Home alone...and lovin' it!

A new year; a new beginning.

While we never would have imagined the turn of events last year, we are thrilled to be cafe-free and on to other projects. As we finish our latest, I figured it would be a good time to catch up with you all.

The drama continues behind the scenes, but that’s not important to us.

As we take some time to rest and re-group, to adjust to the new reality of life without brick and mortars, we are also plotting the next Act of our careers. (Last year we read a book by two Stanford professors, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, taken from their very popular class, “Designing Your Life.” Using design methodology, one can craft a new life without jettisoning the old, but building on what works in it. I’ve read plenty of books on this subject, but this was just a bit different in its strategy. As a pragmatic person, it appealed to me. The assignments were practical and enlightening. I highly recommend it for those of you who feel unfulfilled in your current situation.)

Dexter before his coffee...

Dexter before coffee
When stripped to the essentials, what we love is coffee and tea. We love coffee and tea because they are healthful and delicious. We love the ritual of preparing and enjoying them, preferably in their most basic state...add hot water, steep, sip. Share with a friend, or a peaceful cup alone, either works. That morning cup has been the cornerstone of our lives for thirty years.

Drinking the best coffee and tea is affordable if you brew it at home.

Even as specialty coffee prices have risen (and farmers’ lives have improved as a result) you can still drink a fine cup of coffee for under a buck. While craft beer, fine wine, and top shelf liquor may become a luxury for many of us, that cup of specialty coffee remains an economic line in the sand.

Dexter enjoying his coffee...

Dexter enjoying his coffee.

We’ve made the “Buy Two Pounds and Get Free Shipping!” the focus of our online strategy.

By only buying two pounds, the coffee is less likely to get stale. That has always been very important to us. Does free shipping cut into our profits? Definitely. However, we cut out the expenses of running cafes and all the attending headaches, and we’re satisfied with the trade off.

Please check out our website and consider buying your coffee online from Friends Specialty. Our prices are more than fair given the quality and freshness of our beans.
Now that our online business is finally the focus, shipping times have improved with USPS Priority Mail getting it anywhere in the country within three days.

Dexter lit after drinking his coffee...

Dexter lit after coffee

Order Now! friendsspecialty.com

Tough Crowd in a Magical Space

Oh, how I love our coffee and tea business! You provide people with a good cup of coffee and they're happy. The restaurant business...now that is tough. Thin margins; thin skinned owners. Everyone's an expert, and a critic.

We took on the challenge of a full service cafe because we love Mill Creek Park and we have the expertise. We imagined it would be an excellent way for us to promote our coffee and tea to a different audience. But damn, speaking for myself, it's the toughest work I've ever done, both physically and mentally. My friends, we had no idea of the level of time and commitment we were undertaking to pull off a little lunch service. The challenges are myriad. Consider:

At the Garden Cafe we try and deliver a full service experience with fresh, high quality food, and our coffee and tea, for a little more than you would pay at a fast casual restaurant like Panera. We serve this food on lovely (and expensive) china because we believe that presentation is everything.

Since we were given a lovely, newly remodeled room donated by The Friends of Fellows Riverside Garden, we decided to contribute fabulous service ware because we wanted the total experience to match the gorgeous room and that incredible view. Because the build out cost was shared with others, we were able to keep the prices reasonable. It was important to everyone involved in the planning that we would not be elitist, catering to the few who could afford a luxury experience. Despite being in the loveliest spot in the Valley and the premier open-to-the-public destination, we wanted the people we served to feel comfortable.

Daisy and Sam serving up homemade cookies

We keep the menu simple because we lack a proper kitchen. But, in a way it has saved our sanity because a smaller menu is easier to implement and each item stays fresh. We focus on locally sourced composed salads and pressed sandwiches because they present beautifully and can be assembled quickly for a lunch crowd with limited time to eat.

Friends Specialty at the Garden Cafe- seasonal berry salad

We feature our coffee and tea because they're healthy, have no calories in their raw form and they're a light and delicious accompaniment to our menu. And more importantly, because we are at our core coffee and tea purveyors.


