Monday, September 1, 2014

@ Sparta Restaurant and Coffee in Downtown Newark

Hold The Coffee takes its first look inside Licking County and its county seat, Newark, for this week's blog post. For those counting, this marks the 22nd county I've visited or driven through in Ohio. (Holmes and Erie counties: you'll be next.)

Matt is holding an energy drink because he and I had 
to wake up relatively early to visit the place before it 
closed at 2 p.m.
Despite that Newark is only a 40 minute-drive from Mount Vernon where my boyfriend and blog editor Matt lives, we've been hesitant on making trips down there because their YMCA is reportedly unfriendly toward outsiders wishing to take advantage of their, "Y Away From Home" feature. Luckily, we're able to thwart that problem as a Planet Fitness opened up a few weeks ago on the city's north side and I own a premium black membership with guest pass privileges. (Yes, technically Matt and I own two gym memberships.  Matt says, "Why doesn't my physique show it, then?")

With plans to visit the gym and Matt's friend, Shelby, Sunday Aug. 17, we made a stop down at Sparta Coffee Shop and Restaurant in downtown Newark.  (Shelby sat next to Matt in nursing school for a whole calendar year, five days a week.  I was slightly jealous and felt threatened by her exposure...)

Before I dive into all of the myriad details I love jabbering about pertaining to coffee shops, I think it's worth explaining why I was drawn to this place. It wasn't simply because its downtown Newark's only coffee shop. This place stood out because of the story of it's owner: a former personal trainer from LA who wants to go beyond owning a business that serves coffee and use it to turn around impoverished neighborhoods. I encourage everyone to read this Columbus Dispatch story sometime. I did, and with the exception that the owner doesn't like disclosing his age to news reporters (I just hate when people do that), I find him very inspirational.

Even with the drive-thru, this is the best McDonald's I have
seen in Ohio.
Location: For those who haven't visited downtown Newark, it is an expansive town square with mostly three-, four- and five-story buildings surrounding a pocket park and courthouse-like building in the center. (A similar style to Chardon and Medina.) It's pleasing to the visitor on foot and their eyes, but like so many town and village squares, they offer very little to do on Sundays, save attend one of the many churches.

Sparta at 16 West Main Street is not a house of worship in the traditional sense, but is open on Sundays... but with a closing time at 2 p.m. (Strangely enough, that is its closing time every day of the week.)

I am not an urban planner (yet), but re-purposing and building more residential space in downtown is known to create livelier urban cores.   More mixed-use apartments seem to be needed in downtown Newark.

We really bought all of this just for the photo, sadly. We
did finish the coffee and latte at least.
If you look through my earlier blog posts, you'll find Relax in Mansfield, Ohio.  Despite having a larger downtown and a seemingly more artsy crowd of people, Mansfield resembles quite closely to Newark.  Leaders in both cities are trying to revitalize their downtowns and steal the attention away from each area's corporate next-door-neighbor. (That's the City of Ontario in Mansfield, and the City of Heath in Newark.)

Food and Beverage: Much like its hours would suggest, Sparta's menu caters greatly to the brunch and after-church folks.  (Neither Matt nor I were harangued to convert to anything, for the record.)

On that Sunday, Matt and I ordered two large mugs--one with coffee and one with a latte (you can guess by now who ordered which,) for almost $4. Despite eating a big breakfast, we ordered two veggie wraps with fries for $6.95 each. We never finished the meals.  The coffee was certified Fair Trade and is sourced by Hemisphere Coffee Roasters, based in Champaign County.

This is me sneaking photos while Matt was in the restroom.
Space and Atmosphere: Sparta is a re-purposed diner: it has a stool-bar area, tile flooring, and booths lined up along one side of the wall. The space is furnished in winter white, crimson and dark wood. Despite the restrictive hours, I could tell this place aims to expand beyond the diner boundary. Aside from Matt and I, the patrons there were a very mixed crowd. I remember a mother and her twin daughters sitting at one booth, an older gentleman next to Matt and I at the bar, and one man in his 20s focused on his notepad and books.

My words probably won't do Sparta as much justice as this video produced by the Downtown Newark Association will. Give it look. It even features a worker who is recovering from drug addiction. (That just melts my heart!)

Downtown Newark Association: Featured Member - Sparta Restaurant from Earthwork Productions on Vimeo.

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.


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  2. Nice place and amazing food! Service was fast and everything came out fairly quick. If you're in the area stop by. The space at Boston restaurants is very decadent and has the usual elegant feel. Great for when relatives come to visit.