Blogs > Hold the Coffee

Every week, New-Herald Reporter Simon Husted camps out at a local neighborhood coffee shop reviewing its scene, menu, location and its space functionality. In an unusual twist, he reviews everything but the coffee.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ Scribblers in Geneva

Hold The Coffee steps into Ohio wine country this week with a visit to a special coffee shop in the city of Geneva.  Clevelanders' first impression of Geneva is probably the handful of vineyards that sit on the outlying townships. (That and probably Geneva-on-the-Lake a few miles north of the city.)

Most people actually take the side entrance, but that wasn't
nearly as attractive as the front entrance.
I am here to report that there is more to find in Geneva than local wine and summer carnivals.  (As my boyfriend, Matt, was editing this piece, he shared that he attended church camp as a youth in Geneva and partied hard as a twenty-year-old at several bars at Geneva-on-the-Lake.  The area offers both Jesus and gin, according to Matt.) The city has a healthy downtown with some neat shops, some wonderful western reserve-era homes and most importantly, the city has a local coffee house and roaster. 

That place is Scribblers Coffee Co., at 388 South Broadway. My Madison friends MaryAnn Froebe and Terri Wagoner joined me in a blog visit to the shop Saturday Nov. 8. It was my second time visiting Scribblers. Sadly, my reporter beat area is just shy west of the Geneva boundary. If I did cover Geneva, I would probably be at Scribblers three or four times a month.

Location: Yes, many cities have their own coffee shops, but finding a shop that does its own in-house roasting in a small city of a little more than 6,100 people is a pretty remarkable feature. (It's also open daily until as late as 7 p.m., another rare feature.)

Nope, that's not a picnic shelter. That's the nation's shortest
covered bridge and it is right next to Scribblers.
Scribblers' one-story building and side gravel parking lot is embedded in a fairly industrial neighborhood near downtown Geneva. It neighbors a car service shop, Old Mill Winery and rail road tracks. A few steps from Scribblers is Liberty Street Bridge, the nation's smallest covered bridge.  (Upon editing, Matt exclaimed, "What the $%&@ is wrong with these people?  I'm sure that money could have gone to the library system!") It's a cute neighborhood, but nothing can settle for a coffee shop in downtown Geneva.

I am not asking, nor would I expect, Scribblers to move from its current home to fill a bottom-floor commercial space in one of downtown's mixed-use buildings. Besides, Scribblers is less than a half mile south of downtown. That's not much of a walk or bike at all.

Food and Beverage: With a full kitchen, Scribblers is definitely a lunch-hour coffee shop. The traffic at Scribblers was fairly soft when I first met up with MaryAnn and Terri at 10 a.m., but by 11:30 a.m., the crowd had grown significantly larger. Not only that, but I estimated four-fifths of the patrons I saw had sandwiches, salads and soups. It was less about filling up on caffeine and more about filling the stomach.

Nothing beats a table full of freshly baked and roasted
carbs, sugar and caffeine. 
While meeting the Madison gals, I got a ginger cookie and a 12 ounce cup of coffee. I lost my notes and I can't remember how much the cookie cost, but the coffee was $1.59, and it came with free refills, of which I took advantage twice. I love when coffee shops do that and it works nice here because the place keeps a selection of six roastings for patrons to pour themselves. The first one I tried was their Covered Bridge Blend.  (Matt crankily inserted, "What does a dwarfish covered bridge taste like in coffee form?")

I stayed for a few more hours after Terri and MaryAnn left and ordered an Applewood Smoked BLT for $6 and change. I was one of a few people that day who camped out at Scribblers to work and I am not ashamed to say that. After all, I did drive nearly 50 minutes east to check it out.

Space and Atmosphere: Although hardly anyone was on a laptop that day, Scribblers does have a conducive environment for work with stable WiFi, small tables and nearby wall outlets. It's also a great place for gatherings of four to seven people, which I saw plenty that Saturday.

