Monday, February 16, 2015

@ River Road Coffee in Newark

Hold The Coffee makes its return to Newark to highlight a unique coffee shop that, quite frankly, I didn't expect to like so much.

Matt making his signature pose in front of River Road's
back entrance. Now ironically, there's a Tim Horton's next
door. However, given its proximity to the local mall, it may
not be ironic afterall.
Blog editor and boyfriend Matt accompanied me on my second trip to the Licking County seat Sunday, Jan. 25. We made the 45 minute-drive partly because Newark has the closest Target to Mount Vernon and mostly because the two of us wanted to go to a coffee shop and Sips is closed on Sunday.

Located at 973 N 21st St., River Road Coffee shares the name of it sister coffee shop in neighboring Granville--home of Denison University. Considering the Granville shop's address sits at 935 River Road, you can imagine which one came first. Now oddly enough, the sister shop in the village of Gambier, Wiggins Street Coffee, derives its own name from the street it sits on. I can only guess the community of Kenyon College there wasn't satisfied directly connecting themselves with an establishment near Denison.

And just to add to the name game, One Line Coffee in Columbus' Short North neighborhood provides the shop's roastings.

I spent a heavy portion of my time at River Road reading a
couple issues this--something I didn't even know existed.
One of their issues had a terrific story about how some
coffee shops inadvertently stir gentrification
in low-income neighborhoods. 
Also, this past September, River Road opened a joint shop in downtown Newark with a Palumbo's Italian Market--offering the full-kitchen kind of coffee shop experience. Sadly, that place wasn't an option for us because its closes at 2 p.m. on Sundays. (Much like almost everything in downtown Newark, sadly.)

Location: Unlike the last coffee shop I visited in Newark--Sparta Restaurant and Coffee--River Road isn't in or near downtown. In fact, it's in the more sprawling portion of the city less than a mile away from Indian Mound Mall.

At first, this location soiled my first impressions of the coffee shop. It may not have a front parking lot, I thought, but the area is far from the pedestrian and bike friendly neighborhood of downtown.

That impression quickly changed during my visit with Matt. After chit-chatting it up with the baristas, I quickly learned the shop's building is a repurposed bank, and despite the sizable setback, it isn't all that difficult for a pedestrian to enter River Road Coffee from the sidewalk.

Regrettably, I shared very little of that Stromboli with Matt...
I've always said every neighborhood needs a good local coffee shop, and that should be true no matter how many times over four-wheel vehicles out-number two-legged creatures. River Road's Newark shop stands out as the odd brother in the suburban-raised family who doesn't mind tagging along in a trip to the mall, but won't stop asking waiters and and sales associates just where their ingredients and materials are sourced and if it's done sustainably.

Food and Beverage: River Road's food menu doesn't go much beyond baked good, but because Matt and I had finished a workout at the gym less than an hour before arriving, I couldn't help but order a stromboli and marinara sauce at the shop. Along with that, Matt and I ordered a mug of light Ethiopian coffee and green passion tea for $8 and change.

I love the wall of local photo art.
Matt does tea quite often these days because its a "gentler coffee," or so he says. Nevertheless, later in our visit, Matt ordered a mug of light roast like mine. Except he didn't add any sweetener and milk like I very often do.

Space and Atmosphere: I am sucker for whenever vacant building is repurposed into housing or another type of business like a coffee shop. A repurposed bank may not be as incredible as a repurposed gas station, but it still blows my mind thinking about it.

Remnants of the bank's past still linger in the shop's interior, most noticeably the window dividers separating the counter area from the seating area. I am not sure how much has changed in the building since River Road took it over some 6-7 years ago, but I love the mixture of materials and colors used inside shop. The skylight also gives a calming mood to the space.

To my disappointment, I couldn't find a vault safe anywhere
inside the shop. That must have been removed when the bank
left.
I haven't yet visited River Road's home coffee shop in Granville, which is in a 19th-century Victorian farmhouse, but I've heard it's very different from the Newark shop. It makes me think the two places should have different names altogether like Wiggins Street does. I am not their marketer, but I'd consider renaming the Newark shop "North 21st Street Coffee." Sure, eliminating the word "North" might give it a better ring, but sadly, a shop in Pittsburgh has already taken that name.

Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via email--shusted@news-herald.com--or on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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