ST. JOHNS – Success came almost immediately to Amber Haubert’s coffee shop when it opened a year ago at the corner of North Clinton Avenue and West Walker Street.
Customers stood in lines in the city’s downtown in those first few months, waiting to order drinks and treats. It offered something that’d been missing from the city’s downtown, a coffee shop, and it became Clinton County’s first and only Cops & Doughnuts’ wholesaler.
For Haubert, who’d been dreaming of opening her own coffee shop since 2013, the past 12 months at Global Coffee Co. have been “the busiest year” of her life. There was a business rebranding a few months after the shop opened — it was previously called Clairmont’s Coffee — and lots of momentum since.
“When we first opened I didn’t realize you could work 137 hours in a week,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting that workload, but it’s all worth it because I see the community enjoying it.”
Haubert has grand plans for the coffee shop’s second year. They’ve been part of her vision all along — to build a business that gives back and makes a difference locally, and half a world away.
As she gets ready to expand the coffee shop, it’s time to let the community in on the details, Haubert said.
“I’m going to work hard, do what I can to hopefully make some sort of impact, and hopefully people will want to be a part of that.”
Making a difference
On a Monday morning less than a week after Global Coffee Co. celebrated its one-year anniversary the shop played host to customers chatting at tables in the dining area.
An employee was behind the counter, awaiting craft coffee and doughnut orders, and Haubert was seated at a table herself, taking a rare break. The last year has been demanding. She’s spent countless hours at the coffee shop, which is less than half a mile from her home.
“I live here,” Haubert, 27, said. “I sleep there.”
But she still has lots to do before Global Coffee Co. can reach its full potential.
Hints of the shop’s intended purpose are already there, inside the 1,600-square-foot space. A world map fills one wall. The coffee shop’s logo? A compass with a coffee cup at the center. The store’s wifi password? “Make a difference.”
Then there’s Haubert’s wall of inspiration, filled with framed photographs Haubert took herself, portraits of people she met in Africa during a four-month mission trip.
A wall hanging in the middle of the photos reads, “Global Coffee Co. A positive + creative space focused on uniting & supporting to make a difference. Make a difference. Drink coffee. Inspire with love.”
Haubert started pursing ownership of her own coffee shop after an impromptu trip to Africa in 2013. Then a college student, she’d never been there before, but felt compelled to visit and to serve others with mission groups, she said.
For four months Haubert spent time in schools, hospitals and orphanages in Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, where she built friendships with the people she met.
“It shifted my whole perspective in life because I saw so much,” she said. “I saw so much starvation and I saw so much suffering, and so much impoverishment for a 19-year-old coming from a small community. It was a whole new world, but it ripped and broke my heart.”
The trip inspired her vision for a coffee shop that would someday make a difference.
Haubert switched her major to business, began traveling as often as she could to India, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic and started studying about coffee.
Now she’s ready to carve out an expansion that will pave the way for helping people she met abroad and in her own community.
Sometime next year Haubert aims to open Global Coffee Co. Gift Shop in a 620-square-foot space at the rear of Global Coffee Co.’s current building.
A hallway will connect the coffee shop and the gift store, where Haubert plans to sell items made from people she’s met in Uganda. Handmade key chains, jewelry, journals, artwork and handbags will be for sale, along with items from area nonprofits.
All the proceeds will go back to the people and organizations that supplied the items, she said.
“There will be a card on every item that says a little bit about who made them, where they come from and how you’re impacting their life,” Haubert said.
Global Coffee Co.’s gift shop will also sell clothing and gifts promoting the coffee shop itself. Profits from those items, including shirts and other items, will sustain the gift shop, Haubert said
The space, with its own entrance off West Walker Street, was previously home to property owner Tim MacCowan’s hobby shop and, in the 1980s, to Game Master, a hobby game store, he said.
Preparation for the expansion has started, Haubert said, but work hasn’t yet.
“It’s going to take time to get everything in place,” she said.
Customer and good friend Lauren DeFouw said she doesn’t doubt Haubert’s ability to create an inspiring space that can do good.
Global Coffee Co. has the warm and welcoming atmosphere of a Hallmark movie, she said, and the credit goes to its owner.
“I knew if anyone could do it she could make that happen,” DeFouw said. “She is literally probably the hardest worker I’ve ever met in my entire life. It is her dream and it is her passion. It isn’t just a matter of wanting it to happen.”
Haubert said she hopes for the continued support of the community.
“I’m so thankful for one year,” she said. “It’s so much, and in order for this to work people need to see the vision too. People need to know what it will become when they walk in the door.”
Windmill Travel Center to open this month at site of former Don’s Truck Stop
At Golden Harvest, aging building prompts closures
This stone house in Eaton Rapids was once a church
At MSU student entreprenuers find startup success
Contact Rachel Greco at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ.
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A police officer in Oklahoma was dismayed when he bought a coffee at the local Starbucks on Thanksgiving and noticed the name on the label was “Pig.”
The chief of police the Kiefer, Okla. said one of his officers trekked to Starbucks to get some java for a dispatcher when he received the insulting label.
