Couple brews up their happiness at new coffee shop
August 5, 2010
By Tim Pfarr
Kelly and Ron Stilwell have dreamed of opening their own coffee shop ever since backpacking through France 15 years ago and visiting European coffee shops.
“We said, ‘This would be really cool to do someday,’” Kelly Stilwell said.
They were in their late 20s at the time, and both were working in banking.
“It kind of went on the dream back burner,” Kelly Stilwell said.
In 1998, they moved to Newcastle’s Windtree neighborhood, and in 2001, Kelly gave birth to their son Tyler. She stayed home to raise and homeschool Tyler, and life continued as usual until Ron lost his job in the Washington Mutual collapse of 2008.
For many, losing a job is a curse, but for the Stilwells, it was somewhat of a blessing.
“We thought, ‘Maybe it’s time to put the dream into play,’” Kelly Stilwell said.
Ron Stilwell agreed.
“It didn’t seem like such a big risk, jumping from uncertainty to uncertainty,” he said.
So, they began preparing a business plan. They purchased a book on how to start a coffee shop, researched the demographics of the area and began the search for a coffee supplier and a storefront to call home.
For location, Newcastle’s downtown had few options, as there was little space available, as well as two Starbucks and Sweet Decadence, which sells coffee as well as chocolate.
However, the Renton Landing, where the Stilwells frequented for shopping, seemed like the perfect spot.
“We thought, ‘Where is the coffee?’” Kelly Stilwell said, noting that the Renton Landing lacked a coffee shop prior to them opening theirs.
They began crunching numbers, calculating the costs of opening and maintaining the business. Kelly Stilwell said that was the scariest part of the process.
“It was really intimidating,” she said.
However, thanks to a loan and help from a private investor, the finances were in order.
They secured a 2,500-square-foot storefront in the Renton Landing, partnered with Caffé Vita Roasting Co. for their coffee supply and named their business Caffe Felice, which translates to “happy coffee” in Italian.
“We want people to feel happy and relaxed,” Kelly Stilwell said. “It just kind of rolled off the tongue. Caffe Felice.”
Caffé Vita gave Kelly and Ron training on how to make flawless espresso, which involves much more than pressing the “pull espresso” button. Air temperature, air pressure, machine conditions, the espresso grind and many more variables affect the quality of each shot of espresso.
On March 8, the shop opened its doors, and the Stilwells soon found that there was indeed a demand for coffee in the Renton Landing. The shop has already accrued loyalists, and new customers come by Caffe Felice every day.
“Each month has gotten better and better,” Kelly Stilwell said.
Visitors can enjoy specialty drinks, such as grasshopper lattes — made with white chocolate and peppermint — cinnamon cappuccinos, almond mochas and various steamers, flavored drinks with frothed milk but no coffee.
The shop also hosts the discussion groups Socrates Café and Coffee Party USA. Socrates Café, in which attendees raise and discuss philosophical questions, comes to the shop the first and third Monday of every month. Coffee Party USA, in which attendees discuss politics, comes to the shop at 2 p.m. every Sunday.
Both are free, and no RSVP is necessary.
The Stilwells now spend six days a week at the shop, working predominately in the afternoon and evening. One of them typically stays late to close, and the other takes Tyler home.
They also use the shop to teach Tyler, as they have him answer story problems that touch on topics such as the amount a barista makes in tips during a given shift, which Kelly Stilwell said has worked well.
“It’s real to him,” she said. “It’s a real scenario versus made-up people in a book.”
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