A Tale of Two Coffeeshops

downtown Cincinnati

Kind and gentle readers, please bear with me while I present you with my latest, minor conundrum. My ongoing quest to consciously use my shopping dollars naturally extends to making coffee purchases downtown. Let us say that there are two downtown coffeeshops in close proximity, K and T.

K has good coffee. Sure, the owner is a grump who seems to be in the wrong business, but the coffee is what matters. I always wonder if the owner dislikes me specifically but, whatever, I’m not there to make friends. When I discovered that this place was open on Saturdays, I was elated and happily made my Saturday coffee purchase there. Then, the Saturday hours became intermittent, until they finally just ended. I pleaded with the staff but was told that it just wasn’t worthwhile to be open.

Around this time, T opened, and it’s open on Saturdays. It’s always busy on Saturdays, too. [This resulted in my “While You Were Out” sign idea, to let the other coffeeshop know that there is a coffee-craving clientele downtown on the weekends.]

Anyway, T is okay. In my opinion, the coffee isn’t as good. The staff is very friendly, in what I would call the annoyingly perky sort of way. Nonetheless, being friendly is appropriate to this business, and it’s nice to be treated well. I hate the way the place smells [burnt sandwich fixin’s?] and try to get in and out fast for this reason. I love the fact that it’s open on Saturdays.

So, I weigh the following factors: my quest for good coffee, my ambivalent feelings toward the way I’m treated at these two places, and my desire to reward any downtown shop that’s open on weekends. K seems to be struggling, and I feel inclined to support it to help ensure that there are two coffeeshop options. T is open on Saturdays, and I want to support that [I already do on Saturdays, out of desperation, but maybe I should always support them for this reason].

I have to weight my experience holistically — the coffee versus the customer service. The coffee is really what I’m after, but I don’t deserve to be treated like shit. On the other hand, T is always busy, and waiting in line in a stinking environment definitely cuts into the quality of my experience. Plus, choosing inferior coffee seems a bit stubborn on my part, since a quest for coffee was what started the conundrum.

So, what to do? How to spend my money wisely? How to be a conscious consumer? How to send the proper message with my dollars?

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17 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Coffeeshops

  1. I like good coffee, but I appreciate good service even more. When I go to coffee shops I am going for more than just the coffee. If the experience fails, then so does the coffee shop. I would spend your money at Coffee Shop T.

  2. Hmm, one vote for T and one vote for K, and now I’m back where I started… Maybe I should change my beverage of choice to smoothies or something and just abandon this little conundrum of mine?

  3. I feel very lucky that my favorite local coffee shop (http://www.yelp.com/biz/brutopia-cincinnati) is open evenings and on weekends. They’ve even extended their Sunday hours in the last year or so.

    I realize this doesn’t really help, but I would pick neither K nor T. I would seek out a third—friendlier and more reliable—option, even if it meant hopping a bus into another neighborhood.

  4. If t=Tazza Mia I think I understand, I’m a coffee snob and will carry my own in. Love the staff, location and food. I’ve been seeing OTRians in Tazza who I know have to walk past the Coffee Emporium to get to there.
    K, is that Kitties? Only been in there once, Ms 5chw4r7z and I both had a vacation day and it was open. The guy in the Court Street location seemed nice enough.
    I vote Tazza, or T what ever it is. Love the girls in there.

  5. BTW, that is one of my favorite views downtown, there on Race looking up at Macy’s.
    Something about the stark white Federated Bldg against a brilliant blue sky….

  6. Grace, there are places I genuinely like, which have great coffee and atmosphere. This is entirely about convenience, which is to say, location. I don’t think I would choose to hang out at either of these two places.

    Schwartz, I’m all about local flavor, but I don’t mess around with my coffee — I’ve been getting it from the same roaster since I was 14. I usually carry my own, but sometimes a girl is out and about downtown and needs to refuel.

    K is not Kitty’s. In a month or so, you’ll see my big plug for the Iris Book Cafe [which I wrote about in BuyCincy soon after it opened]. Now that is a place I like, quirks and all.

  7. OH, I hear you on the coffee, I like grinding and brewing my own, and usually drag a thermos around with me on Saturday/Sunday mornings.
    So who’s the roaster? can we get a hint?

  8. I realize your dilemna as presented is between 2 coffee shops, but have you tried the other downtown local coffee shops? Check out http://www.downtowncincinnati.com and do a search by “coffee” and you will pull up several other choices. My guess is you are familiar with all of them, but there are several with Saturday hours. As a coffee drinker, I would say you might try C and L in this list.

  9. Thanks, Emilie. I do enjoy the hunt for cool new stuff, but part of me stubbornly believes that getting a cup of coffee shouldn’t be this difficult. I could walk farther to get it, but then the coffee would have to be that much better…

  10. Also consider whether they and their wholesaler are paying fair market price for coffee. If they buy from a giant conglomerate who is driving Juan Valdez to pimp his own sister, move them from the Cool List to the Uncool List.

    The food & beverage industry is taking serious hits from this economic downturn. And retail coffee is one of the canaries in the coal mine. Coffee shop purchases are disposable income treats, not necessities. In a recession, coffee shops lose business first, supermarkets lose business last.

    Unless you own ten franchises, you are not going to get rich in the retail food business. You might not even maintain a middle class existence. The grumpy guy probably has little or no health coverage, cannot keep good help because he can’t pay them enough, and who knows, maybe he has a personality disorder. The good service place probably has several employees who have other lives as students, homemakers, etc. They can more easily muster the energy to be friendly and attentive.

    My hunch is that Mr. Grumpy has a lousy life, but serves good coffee. You should stick with him. I am always suspicious of friendly, attentive people. There is absolutely no good reason for them to act that way.

  11. David, I think your assessment is probably right and, after some brief soul-searching, I decided to stick with my original habit of spreading my meager patronage around — weekdays at K, Saturdays at T. I still bring my own coffee whenever I can.

    With any position in which there is contact with other people, a friendly demeanor is just part of the job. It has nothing to do with pay, benefits, etc. I don’t think it’s appropriate to excuse an unprofessional attitude for these reasons. I recoil whenever I get the sense that the person on the other side of the counter is doing me a favor by serving me what I’m asking for — the entire situation is set up for this kind of transaction and, even if it’s just a dollar for a coffee refill, that’s just what it is. If it doesn’t feel fair, then change it, and I’ll adapt accordingly.

  12. Just a little update on this saga… About a week ago, I got to talking with the owner of K and learned that business was terrible and that the shop would be closing at 2pm on weekdays. Armed with this knowledge, and with increased empathy for a struggling small business owner, I stopped by at 1:45 last Friday for my daily refill, and the place was closed. Closed. And with that, bitchy coffeeshop owner, you are officially dead to me.

  13. Hold up. A coffee place that isn’t open on Saturdays? I think my NYC programmed brain just short circuited. Also, I’m wondering if “supporting” the business should even be a concern. Couple of bucks here or there won’t make a difference, just do what you feel like on a day-to-day basis. Mix it up!

  14. Arjen, Cincinnati is pretty much a different planet, especially its downtown compared to any notion of “downtown” that you may have. It’s not bad, but it takes a bit of an expectation adjustment. So, there are few coffeeshops, and they mostly serve the 8-2ish workday crowd. Crazy, I know!

    As for my spending decisions, I don’t really think they seriously affect anyone’s bottom line, but I do have to make these decisions, so I do consider them to some extent. Between K and T is a Starbucks — I could just go there, but I won’t.

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