We line up every morning waiting for our fix. Whether we are served by a Starbucks minion or a remarkably coffee-obsessed shop owner like Stephanie Wandtke (seen here) makes all the difference. Independent coffee houses prove that not only can you ‘do better’ in Toledo — you can brew it better, too.
A downtown darling
Bleak House Coffee
As fate would have it, two of the four owners of Bleak House Coffee met after a car crash — in front of a Starbucks. Attorney Scott Ciolek saw his future business partner, Stephanie Wandtke, flailing her arms in the street post-accident and came to her aid; a friendship developed, as did their idea for a super-hip downtown shop. They got a name (inspired by a Charles Dickens novel about a multigenerational lawsuit — “everyone dies and then the lawyers get rich in the end,” Wandtke deadpans) and a location in downtown’s historic Spitzer Building. Capitalizing on their affinity for the historic, they used old law office doors for tables and began operations with a vintage cash register circa 1950. Oh yeah, and then there’s the coffee — they’re riding high on a near-perfect Yelp score, developing illustrious fans like the Cirque Du Soleil performers who rolled into town in June.
The Bleak House brews took nearly three months of research to perfect. Wandtke and company (co-owners include Zia’s bartender Chad Gensler and attorney Lauren Bernard) settled on Intelligentsia Coffee out of Chicago and local roaster Actual Coffee. It’s no-frills, right down to the pour over, drip-down brews (coffee made one cup at a time). “I never really liked the fancy drinks,” Wandtke says. “I don’t want to be another Starbucks or Biggby’s.”
BLEAK HOUSE COFFEE, 520 MADISON AVE. 419-740-1125.
MON.-THURS. 8AM-4PM; FRI. 8AM-3PM.
Grounds For Thought
Grounds For Thought has a split personality, in the best way possible — one half is a bookstore devoted to silent study (and the whispers of college campus gossip) and the other is the relaxing spot Bowling Green State University professors and the like exchange ideas (“I really don’t like students that well. But the concentration in here isn’t overwhelming,” was one comic admission overheard.) Customers are so fiercely devoted to their Grounds For Thought routine that they are often waiting for the door to open at 6 am. “One time I overslept and one of them called,” says barista Meghan Carrol. She’s been working at the shop, which has an atmosphere that feels paused in the 1960s, since she was 17 (she kept applying until the owners, Kelly and Laura Wick, relented). Kelly, a Democrat, lost his recent run for a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives, but he retains an important role in the community providing the creative fuel for Bowling Green from 6 a.m. to midnight.
Grounds For Thought roasts their own coffee and distributes the goods all over BG, so even students who’ve never been to the cafe have most likely been exposed to Grounds. The Wicks are closely connected to the process; Kelly visits coffee bean farms and knows the farmers on a first-name basis. There’s a large list of specialty lattes, like the Christmas Cookie and the Milky Way, and plenty of no-frills, high-caffeine stuff for late-night study sessions.
GROUNDS FOR THOUGHT, 174 S. MAIN ST., BOWLING GREEN. 419-354-3266.
OPEN DAILY 6AM-MIDNIGHT.
THE WAREHOUSE PLAYERS
Jason Binder and Ron Novak used to wait in line at Downtown Latte like everybody else in the Warehouse District — until they heard that shop founders Pam Burn and Connie Dick were ready to move on. They weren’t about to let their favorite coffee shop bite the dust, so they got together the money and bought it themselves. The transition from waiting in front of the counter to working behind it was a ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ moment. “As a customer, you come in and it’s ‘Oh, I get my coffee!’” says Binder, comically gesticulating the ‘kiss kiss’ of a French bonjour. “When you get behind the counter, you go ‘Oh my God, how did that happen?’” Downtown Latte is a haven for everyone from hipsters to housewives — quiet and relaxing, with art for sale and a bookshelf of titles ranging from a Madonna biography to a tome on art. Binder’s verve is reflected in his choice of baristas, like Aaron Cozbial, a charming ex-Starbucks employee who moonlights as a comedian. “I’m known as a professor of comedy — I do math, philosophy and science jokes,” Cozbial says cheerily.