I love the white support beams. It definitely reminds me of
the local wineries here.
Scribblers has a lot of seating and tables, and possibly too many. That day I was knocking into one or two people every time I maneuvered back and forth from my table.

Scribblers' white painted columns and polished surfaces remind me of the local wineries I've visited near Geneva like Ferrante, Grand River Cellars and Debonne. Scribblers shares more than just a similar interior to the local wineries. The community group Connect534 (named after state Route 534) actually has a special deal this month and December where people can win a gift card by visiting and ordering a $5.34 lunch at eight of 17 partnered businesses. Most of the places are nearby vineyards and wineries, but Scribblers is also one of them. It's fitting that an area known for making wine has a place also making its own coffee.

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via email--shusted@news-herald.com--or on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH. 

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ Phoenix Coffee in Cleveland Height's Cedar-Lee District

Hold The Coffee stops at its second Phoenix Coffee location this week with a visit to the newly renovated Cedar-Lee shop in Cleveland Heights.

Doug make his modeling debut on the Hold The Coffee blog
It seems like anytime I go to a Phoenix-branded coffee shop, I run a good risk of finding nowhere to sit--or at least comfortably sit. I figure it's probably because every young, wannabe hipster like myself goes to Pheonix with the same idea in mind: camp out for a few hours, work on a blog post, and spend a couple more hours reading news sites and blogs about what's the newest and greatest neighborhood development coming to Cleveland/Columbus/Buffalo.

Sure, over-crowding happens at a lot of coffee shops, but Phoenix, which is arguably Cleveland's most popular local roaster and brand, has the best track record I've seen around here. I remember the Phoenix in Cleveland Height's Coventry Village was once so unbearably packed my boyfriend and I got coffee to go and drove to Arabica Coffee House in Willoughby for our morning chit-chat. I am not saying overcrowding is a bad thing and shop managers should do crazy things like cut WiFi or ban computers. It just means the supply of independent coffee shops in a neighborhood hasn't met the consumers' demand.

Devon Turchan, friend and News-Herald co-worker, is
actually a barista at this Phoenix. He and his dad carved this
sign together as well as an identical one outside in the shop's
back patio.
I'd argue that is why there are two Phoenix Coffee shops less than two miles apart in the same city of Cleveland Heights.

Fellow News-Herald colleague Doug Vehovec and I ventured to Phoenix at 2287 Lee Road Sunday, Nov. 2 for an afternoon chit-chat mostly about blogging, comic books, news-writing, and the dichotomy of Cleveland's east and west side.

I've featured Phoenix's Coventry location in a previous blog post, and I plan to sometime feature the brand's Ohio City shop, which opened up this summer. (I also want to feature Phoenix's downtown shop, but it may need to expand it's weekend hours first.)

Phoenix has some lovely mugs. To bad I can never walk
still enough to keep the coffee from spilling.
Location: Cleveland Heights' Cedar-Lee District is a moderately dense neighborhood but isn't really considered a downtown, Nevertheless, it is well designed for pedestrians and cyclists with street and back-lot parking, and the neighborhood does include some multi-story, mixed-use buildings. The district's Phoenix is only in a one-story, single-use building like much of its neighbors.  This structural feature may not improve urban density, but at least the building doesn't have a frontal parking lot.

Keep in mind, however, that the municipal lot behind Pheonix is metered at all times and only accepts quarters. The city should consider expanding free weekend parking that at the moment is exclusive only for special seasons?

It didn't really matter much that Sunday, however, because I parked a half mile from Phoenix--like I always inexplicably do at coffee shops.

There's too many good things to say about Phoenix's interior.
Food and Beverage: Like most coffee shops, Phoenix on Lee Road is not a place you're going to want to relieve an empty stomach unless you don't mine filling up on bagels, scones and cookies.  (Diabetics beware!)

In addition to its menu of coffee and espresso drinks, which includes either pour-over or drip coffee, Phoenix also has an extended menu of teas at its counter.

