Reporting by Gary Harber / Multimedia by Sonya Paclob
Most weekday afternoons, you can find Heidi Champa at The Green Bean Roasting Co. on South Beaver Street.
The York resident, a novelist and short-story writer, brings her laptop to get some writing done while she has her usual -- a cup of regular followed by a cup of decaf.
"It's just a really nice place to come and get out of my apartment," Champa, 37, said seated at a corner table on a recent Monday afternoon.
York County's independent coffee shops rely on customers like Champa to keep coming in regularly.
They're competing for customers with everyone from convenience stores like Rutter's and Royal Farms to coffee chains like Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks, which have the benefit of million-dollar ad budgets and thousands of locations.
Starbucks not only has retail shops in York County, but also a coffee-roasting plant, warehouse and distribution center in East Manchester Township. The 880,000-square-foot facility, which opened in 1995, will roast 126 million pounds of coffee in fiscal 2015. It employs 400 people.
Meanwhile, the independents, with their single locations and miniscule ad budgets, are taking different approaches to growing their business at a time when rising prices for coffee beans and milk are cutting into profits. Some are focusing on their wholesale operations. Others are expanding their food offerings or offering entertainment.
During National Coffee Month, here is a look at five York County coffee shops and their business approaches
Cats and coffee are the thing at Merlin's Coffee.
You're likely to find felines Shadow and Sweetie lounging on the front porch of this Hanover coffee shop. Merlin's logo is a cool cat holding a coffee mug. And the shop itself is loaded with cat-related art work and feline tchotchkes ranging from salt-and-pepper shakers to soap dispensers.
Owners Eric and Donna Burns are cat lovers. But the selection of the cafe's theme was also a strategic business decision when the couple opened the store in 2004. Cats would be their way to stand out from other coffee places in the area.
Burns, now 48, already was a coffee industry veteran when he and Donna, now 45, opened the business. He'd worked for a coffee roasting company in Pikesville, Md., outside Baltimore and managed a Seattle's Best Coffee shop. Donna worked in publishing.
Growing Merlin's online business is a big part of the couple's growth strategy. They offer almost 40 varieties of coffee online. Online sales now account for about 10 percent of sales. Burns, who roasts his own beans, wants to grow that to between 40 percent and 50 percent.
Meanwhile, cats Shadow and Sweetie have developed their own following of customers who regularly bring them catnip and other treats, Eric Burns said.
"They're like rock stars," he said.
New Grounds Roasting Co.
Jennifer Anderson is all about building community in the neighborhood west of Codorus Creek where her York coffee shop and coffee-roasting business is located.
Anderson opened in November 2010 in the space that used to be Sparky and Clark's. She added a performance stage called "The Shop," for live music, poetry readings and art shows. And Stick-N-Move, a local youth boxing program, moved into space in the back of Anderson's West Market Street building about two weeks ago.
"I look at it as a ministry, coming together and having some fellowship together," she said.
At the same time, Anderson, 32, is building a business that's focused on more than retail sales.
Her roasting facility behind the shop has become a regular stop for tourists. Anderson just hosted two busloads from North Carolina. Several other groups are scheduled this year.
Anderson is also focused on expanding a growing wholesale business that already accounts for 60 percent of her business. Her coffee is served at York College, York Hospital and Gettysburg Hospital. And Giant Food Stores and Whole Foods also want to carry New Grounds coffee.
"We have a lot going on," Anderson said.
Take Five Expresso Bar
Take Five Expresso Bar's spot right by the Philadelphia Street entrance to bustling Central Market ensures a steady stream of customers among downtown office workers, downtown residents and people who frequent the market on Saturdays. That's in addition to all of the market's vendors.
Owner Phyllis DeStephano-Krall bought Take Five in 2012, encouraged by a niece who had a food stand at the market at the time. DeStephano-Krall had worked for more than 30 years in the food service industry, most recently as food service director for a nursing home in Lancaster. But coffee was a new gig for her.
"It's the best thing I ever did," the 51-year-old West Manchester Township resident said. "I love it."
DeStephano-Krall said she does some things that help set her store apart. She carries about 25 different varieties of flavored decaf coffees to appeal to decaf drinkers. And about a year ago, DeStephano-Krall began using iced cubes made from frozen coffee in her iced coffee. That keeps the coffee from becoming watered down as the ice melts, she said.
And DeStephano-Krall is also mulling whether to open a second location.
Kim Krebs describes her West York coffee shop as "a little mom-and-pop thing."
Krebs, 53, doesn't have employees. Instead, to keep expenses low, Krebs, who owns the business with her husband David, 53, works in the shop full-time. David, who works in manufacturing, helps out on his days off and their children fill in as needed.
The West Market Street shop was an Amoco gas station in the 1930s. The space is small -- just 400 square feet, including a counter with five stools. But Krebs makes the most of the place. And she has a lot of repeat customers from the neighborhood, some of whom call or text her so she can have their favorite drink waiting for them.
To supplement her retail business, Krebs does off-premises catering for customers including the York Builders Association. She provided the coffee for the group's Home Show at the York Expo Center.
And to bring in new customers, Krebs is considering holding more live music events like the Flamingo Friday event she held in July. Krebs placed plastic flamingos on the patio outside her shop and brought in a guitarist to play. The event brought in about 35 customers. She's also considering holding an outdoor movie night.
"I'm game to try stuff," she said.
The Green Bean Roasting Co.
You can buy Green Bean's coffee at the shop on South Beaver Street in York.
But you can also find it at places like the IKEA in College Park, Md., Tutoni's restaurant in downtown York and at Darrenkamp's supermarket in Etters.
Green Bean owners Vanessa DeLisio, 29, and Jennifer Schreiber, 30, roast their own beans. Their strategy is to expand The Green Bean's wholesale business.
They're also planning on expanding their food offerings, including more sandwiches, and adding locally made trail mix.
But that won't change The Green Bean's emphasis.
"We're always going to be coffee-focused," Schreiber said.