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.

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 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 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 
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 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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Friday, September 19, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ Comfort Zone Cafe in Hamburg Village

This week's Hold The Coffee post returns to my home city Buffalo to take a look at a coffee shop in one of the most highlighted neighborhoods south of the Buffalo River. 

Matt, always with a new pose!
Hamburg Village, which is an incorporated village unlike Elmwood Village, has been getting a lot of press in recent years after a huge streetscape makeover. The New York Times wrote about the village last month and how it thrived by subscribing to pedestrian and bike-friendly street design.

I've probably have said it countless times before, but I will say it again: inside all great neighborhoods is a great coffee shop. Comfort Zone Cafe at 17 Main Street is that coffee shop in Hamburg.

In a twist to this week's blog post, my boyfriend and editor Matthew Sellers volunteered to write the review of our first ever Comfort Zone experience, Friday, Sept. 12. (Unlike me, he had almost a week off of work.)

(This is Matt's second time writing a post. You can read his first one about Wiggins Street Coffee here.)

I've probably never been to a coffee shop with ceilings
hanging as low as these.
His story is below:

I can always count on Simon to fill our trips to Buffalo with numerous Buffalo-centric activities like paying homage to the grain silos along the Buffalo River, celebrating the ever-burgeoning Canalside downtown development, finding spiritual solace among the construction dust in the air, and visiting several local, neighborhood coffee shops.  

However, before the Buffalo skyline was in view, Simon was nudging me awake in the passenger seat where I'd been sleeping for several hours. Groggy from an overnight shift at the hospital and two-hour drive to Cleveland to meet Simon, I reluctantly turned.  "Yes?"
"Matt, we are in Hamburg, NY!"

The brick and rather WASPy (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants) storefronts blurred by me as we drove through the groomed, quaint village twenty minutes south of Downtown Buffalo. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, took a sip of my sugar-free Monster energy drink and slid on my sunglasses.  

One T-shirt reads "Nevermind the stairs. I'll take
the grain elevators." Still shocked he didn't buy that
"What is so special about Hamburg, NY?" Simon replied with a passionate monologue on Hamburg's innovative answer to the paradigm of coalescing a car-loving world with the quickly blossoming Millennial movement towards pedestrian and bike-accommodating neighborhoods.  Hamburg looks like a restored nineteenth-century village in the Colonial style.  However, its wide bike lanes and series of roundabouts whisper modernity and Gen Y consciousness.  

Simon pulled into a space on the street.  "Matt, we came to marvel at Hamburg's answer of maintaining tradition while making it relevant for the twenty-first century.  Even ISIS would be proud of Hamburg."  I laughed, pulling on a sweater.  "Simon, I'm also suspicious of a nearby coffee shop."

We only ordered one muffin. That's unprecedented
Comfort Zone Cafe is located along the pedestrian-friendly street of downtown Hamburg. It does not feature the usual mocha walls and bohemian themes of Simon's usual coffee shops, but is reminiscent of a doctor's office waiting room and appears to have been decorated by the local chapter of the Red Hat Society with curtains and furnishings taken from the Holiday Inn.  This motif is apropos because the clientele are comprised of mostly fourty-something ladies dressed in L.L. Bean.   Upon dropping eaves, I heard discussions of local politics, church luncheons and, "that Obama." My ears perked when the opinions of combating ISIS began to fire.

Possibly, my favorite part of the coffee shop's interior.
What Comfort Zone Cafe lacks in atmosphere, it redeems itself with its variety of coffee, beverages and food.  (I am going to rebel against this blog's theme just for you, just for today.)  Comfort offers drip coffee, cafe drinks, wraps, sandwiches, paninis, salads and soups. It was a cool, overcast afternoon in Western New York and hot coffee and soup were very welcome. Despite feeling as though Sunday School was about to start, I enjoyed the space and conversation with Simon.

Simon and I indulged in seasonal drip coffee (I got one labeled mudslide and Simon chose a pumpkin-spice flavor) and an apple cinnamon muffin for seven dollars and change.  Following the clear coffee mug trend, Comfort's coffee swirls as ribbons of cream and sweetener are added. With a detailed menu and extensive display of Buffalo-related t-shirts and souvenirs, Comfort Zone Cafe's charm is in its attention to detail, commitment and loyalty to all things Western New York and Buffalo.

Just another photo Simon randomly shot while I was in 
the bathroom.
Visiting coffee shops in new communities with Simon is always a charming, spiritually-nutritive activity.  Witnessing the sights and efforts of a community to remain rooted in tradition but open to things fresh and new is always the bedrock of our travels.  Finally coming from my fog of fatigue and poor sleep, we walked the streets of Hamburg, NY, appreciating and discovering one of Western New York's gems for coffee shop lovers and sugar-free Monster lovers alike.