That Sunday, I ordered a large drip coffee for myself and a medium sized cup of cappuccino for Doug at $6 and change.

Space and Atmosphere:  The first time I visited the Cedar-Lee coffee shop was earlier this summer, a few weeks before Phoenix began its interior renovation project. Apparently, work is still finishing up, but I was amazed Nov. 2 just how different the space was since my visit a few months prior. Luckily,I shot a couple photos of the interior before the project started.

This is the before photo from early August. Ew, I just can't
stand to look at it. (My photo skills probably don't help either.)
I may know nothing about interior decorating, but the space now just screams contemporary design with its white walls and ceiling, wood-style tile flooring, small ceiling light fixtures and three new bar stool areas geared for laptop workers. (The two waxed-finished slabs of wood are really cool.)

With WiFi as reliable as any Starbucks location and hours that go as late as 9 or 10 p.m., the Lee Road Phoenix is just the perfect atmosphere for getting work done. With the exception of a few groups, almost everyone I saw that Sunday was studiously "working" on their laptops or tablets. You couldn't really hear much chatter. It's a good thing the shop's speaker system plays only timeless rock hits.

Doug and I didn't have much trouble finding a small table when we met around noon. It was a far different story when I returned by myself at 3 p.m., to work on a blog post. Initially, I wasn't sure if there was anywhere I could sit, but I ultimately found some space against the window facade, which was blaring sunlight in my eyes for the first hour.

Here is the packed crowd from Nov. 2. People were on top
of one another.
I should probably note that I returned to the Cedar-Lee Phoenix the following Sunday, Nov. 9, and for the five hours I was there (don't judge me) finding a place to work wasn't a problem. Although it was still non-stop busy.

I'm sure Cedar-Lee's interior makeover is part of the reason for these enormous crowds. (As well as the excellent customer service and coffee.) Larger than that, however, is the fact that only a handful of independent coffee shops serve the area. I believe this need will be on its way to being satiated when Coffeehouse at 185th and Bright Coffee Bar open this fall and spring in Collinwood, and when Coffee Phix Cafe re-opens its new shop in South Euclid sometime this year.

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via email--shusted@news-herald.com--or on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH. 

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ Gathering Grounds in Wooster

Kailey, a counselor in training and militant feminist, was 
opposed to modeling initially, but I convinced her to cease her 
Feminine Mystique-thumping and counseling angst-laden
 youth long enough to smile and pose. (This caption
was written by Matt.)
Hold The Coffee makes its first blog stop in one of my all-time favorite small cities--Wooster! I know I say that about a lot of cities in Ohio, but Wooster has a special place in my heart. It has a vibrant downtown--whether it be a weekend or a weekday, it is home to two college campuses, and is designed well enough to preserve high quality farmland in Wayne County while managing a growing population.

The last attribute I needed to lock down was whether the city had an exceptional neighborhood coffee shop. My friend, Kailey Bradley, (whom I adopted from my boyfriend, Matt) and I decided to answer that question Oct. 25 while visiting Gathering Grounds. The coffee shop had its official "grand opening" earlier that week, but truth be told, it has actually been open since late summer. (So many businesses these days are abusing what a "grand opening" means.)

Kailey and I were met with grand showmanship and hospitality by Gathering Grounds' owner, Stephen.  His coffee intuition must have alerted him of the conspiring blogger in the room.

I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of the
sophisticated pour-over coffee workshop by diluting the
coffee too much with creamer and  sweetener, so I drank
my coffee black to blend into the environment.  Needless
to say, I won't be drinking my coffee like that again any time
soon... 
Location: Gathering Grounds, which was formerly Woo's Brews Cafe & Coffee House, is tucked in a small alley off of North Market Street. It's tucked away so well that it took Kailey a few minutes to find the shop from her car that Saturday afternoon.  (Mind you, says Matt, she has an iPhone with a GPS and her tardy behavior was entirely unwarranted.)

