Lynn’s coffee consumers are ditching the to-go cup in favor of the in-house experience
By MEAGHAN CASEY
f the walls of downtown Lynn’s newest coffee shops could talk, they would speak an entirely different language from the ones that keep the rest of America running.
Walking into the Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Company, located on Munroe Street, one’s eyes are drawn immediately to the beautiful paintings adorning the brick walls, as well as visual reminders of the company’s motto: “Drink coffee. Do good.”
“Coffee shops have their own personalities,” said Anna Bonifacio, a former client and now part-time employee of the Haven Project, the non-profit behind the coffee shop. “It’s the colors, the art and the authenticity. You can find inspiration in every place. To walk into a café and be able to appreciate a nice piece of art, it’s like walking into a museum. It’s a unique experience.” The only organization north of Boston dedicated specifically to providing services to a growing homeless population of young adults ages 17-24, the Haven Project assists its clients with basic needs, online learning, educational support, job training and job acquisition, stable living options and opportunities to build life skills. Executive Director Gini Mazman said the idea for also starting a profitable business as a social enterprise and job-training site was in the works for years.
After surveying Lynn business owners, a coffee shop was the most popular choice. It opened in January 2016, serving Rwandan coffee, hand-crafted espresso drinks and delicious breakfast and lunch options.
“As a start-up, it was important for us to be able to bring in unrestricted money for programs,” said Mazman. “We also wanted a job site for the kids. We probably talked to 50 different coffee franchises before we met with Jonathan Golden [founder of Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Co.] and realized our missions aligned.”
Golden started the coffee company to pay a fair wage to the farmers of Rwanda, help them with their basic needs and bring a quality product to coffee lovers. There are currently only a dozen shops nationwide, and the Lynn shop was the first — and remains the only — one to open in the Northeast.
“You see people walk in here comparing it to Cambridge and thinking, ‘did I just go through a wormhole?,’” said barista Steven Foley, who estimates the most popular beverages on the menu are the lavender vanilla latte and the cold brew coffee.
“We wanted it to be a win for the community,” said Mazman. “In addition to giving the business community and college students a high-end coffee shop to gather, we want to bring people to Lynn and we want to bring art to Lynn.”
The artwork on display rotates every six weeks, giving a wide range of artists, from professional to student, the opportunity to be featured. The café also houses local products and gifts and has invited other businesses such as Soul City Yoga in for events.
White Rose Coffeehouse, which opened in November, has also embraced the arts and culture of café life. The shop, which is located across from RAW Arts in the heart of Central Square, features specialty coffees, sandwiches and salads, along with beer, wine and creative cocktails. Five nights of the week, there’s typically live music, poetry slams and other events.
“I love the downtown Lynn resurgence,” said owner Kato Mele, who has been active in the Lynn arts scene for years. “The most exciting thing is that there’s no particular kind of person who hangs out here. You see people of all ages and demographics. It’s really become a community gathering place.”
With no television in the shop, Mele says people prefer to read, work or converse with one another.
“Everybody needs a third place to be,” she said. “You have home and work, but this is another place you know you’ll see a friendly face. You can come here and find a quiet corner during the day or to socialize with friends at night.”
The artwork on display at White Rose also usually rotates every five to six weeks, with the exception of some permanent pieces in the back room by artist Cat De Leon. The coffee is supplied by local vendors, such as Atomic Coffee Roasters and some of the beer is brought in from Lynn’s Bent Water Brewing Company. Even the pickles are from Maitland Mountain Farm in Salem.
“We try to feature as many local companies as possible,” said Mele.
Across the street, at 23 Central Square, a new artisan coffee shop called The Brew will be opening by the first of June It will open alongside Pie & Pint, which will specialize in fresh house-made pizzas, salads, sandwiches and craft beer, in the former office building that Quincy-based MG2 is converting into 49 market-rate apartments. This will be the second outpost of both The Brew and Pie & Pint, following their opening in a new mixed-use development complex in downtown Worcester.
“Based on our experience in downtown areas, doing the higher-end, market-rate residential units upstairs and a craft food-and-drink concept on the first floor works well,” said Joe Donovan, vice president of MG2. “That’s something that didn’t exist in Lynn and we saw a need we could fill. When you have an influx of young professionals, you need the retail support. These cafés and restaurants almost become amenities. You want them to be able to walk downstairs, have a coffee or a drink and relax.”
Jim Cowdell, executive director of the Lynn Economic Development and Industrial Corp., is pleased to see more and more businesses opening up in Central Square.
“The exciting change I’ve seen is that retailers and developers are chasing us now,” said Cowdell. “Bringing people with disposable income into the downtown spurs economic growth. We’ve had 300 new residential units built in the past five years and we need places for theses residents to eat and drink.”
“I frequent all of the coffee shops in the downtown,” said Lynn City Councilor Dan Cahill, who we ran into at White Rose Coffeehouse. “It’s exciting and fun to work in Central Square right now. To see these shops going in, it’s a sign of vibrancy and activity, and indicative of the growth in the number of residents here.”
“Plus, I love caffeine,” he added with a smile.
Cahill isn’t alone. More than 150 million Americans drink coffee every day, generating more than $40 billion in annual revenue for the coffee industry. While Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts still remain the major players (respectively holding 39.8 and 21.9 percent of the market share of the leading coffee chains), the number of independent coffeehouses continues to rise. Demand for coffee shops has increased at a faster rate than most segments in the food-service industry — which is probably why a city like Lynn can accommodate the familiar Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks or Honey Dew Donuts on practically every corner — or at least 14 if we’re counting — in addition to the newer shops that have been popping up.
Across town Walnut Street, Café, which has been in business at 157 Walnut St. for 21 years, was the first of Lynn’s coffeehouses to make its mark on the community. Owner Jim Chalmers built it in the style of a European café.
“It’s a multi-generational gathering place where people can enjoy coffee, alcohol, conversation and entertainment,” he said. “It’s a free-speech zone for them to express themselves.”
A sign on the wall reads “revolutions are born in coffee shops and taverns,” reminding us that this shouldn’t be a quick in-and-out stop, but an experience.
Chalmers admits that 90 percent of his business comes from the morning commuters, but says it’s the other 10 percent that he looks forward to.
“It’s a neighborhood place,” he said. “I’ve watched kids come in here, grow up and come back in with kids of their own.”
The key to Chalmers’ success has been hiring “creative, outgoing people” — some of whom have worked for him for nearly a decade or two. The café goes through 400 pounds of coffee beans each week and his baristas have come up with boundless combinations with the 15 brewed coffee flavors and 27 flavor shots, from the Milky Way to the melted ice cream iced coffee.
For 18 years, the café has hosted rising musicians, comedians and poets. There’s typically an event every night, with poetry slams and open mic nights earlier in the week and live music on the weekends.
“We don’t have a sitting crowd on a Friday or Saturday night,” he said. “Everyone’s up enjoying the music, whether it’s folk, rock, gospel, jazz or hip hop.”
Mele credits Chalmers for paving the way for the union of coffee and culture and hopes White Rose can carry on a similar tradition in the downtown district. “Jim got it rolling in Lynn,” said Mele. “
The scene has really been thriving in Salem for many years, but I think Lynn is really pushing forward right now.”