Simon will be back next week. In the meantime, send suggestions of any coffee destinations to @SimonSaysNH or

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ Gypsy Beans & Bakery in Cleveland's Gordon Square Arts District

Hold The Coffee ventures back to the west side of Cleveland this week as it highlights a coffee shop in the Gordon Square Arts District.

In case you can't read it, which I know you can't, Shauna's
T-shirt reads "I <3 BSR," as in Black Squirrel Radio, a
Kent State-based online radio channel. I <3 student media.
Since launching the blog nearly 10 months ago, a few of my friends have urged me to visit Gypsy Beans and Bakery, a sweet and coffee destination in between the famous Cleveland Public Theatre, The Capital Theatre and the soon-to-be completed Near West Theatre.

After finishing a Gay Games assignment on Cleveland's west side for the News-Herald on Aug. 7, I finally had the chance to visit Gordon Square and Gypsy Beans. Since then, I've made two other trips to the coffee shop and arts district with my boyfriend, and blog editor, Matt, (Thankfully this blog is not-for-profit; otherwise I'd be accused of nepotism.) Aug. 30, and my friend Shauna, Aug. 22. (She's the cute girl in the photo. She graduated with me at Kent State University and now lives in Lakewood.)

Location: Gordon Square is very much the economic engine to the greater Detroit Shoreway neighborhood--just like how Waterloo Arts District is North Collinwood's economic development engine on the east side. Of course, Gordon Square is a couple years ahead of Waterloo as far revitalization goes.

This bar stool area is perfect for up-close people watching.
Of all of the Cleveland neighborhoods I've visited, Gordon Square is possibly the most attractive I've seen. It charmed Matt, so much so he's considering it as a potential place to relocate come winter.

It's not terribly congested with commuters, it has quick access to Route 2 and downtown, The housing is affordable and it has a nearby beach, Edgewater Park. In addition, the Gordan Square area has a wide array of eateries and shops, bike lanes, and is public transit-friendly. It's an wholly livable neighborhood without being a tourist hotspot like East 4th Street, Ohio City, Tremont, Little Italy or University Circle. If I actually worked in Cleveland, I would consider living in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood myself. Instead, I am strongly encouraging Matt to move there.

Matt was pretty impressed with the neighborhood when we visited Gordon Square that Saturday, and I think a portion of that goes to Gyspy Beans. Just like the neighborhood, the coffee shop reflects the neighborhood's eclecticism. It's easily accessible by walkers and drivers.

One thing to be aware of, iced-coffees come in only one
size. I am not sure how I feel about that.
Food and Beverage: I usually don't talk about the taste of anything in this blog because taste is subjective and there are more important things to talk about like whether the coffee shop has exposed brick walls or organic toilet paper. I have to make an exception with Gypsy Beans. This place has the most moist and sweet muffins I have ever tasted. I mean ever, and I am a big muffin man.  Like, I almost studied muffins in college. On my Aug. 22 visit, I ordered an iced coffee, which only comes in one size, and a chocolate-chip muffin for $5 and change. It was so good, I encouraged Shauna to order a cranberry muffin when she arrived a couple hours later. I ate most of that muffin. On the latest trip, I even persuaded Matt to order a muffin. (He says manipulated.) He put up a strong protest at first, citing the troubles against consuming too many carbs and sweets. (He's a diabetic who can be really sensitive about it to the point of being pious.  "Besides," he said, "If I'm going to consume sugar, I would like it through a cocktail or beer, not a pastry.")  He eventually felt guilty and sheepishly looked up from his ipad, and whispered, "Simey, we can get a muffin if you really want one."  I shrieked with glee and we decided upon apple cinnamon.  Matt agrees, it was the best muffin ever, despite his not being a muffin man.  

I have to say, if I lived in Gordon Square, I would probably have self-control issues.

Love the paint, love the art, love the exposed ventilation. 
Nevertheless, a room is never perfect without exposed brick.
Space and Atmosphere: It might not have exposed brick, but Gypsy Beans definitely knows how to decorate a coffee shop. Mixed in with its wooden tables, furniture and floor is a beautiful bar stool space against its window toward Detroit Avenue. Beneath the glass-layered bar counter are pictures and maps of Paris and it's Catholic-rich history. Although we didn't sit there, the bar stool area was definitely a coffee-shop highlight for Shauna.