The quiet alleyway is rather attractive, especially for people who prefer to drink their coffee outdoors.  Despite being quiet, the shop is only a block away from the intersection of Liberty Street, where all of downtown Wooster's activity is centered.

Although Gathering Grounds' location is a balance of serenity and excitement, its hours leave plenty to be desired. On normal weekdays, it is open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday, it's 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. I've seen coffee shops with worse hours, but those coffee shops don't have two neighboring college campuses. Granted, it's a new business, but judging by Saturday's large crowd, I have a hard time believing there's not enough traffic to support expanded weekend and weekday hours.

Kailey was a pour-over virgin.  Unlike me, she's no stranger to
black coffee.  She's quite an earthy woman, says Matt.
Food and Beverage: Like almost every coffee shop visit, I intended on only buying the cheapest drip coffee that Saturday afternoon, but since drip coffee was not offered on the menu, Kailey and I ordered the shop's pour-over coffee. (I later found out that the place does offer drip coffee.) With an apple cinnamon muffin, Kailey and I spent $9 and change. Somewhat pricey, in my opinion, but when one purchases coffee in the pour-over method, one is also paying for the process, too. In case you're wondering, Gathering Grounds contracts its roasting with the Columbus-based, Crimson Cup.

Kailey and I were expecting a nice, quiet afternoon of catching up and gossiping about Matt.  Contrarily, Kailey and I received our $9's worth when we were met with a detailed demonstration of the pour-over method and a conversation of its impact on the taste and culture of coffee. I swear, this owner should lead workshops all of time! Not only did he dedicate 10 minutes talking to us like a good bartender, (for the record, "barista" actually means, "bartender") but also gave us and every patron in the shop, a complimentary freshly-baked cookie. (There was a catch, however: we had to like his business on Facebook. Little does he know, I've liked every neighborhood coffee shop's Facebook page between Columbus and Buffalo--whether I've visited them or not.)

Here is the owner, Steven, giving out cookies for Facebook
likes. As of Nov. 2, Kailey still has not liked Gathering
Grounds on Facebook.  She owes Steven a cookie...
After that, Steven wielded his guitar and played some music. He should win an award for most dedicated coffee shop owner.

Space and Atmosphere: Gathering Grounds is a perfect interior design guidebook poster child for making an attractive neighborhood coffee shop. It has wooden flooring, plenty of natural light, an elongated space, an exposed brick wall on one side with warm, mocha walls elsewhere. Gathering Grounds' wooden and tiled counter at the coffee bar was the most aesthetically striking feature. I am not often eager to sit at bar-stool areas like Matt, but as soon as my eyes caught sight of the counter table, I knew there was no better place to sit.

It's a shame that I may never have a chance to show my boyfriend the majestic bar counter due to Gathering Grounds' restrictive weekend hours, and Matt even stranger nursing hours. If Steven is reading this post, which I know he must be, I urge him to consider expanding the coffee shop's hours.  :)

You can see part of the beautiful coffee counter!  
Pour Cleveland in downtown Cleveland expanded its hours earlier this year. I'm not saying my blog post was the ground breaker for their decision nor that I possess psychic powers, but the change did happen just days after it was posted online.  Coincidence? You decide for yourself...

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via email--shusted@news-herald.com--or on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ Columbus Coffee Trail

Rest in peace, Short North Cup O'Joe. None of my blog
readers will ever know just what superficial opinions
I had about you.
All I can say is I tried to feature a coffee shop on Columbus' Coffee Trail, but irony won the battle at the end of the day. Matt and I spent two nights, Oct. 9-11, in Columbus covering the city's coffee shop trail, with an end-goal of featuring at least one shop in my Hold The Coffee blog.

Little did we know the coffee shop Matt and I chose to visit for the blog, Cup O'Joe in the Short North neighborhood, was closing soon. In fact, five days after our visit, I learned it's last day of business was the Sunday we visited. I shared the unfortunate story with Mark Swanson, who is president of the company. He apologized and told me the company chose not renew the shop's lease partly because the coffee shop's sister brand and roaster, Stauf's, opened a location in the North Market, located a little ways across the street.

