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Charlie Stewart
Coffee, Coffee Everywhere!
Spring 2010

Let’s face it—coffee is everywhere. Getting gas? Have a cup. Stocking up on groceries? Grab a coffee to go. Sitting in a lounge somewhere waiting for an oil change or for your daughter to give birth? The coffee is on
us. Depositing checks at the bank? Try the Italian roast in our new instant espresso machine, or get this free coffee maker when opening a debit card account.

CSOur neighborhoods are certainly no exception to this coffee obsession. From Katerbean in Regent Square, to Jitters Café & Ice Cream in Shadyside, to Kiva Han in Oakland, the pot is on—and it’s piping hot.

Perhaps no one has brewed more coffee locally than Keith Kaboly, manager of 61C Café in Squirrel Hill. “I made the first drink April 1, 1994—a mocha latte,” recalls Kaboly, who has been serving them up ever since. Kaboly was planning to be a stockbroker when his uncle hired him to run the landmark Murray Avenue coffee shop more than 15 years ago. Since then, he has seen huge growth in the java business.

“When we opened there were three coffee shops in the area,” he says. “Now, within walking distance, there are about 20, including Oakland,” Kaboly observes.

Indeed, America is fueling up on caffeine. Kylee Clements says she opened Curbside Coffeehouse in Blawnox two years ago because the business presented low financial risk—demand for coffee seems to just keep growing. Most customers stop by the Freeport Road shop on their way to work from Fox Chapel or Oakmont. “Mornings are definitely busy around here,” Clements notes. “We sell just under 200 cups during the morning rush.”

In addition to helping people get their daily caffeine fix, coffee shops today also serve as our neighborhood gathering places, according to Amelie Bilodeau, a nurse who took a leave of absence to open Voluto Coffee on Penn Avenue in Garfield last year with her friend, Barbara Russell.

CS“You’ve got work, you’ve got home, and then you’ve got some other place where you usually meet with friends that’s considered a hangout place—like a home away from home,” Bilodeau says. “That’s what a coffeehouse should be. There is a social aspect that people enjoy that’s associated with a beverage, like wine. And I think that’s the same thing with coffee.”

Shadyside resident and retired schoolteacher Alex Simon agrees. “I think it’s just encountering other people who are doing the same thing that you do,” shares Simon, who is hooked on the French press coffee at Voluto, which reminds him of the bold, rich flavors he grew to love while traveling in Europe.

“It eases that transition from being at home, getting ready to go to work, to being at the office,” Simon continues. “I think it helps for a good mental attitude.” Pat Feldman, retired dean of the School of Advanced Jewish Studies, puts it more simply. “It’s like Cheers without the alcohol,” Feldman says, referring to the group of more or less retired men who gather each morning at the Starbucks on the corner of Forbes and Shady to discuss politics, sports, and the meaning of life—and shamelessly admit they try to pry free advice on heart conditions, toothaches, and all manner of illnesses from their doctor acquaintances who stop in for coffee en route to the hospital.

The friends greet everyone walking into the busy SquirrelHill shop, including 11-yearold Gannon Leech, who rushes in to get his mother’s drink while she waits in the car to save time parking. “Mom’s a grande-triple shot-skim-one Equal-latte,” the young boy rattles off to the barista in a single breath.

Coffee has become big business, too. McDonald’s (McCafé cappuccino caramel), Wendy’s (Frosty-cino), Subway (now serving Seattle’s Best), and 7-Eleven (French vanilla iced coffee), are all in on it. Starbucks is nearubiquitous, and now Dunkin’ Donuts has plans to open more than 100 locations in the region, with two of the newest ones in Squirrel Hill and a planned spring opening in Oakland.

CS“We are bringing the brand back to Pittsburgh,” says Robyn Frederick, vice president of marketing and human resources for Heartland Restaurant Group, a franchisee of the chain. Dunkin’ Donuts sells one billion (with a “b”) cups of coffee a year, Frederick says, which may explain why the company’s slogan has morphed since the 1980s from “Time to make the donuts” to “America runs on Dunkin’.”

Big coffee chains have their detractors, who prefer independent shops, but there’s no doubting their popularity. “I hate to admit it publicly, but I like drinking coffee at Starbucks,” says Linda Murton of Point Breeze, who, oddly enough, is treating herself to a tall soy cafémocha at the Starbucks on Forbes in SquirrelHill, while trying to kick her coffee habit.

“It’s a social thing,” Murton explains. “It brings everybody together. The smell. It’s warm. It’s rich tasting. It’s an inexpensive thing to do with people. And I like the café life, and their floor-to-ceiling windows.”

Amy Enrico, owner of Enrico’s Tazza D’Oro Café and Espresso Bar in Highland Park, credits Starbucks for adding words like “espresso” and “latte” to the American vocabulary. But as a small independent café, her approach is to stay focused on serving highquality food and coffee and not try to be everything to everybody.

Last year Carnegie Mellon University chose Tazza D’Oro to operate the coffeehouse in the new Gates Center for Computer Science on campus. “I think what we are finding is that obviously the group here at Carnegie Mellon knows about overachieving, too,” Enrico laughs. “And I think they understand the passion and how much energy we put into each cup of coffee.”

