They’re ubiquitous – the chain stores that make a business of selling coffee.
Yet in our area, independent coffee shops are outright thriving – and Chappaqua and Armonk both boast several different places to get the beverage by patronizing hometown businesses.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Tazza Cafe in Millwood was a hub of activity. Tables were full of chatting pairs, groups of young women were ordering food, and several employees were busy behind the counter.
James Monica, owner of Tazza Cafe in Armonk, Millwood, Katonah and Ridgefield, credits much of his shops’ success to employees like these. “Really a big part of it is the people who work here,” Monica said. He’s been able to retain many workers which he says makes a big difference. Longtime employees “provide a personal touch and connect with the customer more.”
Julie Dickens, owner of Beascakes Bakery and Breads in the Armonk Town Center, has similarly attentive employees. “We have regulars and we have their coffee ready at the cash register as they get out of their cars,” she said. At Beascakes, they sell Lavazza, an Italian coffee.
At Chappaqua Station, 1 Station Plaza, where coffee’s served starting at 4:30 am during the week, better, faster service help them maintain a devoted and large customer base, even though the business is quite close to two large chain purveyors of coffee, manager Erik Gonzaga said. “We do have two big competitors here in town but our business keeps picking up,” Gonzaga said. The coffee is La Colombe, a premium brand from Philadelphia and hundreds of customers are served each day.
During the morning rush, there are usually no less than four employees working hard to ensure quick service: one at the register, one making specialty coffees, one filling and restocking and one handling pastry and other food orders, Gonzaga said, “We have our regular customers and once they come through the door it’s ready waiting on the countertop,” Gonzaga said.
Employees build relationships with customers but that community feel is, of course, accompanied by a serious focus on the coffee itself. “From the beginning we took the coffee very very seriously – from the way we grind it – and the amount we use is probably a bit more than typical,” Monica said. Purveyors like Monica can’t have the economy of scale the nationally-known shops do, yet they inspire loyalty and according to owners and managers, business just keeps on growing.
At Armonk’s Market North, at 387 Main Street, “all of our coffee is from artisanal roasters,” Stephen Mancini, one of the owners, said recently. Mancini and others, such as a chef and manager, regularly taste new coffees in blind taste tests called ‘cuppings’ and currently use beans roasted from Port Chester (Path Coffee Roasters) to Maine. “We try to find small-batch and responsibly-sourced,” Mancini said. Perhaps that’s why at Market North, customers often express praise for the coffee and types of coffee available. “When we change coffees or try different roasters there’s excitement about that,” Mancini said.
The appreciation of Mancini’s customer base is no anomaly. According to the National Coffee Association, an industry trade group, 59% “of coffee cups consumed daily are classified as gourmet,” and “out-of-home coffee consumption reached a high of 46% in 2017.” That’s a lot of coffee purchased in shops, and more and more, it’s very good coffee.
Tazza’s customers can tell the difference, Monica said. “A lot of them would say they would never go to a chain store because the coffee is so much better here.”
Local coffee spots also focus on the quality of other ingredients. “In order to make a really great latte you have to start with the milk. Seventy percent is the milk,” Mancini said, “All of our milks are Hudson Valley milks.” Cashew and almond milks are made in house. Perhaps that’s why one Armonk-based customer wrote on Yelp that Market North has “the best latte in Westchester.”
At Beascakes, details are also attended to. “We’re known for our iced coffee because we make our own coffee iced cubes so we have a real following,” Dickens said. Customers avail themselves of fresh cake doughnuts, scones or pastries or on Sundays, Boston cream or jelly doughnuts. “You know, you got to have coffee with your doughnut, right?” Dickens said.
And these days, more people prefer to shop locally. “People appreciate having mom-and-pop places to go,” Dickens said. “We know when a baby’s due, we know when a first birthday is, we follow the families.”
“From the very beginning I definitely tried to focus on and put an emphasis on the quality of whatever we serve – sandwiches, baked goods and coffee,” Monica said. “The people have been very responsive, and I never take it for granted.”