Grass fed meatloaf sammie

Staffing is very difficult. I try to be fair to my servers by not over staffing, although I adhere to industry standards. But the nature of this Garden is that a lovely day brings more people than my staff can handle so we must pitch in to a degree that most restaurant owners do not. (Although I noticed Lou Fusillo was busting a move downstairs with his catering party so maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps I should amend this to say the best independent food service enterprises have a heavy owner participation).

We will bus tables, jump on the kitchen line, seat guests and do dishes in order for our cafe to run well. I've been advised by well meaning people that such help is demeaning to us and we risk losing the respect of our staff. I can't see it. On those days where we are overwhelmed with business, it is our job to make each guest's experience a good one, however we do that. There is little room for vanity when all hell is breaking loose.

Frankly, people expect a lot from us. I often wonder if their expectations are as high for the corporate chains. We are expected to provide a level of personal interaction and quality food that I can't imagine the folks at Applebees do. Have you ever noticed the formulaic patter of the corporate food bot? If you have ever worked in such a place, the scripted dialogue is designed to forestall real contact and upsell a menu. I hate that vacuous stare and canned responses you get at most of the big chains. The Stepford-like smile, the fake sincerity, can't you spot it a mile away?

We are a local business operating in a tourist destination. It's a very odd blend of regular and transient guests.

Last Sunday's glorious weather and a recent spot on the local news brought a surge of business to the cafe which was very difficult to handle well. After the last dish was dried and the floors were mopped (by me) we all enjoyed a high five for maintaining our composure and doing our best under trying circumstances.

We were able to acknowledge the regulars and they were kind enough to forego the usual conversation seeing our besieged status. For you who've never worked in the business, there is a phrase for this level of crazy busy: "in the weeds." And in the weeds we most definitely were. After the pounding we experienced, we limped home and shared a simple supper, falling into bed by nine pm. Ah, the glamour.

Summer in the Garden

I'm not sure where I'm heading with this post. Just more late night ruminations? No. It's the excitement of a new project on the horizon, and the devil's in the details. I do my best thinking in the wee hours, cat on lap and tea cup in hand.


About Friends Specialty

Friends Specialty at the Garden Café offers an eclectic selection of teas, locally roasted coffee, a locally sourced lunch menu, delectable desserts, and other libations all served with a complimentary view of stunning Lake Glacier.

Friends Specialty Coffee has been roasting specialty coffee since 2003. We believe that everyday should start with a cup of our freshly roasted coffee, right in your home. Be sure to check out our online catalog today!



Growing Older Gracefully...with Coffee and Tea

"Old age comes on suddenly, and not gradually as is thought.

-Emily Dickinson

This year has been a year of changes. No longer can I eat and drink with abandon. Sleep becomes even more elusive. Without over sharing, middle age has announced itself with a vengeance, seemingly overnight. Although my general doctor cautioned me about my caffeine intake, my counter argument was that coffee and tea could be a force for good at this time in my life.

In its pure, unadulterated form, coffee has no calories, detoxifies the liver, helps cleanse the colon by increasing peristalsis, increases brain function, removes arterial plaque and lowers cholesterol, may boost work out efficacy, and just plain tastes delicious (especially if your husband is a coffee roaster). More importantly, it's been part of my waking ritual my entire adult life.

But with age hopefully comes wisdom so limiting my coffee consumption to mornings only is a common sense concession. Oddly, at this time my natural desire for coffee has decreased. I experience palate fatigue if I drink too much, i.e. it stops tasting good. That is a blessing because I don't feel deprived.
Lake Glacier Fellows Riverside Garden
Enjoying a cuppa at Fellows Riverside Garden


The second blessing is my recent discovery of the delights of fresh, loose leaf tea and tisanes. For a dozen years we carried a very reputable line from our beloved Bay Area, but we served it in bags on the advice of their local distributor. In hindsight, I question both the freshness of the product and the quality of tea in those bags. It makes sense that the broken leaves, the fannings or "shake" would be put in bags. That's commerce. We all must acknowledge that the convenience factor of a pre packed bag (or K-cup) often comes at the sacrifice of quality. 