Yes, I wear a bike helmet every where I go. It gives the
impression that I bike more than I do.
Although the Cup O'Joe's we visited had some neat furniture and a very friendly barista behind the counter, there's no point talking about it here in the blog.

I did go to seven other coffee shops on the trail, but that was while I had my journalism cap on. I was busy taking notes then about how the coffee trail was formed, how sourcing, equipment and technique impacts the taste of coffee and how cold brew coffee and iced coffee are not the same thing. The shops' atmosphere and location blew me away, but I didn't really have a chance to walk in with a friend, sit down for some coffee and evaluate the experience at each shop like a costumer--which is the premise behind each post. I do intend to gradually visit and feature each shop in a blog post. Matt and I certainly don't mind visiting Columbus whenever we get the chance. 

(To read more about the trail and my experience, read my travel piece appearing in the Nov. 9 travel section, or online at News-Herald.com)

But in the meantime, I'll map out where Matt and I visited over the three-day trip. (Make sure to click on each icon for photo and additional inforation.)



Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via email--shusted@news-herald.com--or on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ Something Sweet Coffee and Bakery in Delaware

Hold The Coffee stepped foot in Delaware this weekend--no, not the state, the county seat that sits virtually in the middle of Ohio.

Matt Sellers... in fall fashion
For nearly two years, my impression of Delaware and the county that bears the same name was nothing more than a large Columbus suburb Matt and I needed to cut through to get to Columbus' trendy neighborhoods and downtown YMCA. I intended to erase that perception Saturday, Oct. 4, as Matt and I cleared our schedule to explore downtown Delaware and its highlighted coffee shop, Something Sweet Coffee and Bakery. (We also went the city's YMCA, and were shocked by all that it offered. It might indisputably be the best YMCA center Matt and I have ever visited.)

A fun fact: Something Sweet at 2 N Sandusky St., used to be called the Mean Bean Coffeehouse until a couple purchased it in late 2011.

Location: I sometimes tell people my favorite thing about a neighborhood or downtown district is its potential of what it can be. That doesn't work for downtown Delaware because it's clearly met that imaginative potential. Almost none of the retail spaces along Sandusky Street are vacant and the ones that are have signs saying something is coming soon.

Something Sweet has a few of these really neat columns
inside the shop. It's very neat how the mismatch colored
glass is scattered throughout the concrete. 
Much of the downtown eateries, bars, attractions and shops in Delaware are gravitated along Sandusky and Winter streets and although it's not geographically in the middle of downtown, Something Sweet sits virtually in the middle of the activity being only a block away from the Ohio Wesleyan University campus.

Something Sweet's two-story building sticks out among most of the buildings downtown with its mismatch brick and stone facade. Something Sweet also doesn't have a dedicated parking lot, but it didn't take long at all for Matt and I to find street parking that Saturday a couple blocks away.

Best of all, Something Sweet maintains steady hours throughout the week with even 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. hours on Sunday. These days, I am never surprised to see a coffee shop closed on Sundays, or if not then, Mondays.

A coffee shop visit is never complete with an emotional
novel like Paul Auster's "Sunset Park." Matt actually
100 pages in our 1.5 hour visit that Saturday.
Food and Beverage: Something Sweet's menu is everything the name conveys--muffins, donuts and pumpkin rolls--all baked on-site. Matt and I exerted some self-control that Saturday and ordered only one pumpkin muffin. (We've been siding with a lot of pumpkin-flavored pastries lately.) Together with two large brewed coffees with daily flavor shots (so much for self-control on the sugar) Matt and I spent $7 straight--or as straight as two gay men can.

