By Pam George
When Brew HaHa! opened its original Greenville location in 1993, lattes were a novelty. Happy customers were content with a cappuccino and magazine rack. Today, the restaurant’s location in Powder Mill Square has a full bar, live music and breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch menus.
Indeed, to succeed in a crowded marketplace, coffee shops need more than an espresso machine. “The cafe and coffee market is an extremely saturated industry, and you have to offer something unique,” agrees Antonios Fessaras, who opened Cafeneo Greek Cafe & Bakery in Newark last May.
Standing out is essential, but so is profit. “It’s no secret that the overhead for any restaurant or cafe is expensive,” says Katie Kutler, who opened kaffé KARMA in Barley Mill Plaza in January 2023. Rent, supplies, wages and food costs skyrocketed. “It’s hard to succeed with just coffee on the menu.”
Kutler, a yoga instructor, offers yoga and meditation programs in the café at night. “Our average spend-per-guest goes up, the guest is happy, our staff is taken care of, overhead is less scary — it really works out for everyone,” explains Kutler, a nutritionist.
Here are a few of New Castle County’s multidimensional coffee shops:
The OG: Brew HaHa!
Alisa Morkides’ well-known Delaware brand has nine locations, including two in Christiana Hospital and a new restaurant in Avenue North, the development near Concord Pike. Each café has a distinctive décor, but the spacious Greenville restaurant broke new ground with a full-service bar and extensive menu that includes tapas, small plates, rice bowls and brunch. There’s even a burger.
During the pandemic, the chain learned the value of lush outdoor spaces, which you’ll find at Avenue North and Trolley Square. All the locations benefit from the sister operation, Brandywine Coffee Roasters.
Hot & Cold: Boro Café
Colin Dyckman and his wife, Kendal Reynolds, discovered gelato during a heat wave in Italy. Between seeing the sights, they visited the local gelateria, and they were so impressed that last summer they opened Boro Café in The Concord, Buccini/Pollin Group’s Talleyville development. (Boro is a small Italian municipality.)
Gelato might differentiate Boro from the coffee shops surrounding it. Still, the pairing is common in France, Switzerland and Italy, says Dyckman, a graduate of The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College and veteran of the Philadelphia restaurant scene. “This is a strategic choice, not just a marketing promo.”
Marry the two with affogato, a scoop of gelato topped with espresso. Along with latte, cold brew and Americano, the shop offers quiche, salads and sweet and savory pastries.
A Cup of Wellness: kaffé KARMA
Located in the new Barley Mill Plaza, kaffé KARMA is a coffee shop by day, a yoga and meditation studio in the evenings, and a wellness workshop on weekends. The health-oriented menu includes mushroom coffee, wellness shots, smoothies, bowls and gourmet toasts such as Om: sliced avocado, red onion, fresh lemon juice, olive oil and micro greens. As for the coffee, Annapolis-based Ceremony Coffee buys from farms on four continents, depending on the growing season.
“Overall, we have been really well-received from the community,” Kutler says. “We tweaked our original yoga schedule, and it’s been a great change so far. Not every ounce of a concept works seamlessly, and recognizing when it’s time to pivot or shift things is important.”
From Hot Chai to Hoodies: Troisieme Café
For the name of his Concord Avenue café in Wilmington, Atlanta-native James Bradford III hearkened back to high school French classes. Troisieme means third, and he’s the third of his name.
The shop started as a clothing retailer, and its merchandise includes men’s apparel, hoodies and hats. Pastries, cupcakes and other baked goods — including gluten-free options —comprise the bulk of the minority-owned café’s food menu.
Newcomers are struck by the industrial chic décor, including a concrete counter, shelves, and wood and metal accents.
Coffee & Community: Scout Café
When Nicholas Qaabar opened Scout Café in January 2023, he wanted to create a common ground for Wilmington’s Triangle section, Baynard Village and the Ninth Ward. “Especially after COVID lockdown, we need welcoming spaces to connect with other humans and build our communities,” he explains.
The café has partnered with local businesses to offer chocolate-tasting classes and open mic night. It has also held pop-up dinners. “We are always looking for more ways to bring people together,” he says. “People love unique experiences.”
Breakfast sandwiches are available during opening hours, and lunch sandwiches and salads are offered starting at 11:30 a.m. Try Mr. Baynard (peanut butter, local honey and bananas on wheat) and Mrs. Van Buren (roast chicken, red onions, tomato, pesto and Havarti cheese on your choice of bread).
Baked goods come from the newly opened Hell’s Belles Bake Shop in Wilmington’s Little Italy. The coffee, meanwhile, comes from Brooklyn-based Partners Coffee Roasters, a Fair Trade company that supports coffee farmers.
“This is our first year of operation, and we have learned a lot,” Qaabar says. “We will be tweaking some events next year based on the feedback we got from our customers.”
