Heart to Heart — Just when ‘I Heart Costa Mesa’ was about to call it quits, fate intervened

Erin Huffstutter, left, and Dean Tompkins  in front of the I Heart Costa Mesa sign outside of Triangle Square.
Erin Huffstutter, left, and Dean Tompkins in front of the I Heart Costa Mesa sign on Thursday. Tompkins is taking over the multimedia platform “I Heart Costa Mesa” from Huffstutter.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Costa Mesa’s Erin Huffstutter — who founded the multimedia platform “I Heart Costa Mesa” in 2015 to honor the best the city has to offer — was ready to hang up her hearts, another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic, when fate intervened.

Following the cancellation of community events, citywide business closures and prohibitions against the in-person interviews on which she and her small team of writers prided themselves, it seemed Huffstutter’s passion project had come to a grinding halt.

“The minute I could tell the world was shutting down, I could hear the silent scream of small businesses,” she recalled in an interview. “The way we had done things the past five years had pretty much come to an abrupt end.”

Erin Huffstutter, founder of "I Heart Costa Mesa"
Erin Huffstutter founded the website “I Heart Costa Mesa” in 2015 to highlight the city’s best features, but when the pandemic hit she announced she’d have to close up shop.
(Scott Smeltzer/Staff Photographer)

So, in an Oct. 5 news release-turned-heartfelt farewell, Huffstutter thanked her legion of fans and subscribers, those who’d tuned in regularly to read long-form blog posts, watch video shorts and listen to the site’s podcast series.

“After five glorious years of covering the everyday joys and amazing people of Costa Mesa, we sadly cannot continue posting new content into 2021,” she wrote.

Huffstutter explained how the “I Heart Costa Mesa” merchandise sold at local events like the annual summertime Concerts in the Park series had been a mainstay for the grassroots enterprise. She committed to keeping the online shop open as long as supplies last.

“If we made even a small, positive difference in the lives of Costa Mesans — a smile, a laugh or a touch more city pride — then I Heart Costa Mesa did its job and that’s good enough for me,” she signed off in the release.

The news of the closure landed heavily on Costa Mesa resident Dean Tompkins, founder and co-owner of ThunderKing Coffee, who’d been a follower of the site for years and whose business was profiled by Huffstutter in 2017.

Dean Tompkins, founder and co-owner of Thunderking Coffee Bar in Costa Mesa.
Dean Tompkins, founder and co-owner of Thunderking Coffee Bar in Costa Mesa, is taking over the reins of “I Heart Costa Mesa” from creator Erin Huffstutter.
(Scott Smeltzer/Staff Photographer)

“What they were doing was such a great thing. I was always a little jealous,” he said. “So, when Erin mentioned she was going to unwind it, I thought, ‘Hey, I want to do that.’”

Tompkins sent an email asking if he might take up the mantle of “I Heart Costa Mesa” and, after some thought, Huffstutter agreed. With some help from her father-in-law, she crafted a licensing deal that would broker the transition while allowing her to maintain ownership of the name.

“I think he’ll have a fresh voice, and I’m cheering for him hard,” she said of Tompkins. “This feels right to me, down to my toes.”

Tompkins — who loves Costa Mesa so much he has the city’s name tattooed on his wrist — has a lot of ideas about using the platform to continue to raise awareness of local makers and create collaborations between the city’s business and arts communities.

“I feel really excited and really lucky. My mind is racing with things we can do,” he said. “I cannot do what [Erin] did as far as writing goes but, hey, we’ll make it happen.”

As for Huffstutter, she confesses she doesn’t know what the future holds but is excited for what’s next — for her and for “I Heart Costa Mesa.”

“I’m giving the project a huge hug and I’m giving Costa Mesa a big thank you and, with all the gratitude in the world, I’m sending my little project off into the world to see what it’s going to be,” she said.

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