But what sticks out most at Gypsy Beans--and Matt agrees--is the locally-inspired art hanging around the coffee shop's walls. These mammoth-sized pieces aren't just merely pictures of Cleveland's historic architecture, they display the different epochs of Cleveland's development, ranging from the earlier Gothic to the postmodern glass and steel high rises.   I don't know much about art, but I think it generates a similar emotion that all of the abandoned-mall porn gives, offering glimpses of the grittiness and past struggles of Cleveland and its recent ascension. (Speaking of which, I am surprised no coffee shop owner is framing pictures of abandoned-mall porn in their spaces.  Matt can't get enough of abandoned pornography.  Stay tuned for the Dr. Phil intervention...)

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ Sparta Restaurant and Coffee in Downtown Newark

Hold The Coffee takes its first look inside Licking County and its county seat, Newark, for this week's blog post. For those counting, this marks the 22nd county I've visited or driven through in Ohio. (Holmes and Erie counties: you'll be next.)

Matt is holding an energy drink because he and I had 
to wake up relatively early to visit the place before it 
closed at 2 p.m.
Despite that Newark is only a 40 minute-drive from Mount Vernon where my boyfriend and blog editor Matt lives, we've been hesitant on making trips down there because their YMCA is reportedly unfriendly toward outsiders wishing to take advantage of their, "Y Away From Home" feature. Luckily, we're able to thwart that problem as a Planet Fitness opened up a few weeks ago on the city's north side and I own a premium black membership with guest pass privileges. (Yes, technically Matt and I own two gym memberships.  Matt says, "Why doesn't my physique show it, then?")

With plans to visit the gym and Matt's friend, Shelby, Sunday Aug. 17, we made a stop down at Sparta Coffee Shop and Restaurant in downtown Newark.  (Shelby sat next to Matt in nursing school for a whole calendar year, five days a week.  I was slightly jealous and felt threatened by her exposure...)

Before I dive into all of the myriad details I love jabbering about pertaining to coffee shops, I think it's worth explaining why I was drawn to this place. It wasn't simply because its downtown Newark's only coffee shop. This place stood out because of the story of it's owner: a former personal trainer from LA who wants to go beyond owning a business that serves coffee and use it to turn around impoverished neighborhoods. I encourage everyone to read this Columbus Dispatch story sometime. I did, and with the exception that the owner doesn't like disclosing his age to news reporters (I just hate when people do that), I find him very inspirational.

Even with the drive-thru, this is the best McDonald's I have
seen in Ohio.
Location: For those who haven't visited downtown Newark, it is an expansive town square with mostly three-, four- and five-story buildings surrounding a pocket park and courthouse-like building in the center. (A similar style to Chardon and Medina.) It's pleasing to the visitor on foot and their eyes, but like so many town and village squares, they offer very little to do on Sundays, save attend one of the many churches.

Sparta at 16 West Main Street is not a house of worship in the traditional sense, but is open on Sundays... but with a closing time at 2 p.m. (Strangely enough, that is its closing time every day of the week.)

I am not an urban planner (yet), but re-purposing and building more residential space in downtown is known to create livelier urban cores.   More mixed-use apartments seem to be needed in downtown Newark.

We really bought all of this just for the photo, sadly. We
did finish the coffee and latte at least.
If you look through my earlier blog posts, you'll find Relax in Mansfield, Ohio.  Despite having a larger downtown and a seemingly more artsy crowd of people, Mansfield resembles quite closely to Newark.  Leaders in both cities are trying to revitalize their downtowns and steal the attention away from each area's corporate next-door-neighbor. (That's the City of Ontario in Mansfield, and the City of Heath in Newark.)

Food and Beverage: Much like its hours would suggest, Sparta's menu caters greatly to the brunch and after-church folks.  (Neither Matt nor I were harangued to convert to anything, for the record.)

On that Sunday, Matt and I ordered two large mugs--one with coffee and one with a latte (you can guess by now who ordered which,) for almost $4. Despite eating a big breakfast, we ordered two veggie wraps with fries for $6.95 each. We never finished the meals.  The coffee was certified Fair Trade and is sourced by Hemisphere Coffee Roasters, based in Champaign County.

This is me sneaking photos while Matt was in the restroom.
Space and Atmosphere: Sparta is a re-purposed diner: it has a stool-bar area, tile flooring, and booths lined up along one side of the wall. The space is furnished in winter white, crimson and dark wood. Despite the restrictive hours, I could tell this place aims to expand beyond the diner boundary. Aside from Matt and I, the patrons there were a very mixed crowd. I remember a mother and her twin daughters sitting at one booth, an older gentleman next to Matt and I at the bar, and one man in his 20s focused on his notepad and books.

My words probably won't do Sparta as much justice as this video produced by the Downtown Newark Association will. Give it look. It even features a worker who is recovering from drug addiction. (That just melts my heart!)

