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, January 20, 2015

Hold The Coffee @ Daily Planet Coffee in Buffalo's Hertel Avenue

Now that Decision 2015 is over, I am looking at a whole new year of visiting fresh and exciting coffee shops around Northeast Ohio and beyond. This week, I am featuring Daily Planet Coffee Company, a shop that opened this past holiday season in Buffalo's Hertel Avenue neighborhood.

Ironically, I had to model in my own photo because my mom
and oldest sister are too camera shy.
This Italian heritage neighborhood north of downtown Buffalo doesn't really have any ties to Superman--the owner is simply a very big fan, according to recent stories about the place. I am surprised no one in Cleveland--the comic book founder's home--hasn't started a coffee shop with a Superman-themed name.

My mom and my oldest sister Sarah joined me on a visit to Daily Planet Coffee Dec. 27, during our long Christmas weekend. We were also on a mission to buy my boyfriend Matt a few Christmas gifts in the neighborhood. (It turns out, half of the independent retail stores on my list of stops were closed for the long weekend. Amazed, I was.)

Location: That Saturday was the first time I've ever stepped foot on Hertel Avenue. (Not a rare thing for someone raised in the southtowns of Buffalo, mind you.) Hertel is a long-time shopping and residential district that is being refueled by new investment much like Buffalo's west side. Daily Planet is approximately a half dozen blocks east of the most active shopping and dining section of Hertel. Knowing so little about Hertel, my mom, sister and I were surprised it took us 15-20 minutes to walk between New Buffalo Graphics and Daily Planet. 

I love these padded seats. Very creative.
Although Daily Planet prides itself of being an independent coffee shop contracting with local roasters, one of the first things I noticed about the shop was the billboard that sat above the one-story building. It was advertising Tim Horton's breakfast sandwiches and coffee.

Daily Planet's Hertel Avenue block might be far from the brightest spot in Buffalo's art, culture, dining and shopping scene, but I found it rather attractive to live. The street's not overwhelmed with destination retail and eateries. It's not seemingly dangerous, and it's close to Buffalo's Metro Rail line, giving residents quick access to downtown.

Food and Beverage: Daily Planet offers a little more than caffeine to fuel the stomach--with a menu of soups, sandwiches and breakfast specials.

My sister Sarah said her Aloe tasted like melted Jello.
Ewww.
Although I was tempted, the three of us didn't order anything to eat. My mom and I, however, did go a little exotic with our drinks. I ordered a 12 ounce cup of cafe cocoa and she ordered a 20 ounce cup of frozen cinnamon dolce. My oldest sister, who was visiting us from Lincoln, Neb., doesn't actually drink coffee, I learned. She ordered a bottle of Aloe Strawberry. Altogether, my mom spent $11 and change. (I am not ashamed to say she paid.)

Space and Atmosphere: Advice to my fellow nerds: I wouldn't walk into Daily Planet expecting to find Superman-themed decor and shelves of comic books. With the exception of its WiFi password and sign outside, I couldn't find much of anything that resembled Superman that day.

Nevertheless, Daily Planet does have an interior that sticks out very nicely with mounted murals of Buffalo's urban landscape, a beautiful fireplace near the serving counter, and an expansive stage in the middle of the shop perfect for small bands.

I am in love with this wall. It's as if the decorators
pieced this together from a consortium of floor panels.
For a coffee shop that had only been open for one full month, I was really impressed with how much Daily Planet had going for it. With that said, incorporating a comic book store to Daily Planet may not hurt. I've been thinking about visiting a coffee shop-slash-comic-book store since I saw one portrayed in the first "Kickass" movie a few years back. I still can't believe I haven't found one yet.