“What irks me is the absolute and total disrespect for a police officer who, instead of being home with family and enjoying a meal and a football game, is patrolling his little town,” Chief Johnny O’Mara said in a Facebook post that included an image of the “Pig” coffee cup.
Chief O’Mara called the coffee shop and employees there offered to “replace the coffee with a correct label.” But the chief wasn’t buying it.
“The proverb ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me’ came to mind,” O’Mara wrote.
But, according to the chief, the label was endemic of a larger societal problem.
“This cup of coffee for a ‘pig’ is just another little flag,” he said.
“It’s another tiny symptom and a nearly indiscernible shout from a contemptuous, roaring and riotous segment of a misanthropic society that vilifies those who stand for what’s right and glorifies the very people who would usher in the destruction of the social fabric.”
At most places, elote has a few simple ingredients. Grilled corn. Some mayo and/or crema. Cilantro, cotija, chile powder, and maybe more, maybe less. Maybe a bright squeeze of lime to finish.
At Vecina, a new restaurant in Arcadia, elote has some 40 ingredients.
They begin on the heart of the kitchen: a mesquite-fired grill hovering between 800 and 900 degrees. The grill touches about 95 percent of Vecina’s dishes, such as tomatoes for vinaigrette, chiles for salsa, corn for elote. First, co-chef-owners James Fox and Eric Stone grill corn with the husk on. They then strip the husk and grill the corn again. From here, a compound butter containing chorizo spices (but not chorizo) and inputs as intricate as powdered vinegar coat cobs. There is also creme fraiche, made in house and spiked with lime and roasted garlic.
On the plate, the corn gets micro cilantro, cotija, and a custom blend of approximately 20 spices. Slick with compound butter, yellow kernels grilled to varying shades of brown, this elote detonates with startling flavor.
The most amazing thing? They aren’t even an outlier. Some 50 percent of Vecina’s dishes will surprise you in a similar way. Each comes from putting ingredients and culinary processes under a high-powered microscope, pondering each, and giving all as much velocity as possible.
This often requires a gastronomic detour to Turkey or southeast Asia. Fox and Stone cook food inspired by Latin countries with a special emphasis on Mexico. But they’re freely willing to reach beyond the Western Hemisphere of their core restaurant concept when it will better a dish. They go elote-deep across the menu — for example, using five kinds of tortillas, making spice blends that center chiles from as near as New Mexico, as far as Syria.
Fox and Stone opened Vecina, which translates from Spanish to “neighbor,” in early September, taking over the old Kitchen 56 space. For the past six years, Stone had been a private chef in Los Angeles; he went to culinary school here, worked at The Phoenician, and has cooked in Chicago and France. Over the years, Fox has cooked in a host of local restaurants, including Zinc Bistro, The Mission, Southern Rail, and Buck &Rider. The Vecina team has talent beyond the kitchen. Miguel Mora has curated a bracing roster of cocktails, anchored by a mezcal-tequila old fashioned relative that emerges from a smoky treasure chest. A third co-owner, Jamie Catlett, has assembled one of the rarest craft beer menus in town.
One of the best ceviche plates in town
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
At Vecina, you can eat and drink well. It’s pretty handily one of the most inspired restaurants to open this year.
The menu is largely small plates and driven by locally available produce. Fingerling potatoes with jalapeno crema. Grilled watermelon. Finely slivered Brussels sprouts with some sweetness and intrigue from a refreshing chile vinaigrette. There are also raw seafood dishes, tacos and tostadas with meat or fish, and a few large-format plates. In my visits, just about everything I tried was very good or better.
Nights begin at 4 p.m., after Mora blesses the minimal but classy space with palo santo smoke. The 40-seat patio is also a nice place to sit — string lights zagging, a view of Camelback’s hump, and glass candles flickering almost out of sight, perched on a black-painted concrete wall.
Start with chips and salsa, just $5 during happy hour. Though the roasted tomato salsa has depth and the raw tomatillo salsa tart nuance, it’s all about the stupendously creamy habanero salsa. The secret ingredient in this salsa, which highlights the unedited vegetal spirit of the pepper in an uncommonly transparent way, is butter. Fox has been making this salsa for 10 years. He served a version of it at his wedding. It’s one of the most unique and memorable salsas in town.
From here, the plant-based plates form a sharp constellation of New American dishes pulled south of the border. And/or south of the continent. And/or east of the hemisphere.
Cauliflower gets torched on the grill. Brainy florets with char are embedded in a Romanesco that incorporates more customary Spanish elements, like roasted tomatoes and toasted nuts, but also Middle Eastern touches, like cumin and Aleppo pepper. The sauce is creamy yet coarse, with a tide of fiery flavor that washes over the florets, turning even the chimichurri on top into a footnote. I could eat four.
The grill char helps balance the Romanesco. It is also pivotal in a squash dish that would be sleepy without its hard mesquite kiss. Delicata squash practically radiate smoke, highlighting earth tones in beets, the pepper of arugula, the barnyard nuances of the cheese.
Mora helms a thoughtful cocktail.