The place also serves sandwiches, but like almost every coffee shop, it's not a place to go to with an empty stomach. That's not a big deal though, considering all of the nearby pubs and restaurants downtown like 1808 American Bistro, Bun's and Amato's Woodfired Pizza. That Saturday before going to Something Sweet, Matt and I ate lunch at Chandra's Bistro, an Asian bar and restaurant my coworker Elizabeth Childers recommended, who is an Ohio Wesleyan alum. While there, we met owner Chandra and she told us that Saturday was the restaurant's last day because she is temporarily moving to Louisiana to take care of her sick son. A new owner is going to open another Asian-style bistro at the space, she told us. To say we weren't expecting to hear that is an understatement.

The ceiling here is oddly low, but as any good coffee shop,
you do best with what you have.
Space and Atmosphere: Something Sweet's mocha-shade colors and simple metal furniture brings a very chill and casual atmosphere. An ideal place to open a laptop and study before class.

The male and female baristas there we're also very chill and friendly, considering that I walked into the shop with a Tim Horton's logo on my jacket unknowingly. (I am not really sure why it has a Tim Horton's logo. My sister gave it to me last spring, however, she says I stole it.)

No one seemed bothered. In fact the male barista asked me inquisitively if I just came from work at the Tim Horton's two blocks west. I laughed. Oddly enough, he told us he knows a worker who does just that.

I am not surprised. With its quiet, comfort space and diabetic-endangering pastries, I would do the same.

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via email--shusted@news-herald.com--or on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ Common Grounds in Cleveland's Kamm's Corners

I know plenty of people who drink coffee after night fall--my boyfriend and editor Matt Sellers being one of them--and this week's Hold The Coffee post dives into a west side coffee shop that best serves this audience. I say that because Common Grounds doesn't close... ever. At least that's what the 24/7 sign conveys. I can't say I've tested the place for holiday hours.

Caitlin Fertal in her natural pose. Avril Lavigne, 
eat your heart out.
My friend and former News-Herald colleague Caitlin Fertal has been telling me about Common Gound in the Kamm's Corner neighborhood since I launched this blog in November 2013. This past month, we scheduled two meet-ups at the coffee shop at 17104 Lorain Ave., in Cleveland. One during a Sunday afternoon, Aug. 31, and then a Thursday night visit,  Sept. 25. I wasn't crazy on the idea of driving 30 minutes east to grab a drink of coffee at night, but Cailtin was adamant that I see the nighttime side of this atypical coffee shop. It's like Batman: innocent and quiet by day and vigilantly quirky by night. 

Location: This past summer was the first time I had ever visited Kamm's Corner, and much like its only coffee shop, the neighborhood is a very different place before and after sun-down. On my Sunday afternoon visit, the neighborhood was very quiet and relatively dead except for the farmer's market situated behind a Walgreens on Lorain Avenue. Although I prefer quiet neighborhoods, I wasn't impressed with the neighborhood's lack of mixed-use buildings, and its wide roadways. I was impressed, however, with the Walgreen's lack of a frontal parking lot.

The nightlife scene at Common Grounds.
On my Thursday night visit, I saw a different side of the neighborhood--one that I can only best articulate as a college-town feel.

All of the 20- and 30-year-olds were afoot that Thursday at the neighborhood's selection of sports bars, biker bars, divorced-dad bars, Mexican-themed bars and the most special bar of all... Chipotle.

Serving caffeine in absence of alcohol, Common Grounds adds a quirky dimension to Kamm's Corners' nightlife scene. It also allows law-abiding adults under 21 to do something while their older friends get trashed.

Food and Beverage: Common Grounds does not serve decaf coffee... ever. I know some people--mostly Matt--thinks decaf coffee is an abomination, but I find it as a necessary compromise for coffee shop patrons. I mean, the only thing worse than seeing me drunk at night is seeing me caffeinated at night. (Caitlin and her friend Andrew, who joined us Thursday, can attest to this.)