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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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Hold The Coffee's Decision 2015: Harbor Perk Coffeehouse and Roasting in Ashtabula

Editor's note: I know I said Decision 2015 would be posted yesterday, but sadly my car got a flat tire that evening while covering a fire in Euclid. Too many things were happening that day so I decided to break my promise and wrap the post up today. I apologize to all of those who missed the Ohio State game last night because they were waiting for my post. With that said, my friends tell me LeBron James kept people waiting for his big decision to come back to the Cleveland Cavaliers a year or so ago.

Editor's note 2: Those same friends tell me Lebron James made that decision just last summer, not a year or so ago. Shows how much I know about sports.

Picking a favorite coffee shop is like telling a group of friends I would feed them into a fire pit if it meant I and the other friends could stay warm. I say that because no matter who I pick and how I deliver the news, someone is going to feel rejected. But truth be told, of the 42 coffee shops featured in this blog, I've only met a handful shops that I wouldn't care to visit again. (And to respect those hard-working shop owners, I am not going to say which ones those are.) Every place I've visited and featured has been very cool and different.

Quite frankly, I am annoyed whenever I read a story or online slideshow declaring the best coffee shops. (Ironically enough, I am still compelled to click on them.) These days, neighborhood coffee shops have so many different premises and themes and target audiences, it's hard to judge which coffee shop tops others. And I am certainly not going to do that here.

What I am going to do, however, is tell which one is my favorite--something I've told people is nearly impossible because I don't have an exclusive commitment to any one coffee shop.

But there are qualities I do prefer in a coffee shop. Qualities like counter bar seating, plenty of natural lighting, a mixed-use building designed for dense pedestrian traffic, and plenty of exposed brick work.

To judge my favorite, I placed all 42 coffee shops in a spreadsheet and scored them in four categories: location, atmosphere, menu/offerings and service. Nine shops tied for the top scorer and from there, I began eliminating contenders based on personal preferences. Those include a lack of Sunday or weekend hours, a lack of sweetener options, missing chess board pieces on the communal chess board, or prices were beyond my income.

As of Jan. 13, I am still waiting for Zazzle.com
to mail this trophy-mug to me.
After a grueling hour of internal debating, I narrowed down my picks to Gypsy Beans Coffee and Baking in Cleveland's Gordon Square Arts District and Harbor Perk Coffeehouse and Roasting along Ashtabula's Bridge Street. I revere Gypsy Beans' dense, mixed-use location, its muffins, its massive Gothic wall art and it its window counter space. Nevertheless, by the end of Jan. 7, I concluded that if there was any coffee shop I would love to call my home today, it would be Harbor Perk. Ironically, it's 50 minutes away from where I live, but the two times I've been there, I've been thrown off my feet.

The coffee shop has an industrial flare that stands out, pride in its coffee roast blends, fun events like music nights, a vibrant staff and plenty of exposed brick. And most importantly, Harbor Perk plays a vital role in a city and neighborhood that's digging itself out of an economic downfall and turning it around into a regional destination for arts and recreation. An exceptional coffee shop plays a big role in how I perceive a neighborhood and that isn't any truer than Harbor Perk and Bridge Street.

Over the next couple of weeks I will present my first ever Hold The Coffee mug to the staff at Harbor Perk. (But I first need to wait for the mug to come in the mail. Poor timing on my part.)

Aside from Gypsy Beans, here are the honorable mentions that were pretty close into winning my heart: (They were also the top scorers mentioned above.)

Gathering Grounds in Downtown Wooster
Erie Island Coffee in Cleveland's East 4th Street
Stauf's in Columbus' German Village
Relax, It's Just Coffee in Downtown Mansfield
Rising Star Coffee Roasters in Cleveland's Little Italy
Loop in Cleveland's Tremont
The Root Cafe in Lakewood

Voters Choice Award: Sadly, I only got 21 votes when the poll closed at the end of Friday, ending in a four-way tie between Loop, Scribblers Coffee, Arabica Coffeehouse and one coffee shop I knew almost nothing about--Savor The Moment in Cleveland's Kamm's Corner neighborhood. (I am adding this place to my list of coffee shops to feature in 2015.)

