Independent Coffee Shops Holding Their Own
By CHARLES CANTRELL
WECOME TO TOPECA: Co-owner husband and wife team, Margarita and John Gabrino, welcome Tulsans to their niche in the local coffee market located on the ground floor of Tulsa’s historic Mayo Hotel.
CHARLES CANTRELL for GTR Newspapers
It seems that the arrival of Starbucks in the area several years ago enhanced the interest of coffee shops of all kinds.
One thing going for both parties is the national trend in coffee consumption that continues to increase. According to tracking research conducted by the National Coffee Association of U.S.A., Inc., consumers age 18-24 drink an average 3.2 cups of coffee per day in 2008 compared to 2.5 cups in 2005. In addition, 17 percent of the adult population consumed a gourmet coffee beverage on a daily basis in 2008 compared with 14 percent in 2007. All indications are coffee drinking is here to stay and will be a growth industry far into the future.
John (Chip) and Margarita Gaberino of Topeca Coffee Company respect and credit Starbucks for having paved the way in the United States for coffee merchants like themselves.
According to Margarita, “Starbucks has done so much to educate the public about quality coffee and even about the social implication of worker exploitation in the world coffee market. We’ve built much of our brand around the Starbucks model with some notable exceptions.”
One of those exceptions is posted on the front window of the Topeca Coffee shop located in the historic Mayo Hotel: “From seed to cup.” Margarita Gaberino’s family introduced coffee growing to the wild frontier of El Salvador six generations ago and became one of the most influential families in coffee. The company derives its name from Margarita’s childhood nickname. The couple met while attending Loyola University in New Orleans, married and teamed up with Margarita’s brother Emilio Lopez to become Tulsa coffee merchants offering a product over which they have total quality control. Complete quality control required a roastery in the city assuring Tulsans get coffee from beans roasted within the week. Topeca coffee is preferred by many Tulsans and is sold through retail outlet around the city like LaDonna’s Fancy Foods, Petty’s, Cherry Street Coffee and others.
Another exception consumers find at Topeca Coffee is the attention paid to training of their baristas (Italian for coffee shop bartender). Topeca servers are not only well trained in the proper way to prepare coffee but to tailor servings to the customer’s preference.
Java Dave’s Coffee, owned and operated by Dave Neighbors, was well established in the Tulsa market when Starbucks came to town. Tulsa’s original quality coffee merchant actually started in Tulsa as Executive Coffee Service in 1980 and began the Java Dave’s concept in 1993. In addition to retail outlets throughout the city, the company operates a roastery in Tulsa to provide coffee freshness to their customers. The local roastery not only provides quality control, but also enables the owner to create specialized roasts. Java Dave’s offers all five types of roast: light, medium (American), full, French roast and dark French roast. Java Dave’s has been awarded the “Gold Cup Award” by the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
“We stayed with our emphasis on quality beans, fresh and unique products and excellent customer service, and we’ve never regretted maintaining our model. We’re still here and going strong,” Says Mike Tiernan, Director of Licensing for Java Dave’s.
And so it goes with almost any of the many locally owned coffee providers located throughout greater Tulsa. Whether it’s Double Shot with its on-site roastery or Shades of Brown in the heart of Brookside or Café Cabana tucked away in Lincoln Plaza on Cherry Street; the exotic and funky, Gypsy Road House and Cyber Café in the Brady District or Sadie’s Coffee House in historic Greenwood; the Rocket Brothers, Gloria Jeans Gourmet Coffee, Spill the Beans in Broken Arrow, Kaffe Bona in south Tulsa or Nordaggio’s Coffee Inc., a java haven at bustling 81st Street and South Lewis and many more such coffee shops springing up across greater Tulsa, all seem to be thriving. Even outlying communities are getting into the act. Claremore boasts Daily Grind Coffee Company and Bartlesville coffee lovers have a locally owned shop called Ashley Grace Coffee.
Each shop provides a unique perspective on what each owner sees as the optimum coffee blend and the quintessential coffee shop experience. Success comes from establishing a following of loyal patrons who agree with the owners approach. For all their uniqueness, these locally owned shops have in common quality products, very personal service and a neighborhood feel as a one of a kind gathering place where maybe not everyone, but at least someone knows your name.