Common Grounds uses thick, non-decorative, Styrofoam
cups. It's like they're not even trying.  
The shop's menu is full of signature coffee beverages with wacky names. Some of them include "Dirty Girl Scout," "Caffeine Orgasm," "Raspberry Bitch Kiss," "Crazed Englishman," "The Warchief" and "Cafe Voltaire." All of them cost $5 each. Common Grounds is doing to coffee what the craft beer movement is doing to beer: serving a staple beverage with a revitalized experience.

I considered ordering one of the signature drinks during my Thursday night visit, but I only had $4 in my wallet and the baristas only accept cash.

Instead, I ordered flavored brew coffee both during my Sunday afternoon and Thursday night visit.

Common Grounds offers pastries, but if you want to fill an empty stomach, you're best walking to one of the neighborhood's bars or restaurants... or Chipotle, like Caitlin and I did on Sunday.

Common Grounds has some incredible anime-club-themed
chalk art. But what's more important is that the coffee
shop is hosting a Super Smash Bros 3DS launch party
this weekend. Too bad I didn't reserve my copy in
advance and I will be in Mount Vernon then.
Space and Atmosphere: Common Grounds' space is a mix between a modern coffee shop and the furnished basement bedroom of your 25-year-old friend who hasn't separated from his parents yet. (I say that with most positive meaning.) Common Grounds' interior includes black and dark purple walls, floor and ceiling, Christmas lights and small ceiling light fixtures, and has two pinball machines near the entrance. (It also has a television in the back used for playing console video games. Ground breaking idea!)

At the same time, the coffee shop has a glass facade to allow plenty of natural light during day-time hours, and has plenty of compelling art decorated around the walls. It also has WiFi, which was used plentifully by patrons both days I visited.

If there was such a thing as an alternative coffee shop, Common Grounds would fit that category. It is gritty unassumingly without breaking any health code violation or law. It's a shame that I've never really heard much about the place in all of the Cleveland coffee shop guidebooks I've read online. Truthfully, if it wasn't for Caitlin, I probably would still not know the name Common Grounds.

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via email--shusted@news-herald.com--or on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ Harbor Perk at Ashtabula City Harbor

There was no hiding my excitement when I learned two weeks ago I would be working on this year's Good Living in Ashtabula County section for the News-Herald. (Many of my colleagues could probably recite just how loud I gasped and screamed in the newsroom.)

John Hutchison, another up-and-coming model. We were so 
fortunate to be leaving Harbor Perk at a time when no one was
siting at outdoor tables.
I love any new excuse to visit the covered bridges, the farms, vineyards, the western reserve-era homes and buildings, the lakefront parks and the river valleys in Ashtabula County. Of course, you can find plenty of that around Ohio, but you know what you can't find? My favorite neighborhood and tourist destination between Cleveland and Buffalo--the historic Ashtabula Harbor, and its commercial slip along Bridge Street.

It has everything a 24-year-old new urbanist and Rust Belt-enthusiast loves. A nearby industrial riverfront open for recreation, preserved century-old homes and brick buildings, an organized business community, majestic overhead views and a compelling turnaround story of bringing a neighborhood from a rust-belt blight to a destination deserving of the the extra eight minute drive between Interstate 90 and state Route 11.

It was very awkward trying to sneak in photos like this one 
when the place was packed in the morning and early 
afternoon.
It's no wonder the Bridge Street area won nearly $700,000 in state grants last summer to progress with more infrastructure improvements and restoration work. That's big money for a small city of a little more than 18,000 residents.

It goes without saying that Bridge Street must have an amazing neighborhood coffee shop. It does, and it's called Harbor Perk Coffeehouse.

Because I live an hour west, I've only visited Ashtabula Harbor once before September--and that was when I worked on last year's Good Living in Ashtabula County section.

With another section coming up, I endured the hour-long commute to Harbor Perk, Saturday, Sept. 20, meeting up with News-Herald reporter John Hutchison for coffee. He lives in Conneaut and might just be an even larger enthusiast of Bridge Street and Harbor Perk than I. 