I kind of figured this would happen. I don't do an incredible job marketing this blog. I am hoping to gather more votes in next year's Decision 2016 when I decide what is my newest favorite coffee shop,

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Hold The Coffee asks "What's your favorite coffee shop?"

It was a little more than a year ago when a few friends at the News-Herald, led by Devon Turchan, suggested I start a blog reviewing coffee shops. I joked back then--and still do--that if I wrote one it would focus on things like space, atmosphere, location and sometimes service, if warranted. It would have nothing to do with coffee, and certainly not the taste of coffee. Considering I drown my mugs in Stevia and milk, I was in no position to critique coffee.

I don't care how carefully sourced those beans were. For me, 
a cup of coffee will always taste better with some Stevia
in it. Especially when it's Stevia in the RAW, as
pictured here.
Today, I am still not a good coffee critic, but I have learned plenty about the differences between washed and unwashed beans, the brewing methods of press, drip and pour-over, and sourcing beans in African, South and Central American regions.

All this time, people have asked what's my favorite coffee shop so far. I've told everyone, even my boyfriend and blog editor Matt, the same answer: I am just not sure.

Over the next few weeks, I will be narrowing down my favorite coffee shops to one with a big reveal to come Jan. 12. (I am trying to design a special coffee mug for the winner of my heart.) I am pulling a Lebron and calling this contest: "Decision 2015."

Meanwhile, I want to know which coffee shops are loved the most by readers. I imagine most people haven't been to half of the coffee shops I've featured, and that's fine. I am looking for any and all opinions, just as long as you're not a spammer. Please fill out the form below--even if it means choosing a coffee shop I haven't featured yet. I plan to close the poll Jan. 9 and release the results the same day as Decision 2015.


EDIT: POLL CLOSED 1/10/2014

Also, just so no one is mistaken, I will continue visiting and featuring coffee shops next year, as well as repeat this contest at the end of 2015. I can list approximately a dozen coffee shops that either haven't been featured or are slated to open/re-open next year, and that's just in the Cleveland-area alone. I also plan to feature as many shops in the Columbus, Akron, Buffalo, Canton and maybe even Erie, Pa. markets. They're not going to be posted as frequent as every week for obvious reasons, but I am still committed to exploring as many new and different coffee shops as possible. And maybe one day I will settle down and commit myself to calling one neighborhood shop my home. Maybe.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ Rising Star Coffee Roasters in Cleveland's Little Italy

Hold The Coffee returns to another Rising Star Coffee Roasters this week--its second and far more spacious shop that is.

If you look closely enough at Amy's pants, she is indeed
wearing printed sailor anchors. It's the new fashion
symbol these days.
I reviewed Rising Star's home shop in Ohio City this past spring with Devon Turchan, and although I was blown away by the shop's vibe, location and friendly baristas, I think everyone agrees it lacks room for a group of friends to harbor inside from a snowstorm or work in a quiet space.  ("I can direct you to a homeless shelter, Simon," says Matt, my editing boyfriend.  He has more uses than editing, mind you.) That's why I was super excited when Rising Star opened its Little Italy shop at 2187 Murray Hill Road in early October. Using my unscientific counting ability, I estimate the Little Italy shop has four times the seating as its Ohio City home.

News-Herald colleague and friend, Amy Popik, joined me on a visit to the shop Saturday, Nov. 22. It was her first visit to the shop, and my second. (I made a third visit this past weekend, but lets not get into that yet.)

Location: Sitting inside a three-story mixed-use apartment building at the corner of Cornell/Edgehill and Murray Hill roads, Rising Star's shop is something to celebrate. It's in a pretty dense part of the neighborhood with a bike shop, a bed and breakfast, and a couple of restaurants only steps away. But it's also not crazily congested like nearby Mayfield Road and Euclid Avenue.