Downtown Latte’s previous owners set the shop’s current policy of serving only fair trade coffee. “A lot of times the corporate places don’t pay growers fair wages,” Binder says. Their espresso drink list is an ode to European romance — the Cherie Amore, a mix of chocolate and cherry, to the Isle of Capri, a chocolate, hazelnut and coconut mix, are a few highlights. They take milk seriously, too. “It’s all about how you steam and foam your milk,” Binder shares. Does he think the arrival of the twin-tailed mermaid hurts the independents? “I think if they come downtown it would give the independent coffee houses a competitive edge. They don’t thrive on personalities and identities [like we do].”
DOWNTOWN LATTE COFFEE HOUSE, 44 SOUTH ST. CLAIR ST. 419-243-6032.
MON., 7AM-3PM, TUES.-FRI., 7AM-5PM, SAT. 7:30AM-3PM.
THE BEST-KEPT SECRET
“When I opened I said I wanted it to be the neighborhood’s living room,” says Sandy Spang. She’s the owner of Plate 21, the modern, anti-cliche coffee shop (the walls and logo, a rebellious lime green, defy mocha-colored cafe stereotypes). “We’re definitely still a ‘best-kept secret.’ I run into people all the time that say they’ve never heard of us.” Being unknown is a bit of a problem for Toledo’s coffee aficionados. Spang, an ex-gemologist/Jacobson’s manager/real estate developer, discovered the property right before the economy crashed; she persevered, opening in the midst of it after gutting the place and hiring an architect to help with the design. To her, the coffee house is one of the single most important parts of any neighborhood, the “point of intersection” for ideas and people. “At a restaurant, they need to turn those tables,” she says. “At a coffee house, for the price of a cup of coffee you can sit down and solve all your problems.”
Baristas mean business here — their skillful free-pour latte designs are Instagram fodder. The beans in Plate 21’s fantastic brews come from MadCap Coffee Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, bean purveyors so serious about their craft they must first personally meet coffee shop owners before agreeing to supply them. The company’s close relationship with growers appealed to Spang, as did their perfectionism. “They don’t have a single dark roast coffee,” she says. “If you have a really, really fine bean you do not want to roast it that much because you’re going to lose all those subtle nuances and interesting notes of the coffee.” Worth equal mention is Plate 21’s macha frappe. Granted, it’s tea, but caffeine nonetheless, and too fantastic to escape notice.
Perrysburg roasters Maddie & Bella Coffee Company only started a few months ago, turning plant manager Richard Jambor’s hobby into a side job. Wife Susan and son Rich are in on it, too. “Anytime there’s a holiday or family event, we have to travel with five pounds of coffee. Everyone expects it now,” Rich junior says. For now they sell exclusively on Sunday mornings at The Savory Suite, but hope to get mug time for their in-demand roasts to more markets in the future. Facebook.com/MaddieAndBella.
Toledoan Lance Roper, the thoughtful bean obsessive behind roasting company Actual Coffee, is on a mission to change how people view their brew. “Coffee doesn’t have to be bitter; coffee should be delicious,” Roper says. “That’s my vision, to show people that coffee isn’t disgusting.” Talk roasters with any local cafe owner and inevitably Roper’s name will come up in conversation. “Lance is one to watch,” says Plate 21’s Sandy Spang. “He’s a young guy going places.” 567-249-9005. www.actualcoffee.com.
John Drake’s attention to detail is both his greatest quality and his Achilles’ heel — he’s so committed to it he has trouble finding a coffee shop that can connect with his mission. “If you polled the true coffee snobs, most of them do not go to coffee shops,” Drake says. “Their true satisfaction only comes from coffee in their own houses.” His high-quality, time-stamped roasts are sold at Sautter’s Market and at his Bike Works storefront (his other, full-time passion). 5631 W. Alexis Rd. 419-882-0800. www.drakescoffee.com.
| SANDY SPANG, PLATE 21
Throwing herself headfirst into her passion is Spang’s modus operandi, whether it be gemology, real estate or motherhood. When she began Plate 21, she was working 18 hour days — a schedule she could relate to as a home-schooling parent of three. “I draw the greatest parallels between owning the coffee house and raising toddlers,” Spang says. “You get very little sleep and you have absolutely no control over the flow of your day.”
