The independent coffee shop has replaced the town square as a community gathering place. And New Castle County, Delaware has two of the finest.
In the city of Wilmington, the sun rose above the Chase Bank building, casting light upon the business at the corner of 2nd and Market. The staff at LOMA Coffee welcomed its customers with familiarity. A couple occupied an outdoor cafe table, a jogger waited in line, and a police officer shared the bar area with a city resident. Sean, one of the workers, greeted me with a smile. “I love this time of day,” he said. “You get to watch the city wake up.”
I got the sense of shared experience as I observed the interaction among the workers; and among the customers and workers; and even among the customers themselves. There was no delineation as they chatted.
“Have you tried the pumpernickel-everything bagel?”
Ben Cordova, LOMA Coffee’s peripatetic General Manager, who declined to be photographed for the article about his shop, said, “I am not LOMA. Mary’s LOMA. That police officer over there is LOMA. You’re LOMA.”
Casting attention away from himself, he quoted Dan Akroyd in the 1980 film, The Blues Brothers, “We’re on a mission from God,” he said. “We exist to bless both our employees and our customers. Our goal is that their days are a little bit better for being here.”
LOMA Coffee draws customers from the residents of the local community, employees of the business and banking industry, and staff and students of the local colleges. “This space can break those barriers down. When they’re here, this one’s not a banker or a janitor. They’re just people enjoying good atmosphere and product. It’s a communal space to hang out. Everybody knows everybody.”
In Lantana Square Shopping Center on Limestone Road, ten miles northwest of the city, Drip Cafe serves the local suburban community of Hockessin. With its high, darkly-painted ceilings, the industrial setting is warmed by wooden tables and booths filled with customers quietly eating. Others sat at the long bar sipping pour-overs and watching big-screen TVs.
Owner, Greg Vogeley, was soft-spoken with a kind smile. Joining me at a table near the back of the restaurant, he said, “We’ve been in business 27 months—a little over two years, and it’s been a ride.”
When asked who his customer base was, he described the eclectic mix of people from a variety of places. “We pull in sweaty people from HAC (Hockessin Athletic Club),” he explained. “You’ll see Mercedes’ parked next to pick up trucks in the parking lot. Everybody joins you here. It’s what community is about.”
These two shops on opposite ends of the county share a philosophy of bringing people together who otherwise might not meet. The common denominator of the welcoming spaces is—coffee. Really good coffee.
And they don’t just serve coffee. They educate. They prepare. They inform. They share. I learned from Ben that coffee holds its flavor better in small quantities. He added, “The epitome of the independent versus chain shop is that less actually is way better.”
Positioned above the pour-over station, Drip Cafe has a hand-drawn sign explaining the process of preparing a pot of coffee using a French Press. Greg told me they make single-origin coffees to order via both the press and pour-over methods. “We offer 4-5 types of coffee in the rotation. It reads like a wine list with different taste profiles and nuances.”
Like Drip Cafe, LOMA is a full-service traditional Italian espresso bar. Ben explained that the employees are not order-takers. “We pay attention to every single shot we pull. We are artists, hand-crafting cup-by-cup, a gourmet beverage. And it makes a difference.”
In the shadow of the Nuova Simonelli espresso machine, Ben continued, “The ratio of espresso to milk is everything in the espresso world.” He explained about grams in and liquid out; about full-doubles and What’s your groove? (the question asked when a new barista takes over the bar). Though at times he sounded like a scientist, I felt welcome in the experience of what he was sharing. As I savored my latte, I had a better appreciation of the effort that had gone into making it.
While both coffee establishments share similarities, they also possess qualities that make them unique. The Hockessin business obtains their beans from Ceremony Coffee Roasters in Annapolis; the Wilmington shop is supplied primarily by Elixr Coffee in Philadelphia. At Drip Cafe, Greg said, “We position ourselves as more than a coffee shop. We are a full-service breakfast and brunch cafe with a from-scratch menu. We make our own syrups, dressings, muffins, pancakes. We source locally, buying from our neighbors and friends.”
Their menu reads as a panacea for the hungry soul. According to the owner, a favorite food item is the Caramel Apple Pancakes—bacon-studded pancakes, topped with roasted apples, smoked bacon, & house-made salted caramel sauce. And if one prefers a drink item, there is the Chai Breakfast Shake—house-made chai tea, milk, rolled oats, honey, & banana.
LOMA Coffee also serves a breakfast and lunch menu which includes the Down Town Club Panini—turkey, ham, bacon, lettuce, tomato & cheese with wasabi mayo grilled on sourdough. Popular drinks include the traditional cappuccino and the Day Buzz—dark chocolate, peanut butter, espresso, almond milk, banana, and protein.
Each of these shops has its own style and individuality as diverse as the clients it serves, but what connects them is the common goals of coffee and community. Ben Cordova explained, “We’re in it together. We all serve one another. We’re hanging with the customer, and when they allow us to serve them, they serve us. People will often say, ‘What a unique place!’ It’s because we enjoy what we do.”
Greg Vogeley echoed that sentiment as he summarized the philosophy of Drip Cafe by saying, “We put our heart into what we’re doing.”
239 N. Market Street
Monday to Friday: 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Saturday: 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Monday Night Bluegrass 7:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.
Art on the Town —First Friday Art Loop 5:00 p.m.-8:00 pm.
144 Lantana Drive
Open daily: 6:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Greg Vogeley, owner
*The Brunch Box (the mobile, take-out arm of the cafe):
Delaware Burger Battle (August 29th)
The Farmer & The Chef (Chase Center of the Riverfront)
Dogfish Dash (Sept. 27)
Woodside Farms’ Art & Craft Fall Festival (October 10)
Halloween in Hockessin (October, 2015)
Rolling Revolution (Delaware’s Mobile Vending and Food Truck Association)