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Independent coffee houses flourish throughout Inner Southeast

by: Elizabeth Ussher Groff, In Woodstock, Ivan French, accompanied by Tellulah Violet Ripstra, 8, and Faron French, 2, buys morning coffee and cocoa for the family from First Cup coffee shop owner Anita Stacey. Pictured also is employee Marcie Brown.

While large coffee corporations such as Starbucks initially whetted the public's whistle for that jolt of java, it is the small, independent coffee houses that are satisfying the needs of many caffeine lovers nowadays in Inner Southeast Portland.

The smaller, more intimate cafés with character, and customized product and service, are thriving, although not seemingly at the expense of the large chains. A customer backlash against what some consider an aggressive attack on the 'indies'? Perhaps. But the appeal of the independent coffee house is broader than that.

Rather than sip standardized drinks in an atmosphere where the smells, sounds, and architecture are predictable, as in what some refer to as the 'corporate ambience', coffee lovers are finding variety, community, comfort and quality in the more personalized coffee shops.

One such spot is First Cup Coffeehouse, formerly Coffee Cat, at 41st Avenue and Woodstock Boulevard. For fourteen years Coffee Cat, with its family feeling, was a haven for neighborhood 'regulars', retirees, dog owners, truckers, PGE linemen, and police. Now with new warm colors, comfortable seating, paintings on the wall, and a full outside patio deck with bright flowers, First Cup Coffeehouse continues to offer a welcoming atmosphere. First Cup's hours are weekdays 6 am-7 pm, and weekends 7 am-5 pm.

New First Cup owner Anita Stacey is excited to take over a shop with the advantages of great location, good parking, and a neighborhood clientele. After ten years in college student services and marketing, she wanted to own a business. Training with Stumptown Coffee Roasters as a barista, and then 'shadowing' in various coffee houses for over a year, convinced her this was the business for her.

'I decided I like the interaction with people that is possible in a coffee house. And I like the fact that this location has a neighborhood component,' she says. Consciously fostering community is evident in her knowing customers by habit and by name. 'People come and gather, sit on the patio and meet new people. Some people just like to get out of their house and be around others.'

As a new business owner herself, Anita is open to helping others with their fledgling entrepreneurial activities. Besides getting baked goods from three bakeries, she buys from a customer who has started his own baking business, and rents kitchen space from All Saints Episcopal Church across the street. Sales of gluten-free bars cater to some customers' dietary needs while supporting another neighborhood business startup.

As with many independent coffee shops, the quality of the coffee and the process of brewing are key to keeping customers satisfied. 'There is an art to it,' says Anita. 'If people are paying good money on a drink, it should taste good.' Barista training includes tips on how to make that cup of java just right.

First Cup Coffeehouse is just one of many independent shops in THE BEE readership area where you can find quality coffee, tea and pastries. THE BEE has previously reported on Gladstone Coffee, Mehri's Bakery, and in this month's issue, The Funky Door. Papaccino's on Woodstock continues to fill up with a diversity of customers who like to linger over a cup of brew and a giant scone while reading, working on computer or homework, meeting with colleagues or friends, or sitting in solitude, gazing at streetscape through large picture windows.

A few other notable Inner Southeast coffee shops include SoTac Coffee and Cream on S.E. 13th, just north of Umatilla Street, featuring coffee and ice cream; Ugly Mug Coffee, operating successfully about three blocks north; and Twin Paradox Coffee due east, on S.E. 17th. Not to forget the granddaddy of them all, Schondecken in Westmoreland across from the Sellwood Post Office, where Nancy Duncan has been roasting coffee beans and serving up coffee to patrons for over two decades.

And there are intriguing little coffee kiosks sitting in parking lots all along every major route--not to mention the coffee bars in stores, such as at Abundant Yarn and Dyeworks in Sellwood and Gallery 7126 in Westmoreland.

An Internet website launched to counter what it characterizes as the mega marketing and financial resources of corporate coffee houses, bookstores, and movie theatres, is www.delocator.net. Put in a ZIP code and you will find a full list of independent establishments. There are more coffee shops in your ZIP code area than you imagined.