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Doing coffee the Old School way in PCC Southeast’s new Library
Photos and Story by Katherine Miller
April 8, 2015
A new, modern college campus demands a new, modern coffee shop — which PCC Southeast now has thanks to this week’s opening of Old School Coffee. The café occupies the southeast corner of the Library, which is one of the campus’ two new buildings funded by the bond measure approved by voters in 2008.
And although the design of Old School Coffee – like the rest of the building — is decidedly minimalist and sophisticated, with generous windows, tall ceilings and sculptural light fixtures, owner Michele Wong said the café is true to its name.
“You know how you have all these fancy coffee bars doing single-pour, cold-brew, cone coffee and single-origin beans? It takes them so long to pull just a shot of espresso,” said Wong.
“We do it the old-fashioned way. We start out with really good coffee. We pull a really good shot of espresso. We use fresh ingredients. We use the best milk we can find. We just do things simple, like they used to be.”
Wong brings more than 20 years’ experience to her latest venture, having previously owned Common Grounds Coffeehouse, Henry’s Café, and Caffe Pallino. When she was approached with the opportunity to sell the latter, the busy mother of two children thought it was a good time to leave the restaurant business.
Then she happened to drive by the new Library on Southeast Division Street, and an idea for a coffeehouse started percolating.
“It seemed like a good location, because students always want to drink coffee,” said Wong. “It was smaller than what I was doing before. It was still a year out from being finished. It just seemed like the neighborhood needed something like that for the school. There really wasn’t anything around there like that.”
Providing retail space is one of the goals of the PCC Bond Program. In addition to the 950-square-foot café in the Library, there is more than 3,000 square feet of space in the Student Commons facing Southeast 82nd Avenue that the college is in the process of leasing.
Wong worked with her sister – and a little help from a designer – to plan the white, bright interior space. “I try to do each place a little different,” said Wong. “That’s the biggest thing, the part that I enjoy most. Coming up with the name, coming up with the logo, coming up with the whole concept of what we’re going to serve.”
The brightly colored walls are hung with paintings from a local artist, all of it for sale. A new artist will be featured every couple of months. The café also has a long wooden central table and wooden benches that have outlets for laptops and other electronic devices. Out front, on a patio tucked between the landscaped beds, are candy-apple red tables and white chairs.
“To me, a space is all about the ambiance and bringing people together where they can meet and have a nice place to sit or study. A lot of places just want you to eat and go,” said Wong. My philosophy has always been that I wanted people to stay here and hang out with their friends or their kids. Someplace that’s clean, stylish and fun.”
But the main focus at Old School Coffee is what goes on behind the gleaming stainless steel counter. Wong has been using a Seattle-based coffee roaster, Caffe Umbria, since 1992. The company is run by a family of Italian immigrants who have been roasting since the ‘80s. “They roast every day and send it down to us,” said Wong.
In addition to the well-honed espresso drinks, there is organic tea, plus plain and chocolate croissants, scones, muffins, cinnamon rolls, bagels, granola, and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. The café bakes all of the own treats, while the bagels are delivered fresh every morning from Bowery Bagels. Coming soon are smoothies, bubble tea, frappes and sandwiches.
Although the café has only been open one day, Wong said they have already had “a really good response,” despite discovering that they needed a few things – like a trashcan and more baking sheets.
“We’ve actually been busier than I thought we’d be, which at first was a little nerve-wracking because there were all these little things that weren’t ready yet,” she said.
Still, Wong and her staff, most of whom are PCC students, are taking the opening in stride and striving to live up to the café’s slogan: “A modern coffee bar with old school values.”
Old School Coffee is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday;
and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
PCC’s 2008 voter-approved $374 million bond program is increasing opportunities for residents to access quality, affordable higher education close to where they live and work. Additional classrooms, updated equipment and technology, and advanced workforce training programs are helping to pave the way for future employment options. For more information, visit www.pcc.edu/about/bond/about.