A new Rising Star sign had been installed on the buildings
industrial awning since this Nov. 22 photo was shot.
Don't be fooled by the parking lot behind the building--that's only for residents upstairs. As anything in University Circle and Little Italy, finding street parking isn't easy. That's why I nowadays use RTA's Healthline or Redline via Route 30 to get to the neighborhood from my apartment in Euclid. (Hopefully, that'll be easier when or if the transit agency expands rapid through Collinwood and Euclid.) I would've forced Amy to tag along with me in a public transit adventure, but she was on her way to Parma to see her boyfriend so she settled on driving. She somehow managed to find a parking space only a couple blocks away.

Food and Beverage: Rising Star focuses its time on serving mostly coffee, with baked good like cookies and bagels on the side. That's the way it should be considering how many eateries are nearby. After our visit, Amy and I got lunch at Algebra Tea House, which, despite focusing on the tea side of things, deserves its own blog post here.

At Rising Star that Saturday, I ordered a house coffee and a sea salt bagel with cheddar-chive cream cheese for $6 and change. I meant to save Amy part of my bagel, but I arrived 40 minutes earlier than she and I lacked enough self-control to keep it on my plate for that long. I couldn't even nurse my coffee. Instead, I just ordered another round of coffees for Amy and I at $7 and change when she arrived. (Sadly, there's no discount on refills.)

Just like the one in Ohio City, this Rising Star includes
some of the best presentation of coffee. It made me second
guess once on whether to order a coffee to go.
The menu of coffee and espresso at Rising Star is rather sophisticated, highlighting the coffee bean origins and other attributes. This and the Ohio City shop definitely belong on a coffee trail, if Cleveland had one. For anyone like me who dilutes coffee with sweetener, cream and milk and doesn't know what they really like, it's a good idea to ask the barista for suggestions.

Space and Atmosphere: The Little Italy shop's seating does more than allow people to camp out, work and socialize indoors. Rising Star staff has also used it to host coffee/roasting/cupping workshops. Over the last couple of months, my newsroom's travel editor has passed me two press releases about upcoming workshops there. (I didn't even know independent coffee shops produce press releases.)

The larger space isn't the only difference between Rising Star's Little Italy and Ohio City shop. The new place has more of a cozy and less industrial vibe, too--with a more subdued color pallet and dimmer lighting. My favorite part of the place is certainly the three low bar stool counters that surround the barista station and the building's central brick column.

It's hard to covertly sneak in photos of the place when
so many baristas work at the shop. All three times I've visited
I've seen four people working here.
The Little Italy shop is still very new to the neighborhood, but it's already grown into a popular spot for workers, residents and tourists. On my latest visit Sunday, the shop's seating was nearly filled up by the time I left for lunch. I am not an economics professor, but I would point to that as an example of how increasing supply also increases demand.  ("Actually, that's not how supply and demand works at all, but you're still really cool and I find your optimism extraordinarily endearing," says Matt.)

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, November 30, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ Stauf's in Columbus' German Village

Hold The Coffee this week returns to the Columbus Coffee Trail... at least one of the trail stops for now. Matt and I covered the Columbus Coffee Trail in October for a News-Herald travel piece and although we saw a lot of cool places and things worth sharing in the blog, the whole trail adventure was too overwhelming to dedicate a post to each of the seven shops like I normally do.

What a good boyfriend. Matt is wearing the Cleveland
hat I bought him to stay warm!
Since Matt lives an hour away from Columbus in Mount Vernon, I plan to revisit and feature as many of those shops in a post as possible. The first revisit is Stauf's in the German Village neighborhood. Stauf's is a coffee shop and roasting company with two other locations: a vendor-size shop at Columbus' North Market and its founding shop in Grandview Heights, an inner-ring suburb. (Actually, it's hard to say Columbus even has a ring of suburbs because the city often land-locks it's neighbors with is sheer land mass.  Upon editing, Matt Googled this image to prove there was an obvious ringed structure to Columbus. "If the ring were any more obvious, Google would have conjured this image.")