Downtown Newark Association: Featured Member - Sparta Restaurant from Earthwork Productions on Vimeo.

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hold the Coffee @ Dewey's Coffee House in Cleveland's Shaker Square

This week's Hold The Coffee post isn't only featuring a visit to an unfamiliar coffee shop, but I"m also chronicling my first voyage on RTA with my friend and co-worker: the insatiably indie, Andrew Cass.

Andrew peers pensively into the universe.  Soon after, he began to
shake in Shaker Square.

Has Simon, the wannabe-hipster who complains all day about how too many cities are designed for the car-worshiping lifestyle, has never used public transit? For the most part, yes. Except I did use Portage County's public transit off and on when I was a Kent State student. On several occasions, Matt and I have used Columbus' public transit because we got exhausted walking along the Short North all day.

But yes, I never once took bus or rail in Cleveland's RTA. (Nor can I say I've done the same in Buffalo, either.)
I'll talk more about my transit experience later in this post, but let's talk Dewey's Coffee House, a place about which I've heard plenty, but never had the privilege of visiting. It is sort of out of the way from where I live in Euclid, but certainly worth the trip. A visit to Shaker Square requires a free Saturday, and luckily, on August 9, I was able to pull Andrew away from his record collection and bro crush for Chris Pratt to join me.

According to this sleeve, a new lease at Shaker Square
Apartments gets you a free month of coffee at Dewey's.
If only Shaker Square wasn't so far from where I work...
Location: Originally, Andrew and I had planned to drive to the Shaker Square neighborhood that Saturday, but leading up to the weekend, I remembered the stressful time I had during my first Shaker Square commute two years ago. I was a public radio intern back for Northeast Ohio media outlet, WKSU, and I was joining reporter Vivian Goodman to do a feature on the head chef of fire food and drink. (You can listen to the story and my multimedia piece here.)

I remember being impressed by the Cleveland neighborhood's pedestrian-friendly beauty, but I was also stressed out by how to get around the square's traffic patterns and where to find free parking. I was stressed out so much that I left my keys in the unlocked car's ignition during the entire 90-minute assignment. (I am happy to report that I haven't done anything as stupid as that since then.  Matt, my boyfriend and almost-nurse remarked, "Just think of how your carbon footprint could have been prevented if you'd popped an Ativan."  *snorts*)

Andrew ate a piece of his muffin before I had a chance
to shoot a photo. I made sure he wouldn't be doing that
again by verbose scolding and a hand slap.
Thinking of it nowadays, it seems silly to drive to Shaker Square with its connections of bus routes and rail lines. Shaker Square is one of the most accessible places to reach by public transit, and it is an excellent example of a high dense population well-served by public transit. If it wasn't so far from where I work, I would flirt with the idea of moving to Shaker Square. But since it is not, I will stick with flirting with the idea of Matt moving there.  (He remarks, "Geez, Simon.  You certainly flirt a lot in these blog posts.  Should I be worried?")

Food and Beverage: Dewey's has plenty of things to snack and fuel-up on, but its menu is not very different from an ordinary neighborhood coffee shop--If such a thing as an "ordinary" neighborhood coffee shop even exists.

On that Saturday I bought a 20-oz iced coffee and a chocolate chunk, maple, pecan cookie for $5 and change, and Andrew bought a 16-oz dark roast coffee and a blueberry muffin for $3 and three quarters.

This is the popcorn-shop-side of Dewey's in Shaker Square.
One thing that sticks out at Dewey's is its partnership with Popcorn Shop Factory in Chagrin Falls, which has been sharing the same owner for the last three years. In the Shaker Square venue, one side sells coffee and the other side sells popcorn, with flavors like Cajun and Chicago-style caramel-corn and double-cheese. I didn't buy any popcorn that Saturday because I still had a third bag full of honey mustard popcorn stashed away under my bed from a Chagrin Falls adventure a week prior.

Space and Atmosphere: Dewey's space is filled with cantaloupe-colored walls, framed art and wooden floors. Compared to the Chagrin Falls popcorn shop, which also serves Dewey's coffee, the Shaker Square location has plenty of seating area for small groups of four or five. And it has small tables and bar-stool areas for people who want to camp out on their laptops and exploit the Wi-Fi.

And here is the cozy corner in Dewey's.
Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

P.S.: As far as using RTA for my first time, everything went pretty well. Andrew and I never got lost, but we did arrive roughly 40 minutes early for our first bus stop onto Route 94. I lost my $5 day pass only once during our stay, and at only one time did a random woman approach me to rattle about how I need to stop stuffing things in my pockets or someone is going to rob me. It went so well, I used RTA the next day in a small mini-adventure to Ohio City.

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