“I wanted to focus on fostering relationships and have a place that truly was a community spot,” says Blasini. “I used to do a lot of travel and saw how coffee shops can bring young people together.”
While he knows that people come to EQ to get work done on their computers, there’s also significant space dedicated to an atmosphere more like a living room with couches and chairs – a “comfortable place where people feel welcome.”
Blasini must know what he’s doing because on a recent Tuesday mid-morning there was a bustling crowd of both workers and talkers. EQ was formerly the home of both Waldo’s and Boulevard Coffee. Blasini said he made significant changes inside with the colors and décor, and added sliding pocket doors at two separate spots in the room so the spaces can be sectioned off for events.
“We host small meetings, and lectures,” said Blasini.
The idea of community and personal narrative is a good fit with the artisanal nature of coffee, says Blasini, and he likes sharing with people the story of the farmers. He also says the theme fits with the musicians they host Thursday through Saturday nights.
“They are personally invested in their craft too,” said Blasini, who noted that the groups they bring in don’t have highly amplified music.”
“The whole thing is about an intimate space,” he said. “Coffee and tea are what get us started.”
Another coffee shop who does a lot more than coffee is Cafeza on Houston Avenue in the First Ward. “Our mission is coffee, cuisine, culture and community,” said Ryan Hazen, who owns Cafeza with wife Keisha.
Like EQ Heights, Cafeza also serves beer and wine, but they also offer cocktails. Cafeza focuses community efforts on the First Ward by hosting the First Ward civic club’s events, showing and selling art from First Ward artists, and partnering with a Girl Scout troop at nearby Crockett Elementary.
“We hosted them for a Girl Scout cookie sale and did a Thin Mint Latte to go along with it,” said Hazen. “There was a huge turnout. They sold 100 boxes in two hours.”
Music is a big part of bringing people together too. Fridays and Saturdays they host local musicians who feature original music. Monday night is the city’s only Latin Jazz Band where people can show up to play.
There’s a piano with built in microphones under a portrait by Wiley Robertson at which Hazen says people will start playing on any random day. And when they do, Cafeza turns down the playlist and rolls with it. There’s also a Poetry Night hosted by Writer’s Block every other Tuesday. Hazen says the inside was completely remodeled when they purchased it.
There’s a long bar and a long communal bench that was influenced by their time in Barcelona and Paris.
“There’s less of a requirement for personal space there,” said Hazen. “It’s interesting when people sit shoulder to shoulder and engage with each other.”
He says that they’ve had people who live in the same townhome community meet this way.
“They hadn’t met before, even though they lived in the same place,” he said.
Another local shop, Boomtown on 19th, recently undertook a renovation to meet both the aesthetic and coffee needs of its customers. “We wanted something simple and clean that created a brighter, more vibrant atmosphere within the space,” said Andrew Loreman, chief Design and creative officer for Boomtown.
“We know there are plenty of people who want nothing but a quiet space to sip on their coffee, but we want our product to energize, motivate, and inspire our customers. The feel of the old shop was cozy and had a certain charm, but we never felt that the nature of the space matched the quality of our coffee. We wanted to give the Heights neighborhood a truly great coffee experience and felt that we needed to upgrade the space to be able to deliver it.”
Tangible changes include brightening up the space, upgrading the surfaces throughout, increasing the number of seats on the floor and bringing back couches.
“The largest part of our remodel, however, focused on creating a more robust and memorable coffee offering with the addition of the Modbar pourover and espresso heads behind the bar,” said Loreman. “With this equipment, we plan to feature the highest quality coffee we roast and offer a catered, comprehensive coffee tasting experience.”
Loreman said this is their first remodel since they took over the shop from a previous owner five years ago. “It was long overdue and finally feels like home to us,” he said.