How do you like your coffee?
I’m not referring to varying levels of caffeine, cream, flavors, foam, sweetness, and the like; this question is strictly about atmosphere. Do you prefer your coffee joint to be cozy and artsy, or as light and bright as the floral notes in a cup of Darjeeling?
At Cafe Kopi, you now have the choice.
Kopi recently expanded into the space previously occupied by Circles (which has moved to 114 N. Neil St.). To get the lowdown on what led to the move, how it’s been working out, and what’s in store for Kopi’s future (big things, but be patient…) I spoke with owner Paul West.
Was expanding Kopi in the plans all along, or did you just seize the opportunity when Circles moved?
Well, we’ve certainly needed to expand for several years. It’s very difficult for a cafe our size to survive in this economy, unless it also has a vigorous carryout business, which is not possible with the parking downtown. We had formed a couple of ideas to generate more revenue, but when Circles moved, the expansion into the vacant space just made sense.
I know that plans are in the works for live music and alcohol service—what do you hope that will look like?
The plan is to book certain events on particular nights so a schedule will be easy to remember. In this way, a customer may choose to go elsewhere on “acoustic night,” or decide they can just sit in the other room to avoid a first-hand experience. I would like to start with “gentle” events, like light jazz, acoustic, classical quartets, and maybe some poetry.
It should be made clear that we aren’t even CLOSE to booking acts because we have some aesthetics/acoustics to adjust, and still have some hurdles with the City. And I don’t know yet whether these will be free, cover charge, or pass the hat, but we can split the rooms and not expose everyone to a fee if that happens. I can plan these things to death, but like anything else we do here, it tends to evolve on its own over time.
As for liquor—we still have many obstacles before we can reinstate our liquor license, too. I would like to start out with beer and wine, and then progress into the whiskeys. We’ll hopefully have more space to store and serve drinks, so our menu will be bigger, but we certainly won’t have a full bar. There are a few other places in the neighborhood to get a drink, but it’s nice to have the option when you get a cheese plate or sandwich here.
Is there anything else you hope to accomplish with the expansion?
We are planning to get a couple of new display cases, to broaden our menu selection a bit. First, a larger refrigerated case will allow us to bring back desserts for the after dinner or theater crowd, like cakes, cheesecakes, tarts, etc. Another case would offer more takeaway options for customers in a hurry, like sandwiches, small salads, fruit cups, parfaits, sodas, and juices. And we could sell our more popular food items by weight, such as our pasta salad, pesto, hummus, crab salad, and so on. Down the road, I would like to add some breakfast sandwiches, for starters. Just more popular things to keep people interested.
How has the new space been received? Do you notice more people sitting in one side or the other?
It was really important to me to keep the old room as close to the original as possible. Customers are very protective of their coffee shop; the routine and sameness provides a daily anchor for some.
We can do anything we want with the new room, but it still has to look like Kopi or the public will reject it. The original room doesn’t look exactly the same because we had to remove some tables to maintain the fire lanes. Some feel it has lost its coziness, but you still have the same lights, same floor, same color on the walls. I haven’t noticed whether certain people prefer one of the other. The new room seems infinitely more vast, only because it’s not split by our service counter and food area, and some people like that.
Is this your dream job? Or, how else would you describe it?
No. I can’t lie to you; this fell into my lap ten or eleven years ago, and I felt it was important to the community for me to maintain it. I have done this work before, as an employee and an owner, so I was partly qualified and knew what I was in store for. Some days I love it and some days I don’t. I enjoy serving and talking with customers, and I like finding new ways to improve the place. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t do this. Probably something with books, since I’ve held about every position in bookstores, too. Or maybe a Sherpa. Just kidding.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I suppose I would like to say thanks to everyone who has supported us for part or all of our fifteen plus years. To some people, Kopi just means great coffee, but to others it’s a refuge or a community. Whatever it symbolizes, as long as people keep coming, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing.