We slowly developed a relationship over the years.”

They both run businesses — she is a massage therapist — but are able to spend evenings and weekends together, said Ann Marie.

“He makes the best coffee I’ve ever drank,” Ann Marie said. “I’ve traveled a lot of places. I’ve been to Seattle. I don’t think their coffee’s any better.”

His son’s grandparents owned The Novel Place in the Prairie Hills Mall and when David first moved to Dickinson, he opened up his shop within the bookstore. Two years later he moved to the strip mall near, at the time, the Buttrey’s grocery store.

“Very few people knew much about it,” David said. “I would explain every drink, what espresso meant, what a cappuccino was.”

Most people were familiar with cappuccino from machines at convenience stores, which is very different from a traditional cappuccino, which is one-third espresso, one-third milk foam and one-third steamed milk.

Despite an initial lack of knowledge, the community caught on and begin to regard the coffee house drinks to a higher standard than black coffee.

“I think they figured they could get plain coffee anywhere, so they were coming to the coffee shop for something fancier,” David said.

Most of the coffee shops in Dickinson are similar to Expresso — independently run and locally owned. Big-name coffee chains are on the way to Dickinson, but David isn’t worried.

“In San Diego I competed against Starbucks,” David said. “There were a lot of them around and people knew of them and my business grew steadily. Once I had people come in and try our coffee, and they realized they’d have to spend $2 more for a burned-tasting coffee (at Starbucks), they loved it.”

Being near four hotels, Expresso sees a lot of oil field traffic where it used to see a lot of travelers.

“We used to get a lot of business from the hotels of traveling people. Now they’re full of people living in them,” David said. “Saturday mornings aren’t people getting in their cars, getting ready to leave Dickinson.”

The nature of the oil industry creates short-term regular customers.

“While people are here, if they’re staying next door they come in everyday while they’re here, but then they’re gone again,” David said. “It’s been transient, it hasn’t been people moving here and staying here, typically.”

The only employee at Expresso is David’s 18-year-old son, Christian, a senior in high school.

“There are people who think they’re going to own a business and just come in and pick up the revenue at the end of the day and have all these wonderful people watching just as though it was their own business — I found that doesn’t happen,” David said. “I just found that it was so much easier to just be me and know I was going to be doing what I was hoping would be done here.”

A good customer has one key quality.

“We’re for the people who love coffee,” David said. “It’s not just a matter of a little brown, hot water in the morning. This is passion.”


Address: 389 15th St. W., Dickinson, ND 58601.

Phone: 701-227-4841

Monday through Friday: 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday: Closed.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
(701) 456-1206