I have found great pleasure in learning more about tea, camellia sinensis, and almost more so, the tisanes. The soothing quality of chamomile, the kick of roasted mate,  rooibos and honey bush, the flavor possibilities are endless. (Then we have the medicinal teas, but that is for another post.)

By noon, I begin to drink tea, usually an oolong or green tea. I add water all afternoon to the same leaves, the multiple steepings causing the flavors to become more subtle as the brew weakens. Full of antioxidants, the health benefits are well documented. The added hydration is always welcome.

In the evening, a caffeine-free tisane is the perfect way to end the evening. My current favorite is a mix I blended of chamomile, lavender and lemon verbena. I'll add a touch of raw honey or stevia if I have a hankering. It takes the place of that second glass of wine. My intention is to make a relaxing pot of tea in the evenings part of my bedtime ritual.

So there you have it. Variety is indeed the spice of life...and a healthy life at that. Black coffee in the mornings; tea all afternoon; wine with my supper and a tisane nightcap.

Lots of water, intelligent exercise, and cutting back on sugar and processed foods are simple ways of taking care of myself now, and at any age.

As always, I am living la dolce vita in the Rust Belt.


Friends of Friends

Meet Denell Vadala who comes to Friends Speciality very often because she works Downtown Youngstown, saying that the location is convenient for getting great tea. The outstanding customer service keeps her coming back for more every week.


Thanks Denell, for being a Friend of Friends! #FriendsofFriends 

The Importance of Coffeehouses throughout History

The Role of the Coffeehouse in the Community

Friends has operated coffeehouses for over a dozen years. While never wildly lucrative, the relationships we've fostered have more than compensated. In Salem, many business owners made our shop their club house and their generous support with their time, knowledge, and yes, money, made all the difference during the lean years of the Great Recession, when businesses were closing all around us and Main Street never got a bail out as far as we could see.

Friends in Salem

The late, great Friends Roastery, Salem, Ohio, 2014

The sage advice of Dick Sekely ("Growth through retained earnings.") Coby Morris ("You have to take care of yourselves first or your business will never survive.") Charlie Presley ("We are all sales people.") and my mom ("Always pay the street.") was invaluable in our development as entrepreneurs. The Sebos included us in their yearly entrepreneurial event at Bowling Green University despite our status as carpetbaggers and Left Coast liberals. The Hochadel family and their daily support probably paid our mortgage every month. Though "outsiders" we brought something to the table that our regulars appreciated.

In Youngstown, our proximity to the courthouses and City Hall are reflected in the clientele. Lawyers, politicos and power brokers all meet at the conference table. The police are a constant presence (and very coffee savvy). Kids from the YBI breeze through on their lunch hour. All the restaurant people stop by for strong coffee and camaraderie. The vibe is...different. The people, equally valuable.

Friends in Youngstown

Friends Specialty, Downtown Youngstown

If not for the coffeehouse, the alternative meeting place becomes the bar. But the addition of alcohol changes the discourse and the tone. I once read, "Coffee gives rise to thoughts; wine, to dream." That sums it up nicely. We offer an anecdote to our neighbors, the bars and restaurants. We add to the mix and our downtown is more complete with a coffeehouse on the street.

Historically, the coffeehouses were barely tolerated by the oligarchs when they appeared in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, because once sober, the populace became agitated by the status quo. (Remember, in those days, most people began their day with some form of alcohol, as the water was sketchy.) Fueled by caffeine, political unrest grew apace with the great coffee houses of Europe and one could make a case that the massive social changes of that period were attributed to coffee (and a little help from the Industrial Revolution).

