Joni Woolf: Café Campesino: looking good on Lamar Street
Published 10:51 am Monday, April 3, 2017
The bright, friendly café on the southeast corner of Lamar and Jackson Streets welcomes visitors with the smell of brewing coffee. The aroma followed the café from its former location on Spring Street — a Quonset hut-looking building that sat beyond the courthouse, near the railroad. The location was beloved by its faithful customers, some of whom adopted a “wait-and-see” attitude when the move was announced. To grow, however, a new site had to be found, and growth was the vision of owner Bill Harris. (They followed him to Lamar Street.)
In 2018, Café Campesino will celebrate 20 years in the coffee business. According to Nema Etheridge, marketing director, Harris started the business as an importer of coffees. The local community wanted good coffee and there was no coffee shop to be found in Americus. So, Harris began the business, and found soon enough that good coffee sells. He started as an importer, and the importing company became its own business; then the company moved from importer to roaster. Harris buys from small-scale, farmer-owned cooperatives and still roasts the coffees at the Spring Street location where the business began.
One of the goals in starting the business was supporting small farmers. Nema points out that the farmers need faithful markets — markets that will stay with them. And Bill Harris has developed relationships with the farmers that she compared to a two-way street: the farmers’ needs are met while providing Harris with the products he needs for a successful coffee business. The sweet café on Lamar is only a small — though vital — part of that business. There are now customers all over the country, and the coffee is about to be available in Kroger stores. (If you’re shopping in Savannah, you can find it at the Sentient Bean!)
Though coffee is the main attraction, food was always part of the plan. Commitment to good food selection and preparation was evident when Harris chose Ifah Hathcock to be the assistant manager. A native of Singapore with a degree in hospitality, Ifah worked at Pat’s Place several years before moving to Café Campesino. The current menu is her creation and she is responsible for its implementation. Coming in as manager of the coffee shop is Kelly Newcomb, so the two of them will be the faces greeting the public in days ahead.
When the Café first opened on Lamar, only breakfast items — bagels and oatmeal — were offered. Then they hosted some 100 coffee farmers from all over the world: Laos, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru — Importers and roasters. Nema says that after serving breakfast to a crowd that size, they knew they could serve food expeditiously!
So, the restaurant part of the business is growing. In addition to a wide range of coffee choices (espresso, cappuccino, latte, mocha, chai latte and others), a breakfast and lunch menu offers some delightful options. Breakfast could be Organic Oatmeal, Fruit and Yogurt Bowl, or Acai Bowl, or one of several bagels. Lunch sandwiches are Turkey (this is my favorite, served on Lee Harris’ white bread (Lee is Bill’s brother, and owns Sweet Georgia Bakery), the Hummus Club, the Vegan Grilled Cheese — and here’s one I want to try — the Almost Elvis: this is made on Lee’s white bread, with peanut butter, banana and agave drizzle, grilled. And served with sweet potato chips and Koinonia’s blueberry jam. There are also salads and snacks, smoothies, baked goods, and on Fridays and Saturdays, quiche is offered.
Bill Harris has combined an ethically and environmentally sound way of doing business and made it a success story. It did not happen all at once. But over time he has created a model that makes one feel good about his fellow citizen. Like his friend, Will Harris (no relation), in Bluffton who raises cattle in an ethical, humane manner, he has found that doing right is also doing good.
– Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at email@example.com.