On Sunday, Nov. 16, Matt and I met up with Mark Swanson, president of Stauf's, at the 627 S Third St., shop. I also had the chance to meet the owner and founder, Tom, who named the brand after his mother's maiden name.

As much as I have an unwritten policy of never telling coffee shop owners / managers that I am featuring their shop in a post, I made an exception for Mark because we bonded quite closely during my Coffee Trail reporting. (Also, you always share with a gentleman who offered us a free bacon and cheddar scone, according to Matt.) Quite fittingly, Mark was raised in Madison--the township, not village. I probably type the word Madison in my News-Herald stories more than any other noun.

Lovely space, but it was too cold to drink coffee outside.
But Mark, Matt and I blew through a lot more topics than Madison in our brunch-hour visit. I think most of the passion in our discussion was dedicated toward examining the lack of rail transit in Columbus. Not even Amtrak runs through Columbus.

Location: Stauf's German Village shop is the brand's newest location. So new, Mark told me the shop was still awaiting facade painting and signage as of that Sunday. The place's seating area also was awaiting some mounted artwork then too.

German Village is a very vibrant neighborhood filled with brick roads, brick buildings and even brick parking lots. (But their small lots, thankfully) You can walk within minutes between downtown Columbus and most places in the neighborhood, including Stauf's. Matt and I made the foot trip that Sunday to exchange a Columbus Coffee Trail T-shirt for a different size. It was a brisk walk, but we sort of risked our lives crossing the Interstate 70 overpass that divides the two neighborhoods.
Not that it is a competition, but the bacon cheddar scone
totally be the slice of banana nut bread in taste and
appearance

You can still find some ironies in the neighborhood, like the Starbucks that sits a block away from the Stauf's. What might be more ironic, however, is that the Stauf's used to stand as a Cup O'Joe and MoJo, a coffee shop and cafe eatery that Swanson's company bought 15 years ago. Stauf's still operates plenty of Cup O'Joes and MoJos around the Columbus area. They both serve Stauf's branded roastings, but there's a few differences between the coffee shops. One difference is that a Stauf's location does in-house coffee roasting. Mark said that's why the German Village location made the brand transition.

Food and Beverage: Unlike a MoJo's/Cup O'Joe combo shop, Stauf's doesn't have much of a lunch menu, unless you want to fill up on baked goods.

The plan is to eventually host bakery workshops where the
three girls are sitting.
On Sunday, Matt and I bought a slice of toasted banana-nut bread and two medium mugs of coffee for $7 and change. Later, Mark bought us a bacon-cheddar scone for a non-verbal agreement that we'll only say nice things in this blog. (Just kidding, but it would've been an effective bribe.)

Just like the coffee, the German Village shop does its baking in house. Mark told me the head baker also has plans on holding baking workshops at the shop. ( I certainly would force Matt to go on a workshop with me.)

Space and Atmosphere: A lot of the coffee shops I've visited in Columbus have had pretty remarkable spaces, but nothing has stood out more than the German Village Stauf's. It has a relatively large retail area near its barista counter, outdoor seating near the sidewalk, plenty of natural lighting, exposed brick, and plenty of indoor seating with a fireplace.  Matt enjoyed the space because it was crisp, clean and offered a warm space to read a book with quiet and few distractions.

I am not certain what all this is, but it look wholesome,
artisan-like and cool.
And that brings me to the shop's unique twist--having a hallway that separates almost all of its seating from the barista counter. I certainly like it. I often get distracted at coffee shops, and sometimes it's because I am looking at who is walking in and out. The hallway kind of adds a layer of isolation between the hustle of a coffee shop operation, and the quietness of a study room and social gathering place.

If you're looking for a nice weekend getaway, try Columbus' German village.  It coalesces (Matt's verb, not mine) urban and small town Americas very well.  Take a bus or bike from the downtown and spend the day exploring Stauf's or The Book Loft, within walking distance.

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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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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