Location: Harbor Perk, at 1003 Bridge St., is nestled in the middle of all of the action at Bridge Street. It's neighbors are a newly opened burger and ice cream shop, Loading Dox, and a long-time home decorative gift store, Carlisles Home in the Harbor. Across the street is a popular wine bar and grille, Bascule. And in the three-story brick building behind Harbor Perk, an upcoming restaurant is building an outdoor patio.

I thought of going a little exotic that Saturday morning with
a mocha. It tasted great, but I would hate to learn just how 
much sugar was inside.
I've never had trouble finding nearby parking in my two visits to Bridge Street, but I am sure it can be challenging sometimes, especially during one of the street's big annual weekend events like the Wine and Walleye Festival and Beach Glass Festival. (Never bothers me though. I avoid congested festivals like the plague.)

One thing Bridge Street needs more of though are bike racks and public art (preferably built together as one.)

Food and Beverage: It's pretty obvious by the menu that Harbor Perk focuses its attention on its caffeinated beverages and smoothies. They do offer bagels and pastries, but its nothing that is going to satisfy an empty stomach. I prefer the scaled back menu, however, because it allows visitors like me to venture somewhere else for a filling lunch.

Anyway, throughout my 8.5-hour visit to Ashtabula, I bought two large ice coffees, a bagel and a medium-size mug of mocha. (I had trouble sleeping later that night, you can imagine.) I had to look back at my bank statement to find out I spent approximately $15 there--not counting tips.

By 5 p.m., Harbor Perk hosted three guitarists who played
random 90 musical hits for two hours.
In case you're wondering, I did not spend my entire time at the coffee shop. My trip also included venturing downtown, the city's Walnut Beach, the local YMCA, eating lunch at Loading Dox and hunting down a birthday gift for my boyfriend, Matt. My apartment's ceiling bathroom was also leaking water so I wanted to stay out as long as I could.

Space and Atmosphere: Maybe it was because last Saturday was full of sun and warm temperatures, but according to my colleague John, Harbor Perk is always packed with people every weekend. And it's packed with a very diverse crowd--from the chit-chat-after-church groups, to the lonesome workers camping out at a table, to the nuclear families grabbing their smoothie to runners like Hutch refueling after their half-marathons or whatever they like doing. I even saw a small group of high-school aged kids seemingly dressed up for prom or homecoming. (Whichever one makes more sense.)

Harbor Perk, where retail meets back office.
Harbor Perk's narrow, gallery-like interior is as vibrant as the people walking through it. If I were to produce an interior designer's guidebook to what makes a swinging coffee shop, Harbor Perk would probably be the front cover. The place has high wooden ceilings with small light fixtures, an almost all glass window facade, wood-panel flooring in the front and a small section of concrete flooring in the back, and finally two sides of exposed brick walls with community art mounted every where. (Not to spin off into a rant, but I noticed at my Saturday visit that Harbor Perk staff don't bother labeling their two single-stall restrooms with genders designations. Some may call that progressive, but truthfully, why should any business owner care to designate separate gender restrooms when only one person can be using them at a time?)

The thing I appreciate the most at Harbor Perk is that everything is visible. Their coffee roaster, their office desks, their storage of coffee beans--it is all out in front. I've seen other coffee shops do the same, but in Harbor Perk's case, the design adds to the industrial flare that is present all around Ashtabula Harbor and Bridge Street.

A high view of Ashtabula's Harbor from Point Park.
Harbor Perk, as well as Ashtabula Harbor, is one of those few special gems a person like myself wants to expose and share with every new friend I meet. In the one year I've known about the neighborhood, I've seen so much growth in new investment and vibrancy. And it's important momentum for a city with only 60 percent of the state's median household income. If strong enough, maybe the momentum can initiate investment in other parts of the city like Walnut Beach and downtown Ashtabula. This is one success story I will keep watching year after year.

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via email--shusted@news-herald.com--or on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

P.S.: You can find this blog post printed in this year's edition of the News-Herald's Good Living in Ashtabula County section running Thursday Sept. 25.

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