CSFaithful customers second that sentiment. “I used to live in Paris where I would have a petit crème, and Amy’s Italian cappuccino is the closest thing I’ve had to it in America,” raves Babs Carryer, who frequents both Tazza D’Oro locations because of their convenience to both her home in Highland Park and her office at Carnegie Mellon.

Whatever did we do before coffeehouses? “When I was at Pitt, I went to 7-Eleven, and I sneaked my drink into the library— that’s what we did,” recalls Ken Zeff, owner of Crazy Mocha, the largest of the independents in our area, with 25 coffee shops, including locations in Shadyside, Bloomfield, Lawrenceville, Oakland, and, as of seven months ago, Squirrel Hill.


“But we also didn’t have laptops back then either,” Zeff says. “And I think laptops have really created the demand for neighborhood coffee shops. When we build our stores, we put in a lot of outlets to make sure that everyone coming in has an opportunity to plug in and charge.”

Whether it’s playingTetris online, checking e-mail and the latest news headlines, or putting together a presentation for a cardiology board review, we now live in a world where we rely on a strongWi-Fi signal.

CSAnd we also need a place to make personal connections. Coffee shops are the perfect place for a first date. There is flexibility. It can be over after a quick cup of joe (Thanks for the coffee), or after five cups and long conversation (I’ll friend you on Facebook).

“61C was my boyfriend’s favorite hangout when Imoved to the city fromCleveland three years ago,” says Adrienne Borkowski, who now serves coffee at the café. “He came here to study and read. He brought me here on our second date. And now I’ve been working here for two-and-a-half years.”

Coffee shops are a major source of employment for local residents like Borkowski, especially those seeking to make extra income while in school. Crazy Mocha now has roughly 155 employees, while one Squirrel Hill Dunkin’ Donuts alone employs 32 people (after receiving 150 applications for recent job postings).

Likewise, with locations in Squirrel Hill, Fox Chapel, Shadyside, Mt. Lebanon—and another shop coming soon to the Bakery Square development in East Liberty—Coffee Tree Roasters has grown from four to 80 employees since opening in 1993.Wallflowers need not apply.

“We hire people who like to talk to people, who have a smile on their face,” says Bill Swoope Jr., who owns the ever-popular Coffee Tree shops together with his father. “We hire based on personality. It’s that simple.”



Every coffee shop also seems to have its own atmosphere and personality—and in the case of Arefa’s Espresso in Squirrel Hill, it’s the barista and co-owner herself. “When you come here, it’s like going to your hairdresser,” says Philippine-born Marie Arefyev, who runs the coffee shop with her husband, Andrey. “OK, where did we leave off?We were talking about so and so…” Arefyev perhaps hears more gossip than most from behind the espresso bar. “The majority of my customers are men,” she says. “You think the biggest gossips are the women? Believe it, or not, no. It’s the men.”

For whatever reason, our home-brewed coffee sometimes just doesn’t taste as good as it does in a place like Arefa’s. Even after grinding fresh Jamaican coffee beans for a morning pot with breakfast, we still want to stop at a coffee shop on the way to work or school to buy our doppio, skim, extra foamymacchiato.

Fox Chapel resident Annie Engel is a selfdescribed regular at Coffee Tree Roasters in Fox Chapel Plaza on Freeport Road, where she stops on her way to work in nearby RIDC Park. “I’m here every morning—every morning,” says Engel, chief legal counsel for Howard Hanna Real Estate Services and mother of three. “Sometimes I get regular coffee, and sometimes I have a large nonfat latte.”

That’s after she makes her own. “I buy their coffee and brew it at home,” says Engel, as she dashes into the shop on a busy weekday morning. “And then I come here and buy more coffee. I like the taste of it.”

Engel, like so many others, also enjoys the social aspect of her daily visits to Coffee Tree. “It’s casual and friendly,” she says. “People meet here to talk. Or they run into each other and sit down to have a chat. It’s part of our neighborhood, really.” Certainly coffee shops have become a vital part of the fabric of our neighborhoods, from the Point Breeze favorite Make Your Mark Artspace & Coffespace to Café Latte in Glenshaw. But the question is: Have we reached the saturation point yet?

“There is always a saturation point in any business,” Enrico answers. “At least from the way we runTazza d’Oro,my philosophy is not that more is better, but better is more.” The addition of any more coffee shops in our communities would take away business from the existing independents, contends Zeff, Crazy Mocha owner. “Every neighborhood now has two or three, and that’s sort of enough of a selection,” he says.

Kaboly is trying to stay competitive at 61C by doing more of the work in-house, such as baking all the delicious muffins and pastries he puts on display each morning. “I don’t think any more [shops] can open up in Squirrel Hill,” he says.

Down the street, Marie Arefyev at Arefa’s Espresso is not so sure. “I can’t lie, I think so, but it seems like you can never have enough,” she observes. “It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. I see people migrate between coffeehouses. There never seems to be enough coffee.”

How about a refill, Marie?

With many thanks to SHADY AVE magazine for granting me permission to reprint on my website.


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