STEPHANIE WANDTKE, BLEAK HOUSE COFFEE
BECKY OHM, THE FLYING JOE
JASON BINDER, DOWNTOWN LATTE
A TROPICAL PARADISE
My Daily Grind
My Daily Grind is the tropical paradise of owner Steve Kear — when you’re running a coffee shop, perhaps the only real way to go on vacation is to create one on the job. There are all kinds of kitschy (and amusingly) non-coffee shop attributes — turquoise and lime walls, shells on the tables, island music, even an aquarium. It’s all as bubbly and fun as the people behind the bar themselves, most of all Sara, Steve’s daughter (and winner of Best Barista in TCP’s 2012 Dining Guide). She’s had the job since she was 13, and a seat at her counter is prime real estate (customers have been known to hover and wait for an open stool).
“This is essentially the drink bible,” Sara says, tossing a leather-bound journal onto the bar. It’s page after page of hand-scrawled recipes — Kear is a specialty drink guru. “Our goal here is to find out what people like,” she says. Variety seems to be pulling the most votes, with wacky drink creations ranging from Almondy-Caramella-y Frappaccino to Gooey Roll Iced Latte and the (off-menu) Sex On The Beach. Their beans’ origin are kept under wraps — the most they’ll reveal is that their purveyor roasts them over an open fire on a Caribbean island that remains unnamed.
MY DAILY GRIND, 120 LOUISIANA AVE., PERRYSBURG. 419-872-9400.
MON. 7AM-3PM, TUES. 7AM-7PM, WED. 7AM-3PM, THURS. 7AM-8PM, FRI. 7AM-7PM, SAT. 7AM-5PM.
WHERE ROSS AND RACHEL WOULD HANG OUT
You can’t help but call Chandler’s Cafe cute; its charms lure many of the neighboring business owners in downtown Sylvania at lunchtime. Named for the historic Chandler Hardware building it now occupies, it has all the attributes of the perfect hangout: spacious yet cozy, bustling, cool but not intimidating. And the best part is their own drive through. “Our atmosphere is kind of eclectic,” says co-owner Laurie Stansley. “It’s a nice little place that local people come and meet.”
Chandler’s brews Seattle’s Best Coffee, so franchise addicts can happily indulge without the guilt (the shop is locally owned; the company is a behemoth with grounds available nationally).
CHANDLER’S CAFE, 5648 MAIN ST., SYLVANIA. 419-517-5088.
MON.-WED. 7AM-5PM, THUR. 7AM-5PM, FRI. 7AM-5PM, SAT. 8AM-5PM, SUN. 9AM-3PM.
Georgette’s Grounds & Gifts
Images of the original Georgette graces the wall and much of the imagery surrounding Georgette’s Grounds & Gifts. She’s the founding mother of Sunshine, which uses the coffee shop to offer employment to the developmentally disabled, and the inspiration behind one of the coolest coffee houses in the area. A higher consciousness is reflected in everything the cafe does, from its fair trade roasts to its biodegradable cups (they even use their coffee grounds and tea leaves to enrich the soil at Sunshine’s greenhouse). The cozy coffee shop gives out a caffeine boost with soul. “We just try to do more to leave the earth in a better place than we found it,” says Georgette’s manager of vocational services, Dianne Westhoven.
Fair trade is the buzz word at Georgette’s, though the rest of their titles and flavors for coffee offer more frivolous fun beyond that — Santa’s Kiss, Frosty’s Fun, Jamaica Me Crazy. A listing lets patrons know their beans origins, ranging from Peru to Ethiopia. (The Buckeye Blend, a mix of peanut butter and chocolate, is a standout.)
GEORGETTE’S GROUNDS & GIFTS, 311 CONANT ST., MAUMEE. 419-891-8888.