Fast forward several hundred years, and by the mid twentieth century in America, the diner counter became the first place the newcomer went to get a feel for the town. Gossip flowed with the coffee, opinions were debated, but the tone remained friendly. Then we have the Beat Generation of the fifties and sixties and the avant garde coffee houses of New York's Greenwich Village and North Beach in San Francisco. Vesuvios, neighbor to world famous City Lights Book Store, was the coffee shop where Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Snyder and Kerouac sipped. Later came Cafe Trieste and Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store. And in these historic spaces Mitch and I absorbed the aesthetic and learned how to create a space that reflected the community and respected the space.

The Beats, 1950s
The Beats, 1950s


City Ligts Bookstore, San Francisco

City Lights Book Store, 1950s

Then came the Specialty Coffee movement of the late seventies. Long before their current permutations as corporate behemoths, Starbucks and Peets were single stores with lines out the door because of their freshly roasted coffee. In Boston, George Howell's Coffee Connection was where we received our epiphany ("oh sweet mystery of love at last I found you"). I remember sitting on a bench outside of Faneuil Hall, 1984, when specialty coffee was still in its infancy. Clutching that warm cup of strong coffee in the cool Autumn evening, eyes widening as the full assault of flavors and the amazing aroma overwhelmed each of us, our gazes met and we knew we had found the love of a lifetime...coffee.

Cafe Trieste, 1970s

Cafe Trieste, 1070s

Naturally, when we moved home many years later, coffee roasting in a coffeehouse setting was a perfect fit. Using our strong food and beverage background and twenty years of wandering through high end hotels and world class cities, we began with the standard offerings: the art openings, the poetry readings, live music, guest lecturers...all advancing the coffee scene. While we were not the first, we brought a unique vibe, reflecting our San Francisco years and our long time love affair with coffee.

And now, as the Third Wave crests across every part of our country, we take great pride in helping to advance the coffee culture in our area.

Friends of Friends

Our friends O'Keal Gist, Marketing Manager at NYO Property Group stopped by for a meeting and a quick cup of coffee that turned into an hour long strategy session. We love that O'Keal is a Friend of Friends and stops on by on a regular basis. 

On this day O'Keal was drinking Papua New Guinea!


Friends of Friends

Friends of Friends

"I'm Kelsey Husnick, a grad student at Kent State getting my MA in global communication and my MBA, where I teach communication classes as well. I'm also a writer for Valley Magazine, which is why I was at Friends today. I enjoy using the coffee shop as a place to hold interviews because it's cozier than an office setting and helps keep the people I'm interviewing more relaxed. I'm also just a sucker for good coffee!"

We are so glad that Kelsey is a Friend of Friends!!!

Friends of Friends

Meet our friend Megan Factor, a Youngstown State University student who recently shared her love of coffee over a meeting to become the marketing manager/event coordinator intern with DOYO Live, which is an event we will help to sponsor later this summer. 

So glad Megan stopped by for a cup of coffee and is sharing a warm smile. We love that Megan has become a Friend of Friends! #fof #friendsoffriends 


Friends of Friends

Friends of Friends Speciality

Friends of Friends...a few weeks back our friend Cory, a cook at nearby V2 in Youngstown stopped in for a cappuccino. He loves food and everything about great quality, locally sourced restaurants. Thanks Cory, glad your are a Friend of Friends Specialty!

Friends of Friends

Genna Petrolla,  Regional Chamber of Commerce - Manager of Business Development

Welcome to our new Friends of Friends! We will feature our friends weekly on Instagram and share on our blog! Meet Genna Petrolla.

Genna grew up in Youngstown but moved away to Cleveland. However with the recent transformation of the City of Youngstown she's recently moved back and is working for the Regional Chamber of Commerce as a Manger of Business Development.

As she was just wrapping up a meeting and commented that the look and feel of Friends reminded her of the big city coffee shops that she frequented in other big cities. Join us in welcoming Genna back to Youngstown!!! Welcome home Genna, glad you are a friend of ours!!!

Be sure to follow Friends Speciality on Instagram @FriendsSpeciality.