Flight of Fancy: Sleeping Bird Coffee
Located next to Wilmington Brew Works and Pizzeria Metro, Sleeping Bird is the prodigy of two former food truck owners. Zach DeLong started with Scission Espresso, and Leigh Ann Tona hit the road with I Don’t Give a Fork after graduating from the University of Delaware.
The coffee shop, which opened in 2021, has become famous for cinnamon buns, including one with brownie dough. More recently, the couple began offering donuts from Tuesdays through Thursdays. The brioche-style pastry will be the star of their new venture, which is planned for a Concord Pike location near Lucky’s Coffee Shop.
Craft Coffee & Cocktails: Faire Cafe
Don’t expect the ordinary at Faire Café in Wilmington’s downtown district. For proof, order the Shakerato, a lightly sweetened espresso drink shaken with milk and served over ice, or the Faire Blend, tea with vanilla, strawberry Nesquik, almond orgeat syrup and oat milk.
The equally creative food menu salutes local landmarks. The Kalmar sandwich, for instance, features turkey, apple slaw, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese on Philly-based Merzbacher’s Malty Grain bread.
Espresso Yourself: Milk + Honey Coffeehouses
Open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Milk + Honey has locations in Little Italy and on Lower Market Street. Founder Quincy Watkins promotes the shops as a place to connect and meet new people. Events, including art shows and Sunday discussion groups, help foster conversation. The locations are also available for rent as venues.
From Croissants to Caviar: Bar Reverie
Bar Reverie opened last July next to its older sibling, BBC Tavern, but David Dietz’s two restaurants have different personalities. The elegant Bar Reverie, for instance, starts the morning with coffee and pastries from Gretchen Sianni — formerly of De La Coeur.
The coffee is from Felix Roasting Café in New York, which is “clean coffee,” meaning it is free of mycotoxins. Produced by mold, mycotoxins can grow on food before or after harvesting and during storage.
Bar Reverie becomes a bistro at lunch and offers fine dining in the evening (the espresso martini includes freshly brewed espresso). In November, chef Steve Taplin launched “The Art of Coffee Tasting,” which pairs the blends with doughnuts.
Veg Out: The Mercury Café & Teahouse
In 2021, Dwayne Foster and Aaron Vederman opened The Mercury, which quickly became the place where everybody knows your name — mainly if you live in Old New Castle. This is no British tearoom. The front room resembles an 18th-century apothecary shop with glass Ball jars of herbs, small Asian teapots and blue-and-white cups. Vederman, a psychologist, fell in love with tea while attending graduate school in New York. Coffee was too hard on the student’s stomach, and tea did the trick.
Foster, meanwhile, is a talented mixologist and barista who features Newark-based Little Goat Coffee Roasters products. The menu is a mix of vegan and vegetarian items.
“Having a little something for everybody is always a good idea,” Foster says. “We found a way to do that but stay true to ourselves and our strengths. Over the past year, I have tried a bunch of things to give the people in town—and the surrounding areas—something to do. The people of New Castle love to go out, so why not give them something to do?”
The Mercury showed scary movies in October, hosted wine and bourbon dinners and offers bingo every first Thursday. Foster admits that going the extra mile is challenging. “But it is worth it in the end. Everyone has a great time.”
Brunch all Day: Dr!p Cafe
Former Brew HaHa! manager Greg Vogeley opened Drip Café in Hockessin in 2013, and a smaller Newark shop followed. Both emphasize breakfast/brunch items. Customers can’t get enough of The Cali, a fried egg on sourdough toast with mozzarella, avocado, arugula and basil aioli. However, during the pandemic, Vogeley founded Drip Roasting Co., which makes the house blend “Bold as Love,” named for the title track on the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s second album.
Drip taps Chef Dan Tagle’s fine-dining background to host periodic prix-fixe dinners that benefit a charity. A Feb. 7 dinner, for instance, will support Lori’s Hands, which trains college student volunteers to visit community members with chronic illnesses.
In Greece, the “kafenio” is the hub for chitchat or, if you’re alone, contemplation. The Old World vibe appealed to Antonios Fessaras, whose grandfather owned a coffee shop in Greece. In May, Fessaras opened Cafeneo in Newark, which showcases Greek pastries, cookies and Greek coffee made by putting fine grounds and water in an ibrik, a copper pot with a long handle. He nestles the pot in hot sand to brew and then pours the contents, including the grounds, into a small cup.
“You wait for the grounds to settle and just drink it as is,” Fessaras explains.
No dairy is needed. He also offers traditional Greek coffees such as freddo cappuccinos and frappes.
“We sometimes combine the two elements to make every experience at Cafeneo crafted perfectly for you,” he says.
If you can’t stray from an espresso, you’ll also find the familiar fare at Cafeneo, including lattes and cold brew coffee.