WEEKDAYS 6:30AM-3PM, SAT. 8AM-4PM.
THE REBEL NEWBIE
Black Kite Coffee & Pies
Driving past Black Kite Coffee & Pies at night is sort of like rolling by a Toledo version of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting — a huge expanse of windows, the patrons inside silently sipping from black mugs beneath glowing orbs of light. Inside, the newest business in the Old West End is just as vibe-y: the Pandora station Explosions In The Sky gently rattles the speakers as the barista, Kat, pulls a letter block from a velvety Crown Royal bag during a meandering game of Scrabble. Black Kite is as much about coffee and pie as it is about bringing something distinctly more hip to the neighborhood, say owners and Old West End residents Kristin Kiser and her husband, Andrew Newby.
“It’s really about flavor for us,” Kiser says. “The list is [no-frills], because my husband and I are interested in coffee for what it is.”
BLACK KITE COFFEE & PIES, 2499 COLLINGWOOD AVE. 419-720-5820.
MON.-FRI. 6:30AM-10PM, SAT. 9AM-10PM, SUN. 10AM-7PM.
ARTISTS TURNED ROASTERS
The Flying Rhino
When Ginni Behrendt discovered that one of her art students roasted her own coffee beans, “a lightbulb went off.” Ginni and husband Ralph, former glass artists, began practicing the coffee craft with their home oven and never looked back. “It was messy, it was smelly — it smelled wonderful — and my God the coffee was 10 times better,” she says. Their passion grew steadily until they found themselves bidding on, and winning, a $4,500 roaster on EBay. They put their art careers behind them to helm The Flying Rhino, an artisanal coffee roaster, chocolate maker and cafe in the Fifth Third Bank Building. They also plan to celebrate the re-opening of a coffee, pastry and chocolate bar during the Arts Commission’s Holiday Loop Friday, November 30 at their warehouse location, 436 13th St.
The Behrendts are all about “very artisan, no computers” roasting, and hone their techniques at national trade shows. (They went to coffee roasting school in Spokane, Washington and learned their espresso blend from Dr. Joseph John, a nuclear physicist and coffee obsessive, in both Washington, D.C. and Chicago.) “We’re always evolving,” Ginni says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re creating food or creating art, there’s an emotional impact involved — it’s the passion,” Ginni says. “And when people know there’s that much love in a product, they can taste it.”
1 SEAGATE, FIFTH THIRD BANK BUILDING. 567-686-8018.
A PATRIOTIC BREWER
The Flying Joe
Traveling the world as Air Force pilots, John and Becky Ohm were doing research for their future business without even knowing it. “I remember having a traditional cappuccino
in Italy,” Becky says. “I try to bring that back here.” Here is the Ohms’ appropriately- named coffee shop The Flying Joe, off the Levis Common strip. The mocha and brown space is a cozy, comfortable place; you can sometimes catch Becky in her fatigues, surveying the home-baked goods (like peanut butter cookies with strawberry jam buttercream in between) and making spicy fall drinks for customers. “We’d been moving around a lot, and we didn’t really grow any roots,” Becky says. “This coffee shop was the perfect opportunity to get to know our neighbors.”
The Flying Joe’s drinks range from the traditional (double macchiatos) to the fun (Fall Fusion, a mix of white chocolate, pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg, shots of espresso and “perfectly textured milk”). Though they mix up fun sweet drinks, they take the beans seriously, using regional or local providers like Crimson Cup in Columbus, Ohio and Toledo’s own Actual Coffee. And like many independent coffee houses in the area, they’re beginning to offer pour-over brews made one cup at a time. “It’s been a trend in the coffee industry,” Becky says, “and it’s really starting to hit Toledo.”
THE FLYING JOE, 2130 PRESTON PARKWAY OFF LEVIS COMMONS STRIP, PERRYSBURG. 419-931-0273.
MON.-THURS. 6AM-9PM, FRI. 6AM-10PM, SAT. 7:30AM-10PM, SUN. 9AM-6PM.