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
And though peripheral, it’s key to dishes like ceviche. The best dish I had at Vecina was ceviche. It’s so good that it broke my ordering philosophy. When I order a food once, I almost never get it again, spurning even a great known for the promise of the unknown. At Vecina, though I’m an aguachile fiend and there was an aguachile on the menu, I skipped it in favor of, yes, ordering ceviche again. A tight cairn of Chula Seafood hiramasa centers a plate pooled with lush, mint green. The green is leche de tigre, a Peruvian ceviche sauce, drawing on coconut, cilantro, and pineapple given a grilling.
But there’s also a touch of fish sauce. And shallot and garlic, ginger and lime. None of these final ingredients will be very discernible. They each work by tiny degrees to push the ceviche, ever so slightly, to its flawless final form. Dragging snappy Mama Lola tostadas through and scooping that cool fish is fantastic.
One area where Vecina has room to grow: tostadas and tacos. On salmon tacos, the fish is capably cooked, but a little boring. The chicken in a smoked chicken tostada gets lost under a rainforest of greens. And though short rib barbacoa packs intensity and melt, a potato puree mires its texture and occupies too much valuable tostada real estate.
But all said, the kitchen puts out some beautiful, fiercely original food, the kind you would be proud to show a friend from a coastal city. And all said, the pork chop with the gorgeous inky char and spice-twanged escabeche courses with vivid life. Yes, all said, the high style and creative genius of Vecina flex full with an ice cream sandwich for the ages: on a concha, with brown-butter “cornflakes” and freeze-dried strawberries.
All said, Vecina is the kind of restaurant you always wish Phoenix had — and now does.
3433 North 56th Street
Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Hiramasa ceviche $15
Barbacoa tostada $14
Pork chop $28
Remember Cafe Mezzanotte in Severna Park? No, we didn’t either. Too many new Baltimore restaurants have edged out the 25-year-old Italian stalwart in Anne Arundel County lately. But as we found out recently, it’s time for a revisit. The restaurant underwent a $1-million renovation in 2018 that has transformed its appearance, menu, and personality. Owner Kosmas “Tommie” Koukoulis, who has been Mezzanotte’s sole owner for the past five years after being involved as a partner for 10, wanted to modernize his business without “losing its essence.”
He closed the restaurant for six weeks and went to work. When it reopened in September a year ago, just about everything was updated: the furniture, floor, paint, tables, chairs, logo, signage, uniforms, and kitchen. “The renovation of Mezzanotte was my way of declaring to the community that I’m not going anywhere, and my heart is still there,” he says.
When we entered Mezzanotte, we were taken with its subtle serenity. The surroundings elicit the calm of a yoga studio. Immense artistic renderings on the walls look lovely and also represent the local purveyors and farmers that Koukoulis works with. He asked his sources to send digital images of their landscapes, animals, and products and then fabricated them to fit the space.
Hanging planters are another gesture that is both aesthetically pleasing and practical, adding green to the room while also breaking up the space, which has several dining areas. The physical menu also went through a redo. It’s now one page instead of a leather-bound book.
Customers will still find Italian-American classics such as veal scallopini and lasagna on the menu, but chef Zack Trabbold is also delivering dishes starring confit duck leg, lamb shank, rockfish, and Chilean sea bass. Two of the restaurant’s most popular items are fettuccine Mediterraneo with shrimp, crab, scallops, and a choice of sauces and the Ora King salmon with caper-butter cream sauce, Koukoulis says.
We’re traditionalists and started our meal with beef, veal, and pork meatballs in tomato sauce—a bowl of deliciousness topped with dabs of whipped ricotta and fried basil.
We also dug into a mozzarella Caprese, a test of any kitchen, especially at the height of tomato season. It was a success with ruby red slices interspersed with fresh mozzarella and ribbons of basil, capturing the colors of the Italian flag.
Our entrees were also a pleasure. We were smitten with the scallop risotto tossed with shaved prosciutto and tomatoes, crisscrossed with stalks of lightly charred asparagus. The eggplant Parmigiana, served with spaghettini, also struck the right chords, except we would have been happier with less tomato sauce. If you can squeeze in dessert, go for the miniature cannoli with ricotta and chocolate-chip cream.
Koukoulis, who is a partner in Uncle’s Hawaiian Grindz in Fallston and Craft American Eatery in Severna Park, calls Mezzanotte his “crown jewel.” “It’s a special place,” he says. “Restaurants are like children. They require attention and time.”
Another week another episode of the Coffee Sprudgecast. Jordan Michelman and Zachary Carlsen talk about the Sprudgie Awards Presented by Pacific Barista Series. Preliminary nominations are now open! Vote! A little later in the episode, the hosts interview Dandy Anderson, store manager of the West 8th Stumptown Coffee Roasters in New York City. In the interview, Jordan Michelman takes Anderson through a series of personal questions modeled after the Proust Questionaire we’re calling…the Sproust Questionaire.
Listen to the full episode right here:
Check out The Coffee Sprudgecast on iTunes and leave a nice review if you’re so inclined. The Coffee Sprudgecast is available on Spotify, Stitcher, and can be downloaded right here. This episode of the Coffee Sprudgecast is sponsored by Urnex Brands, Hario, and Odeko. Special thanks to Stumptown Coffee Roasters for providing their space to record portions of this podcast.