From behind the counter of Coffee Plant

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One of my favorite cafes, Coffee Plant, recently closed its doors in downtown and John’s Landing. Here’s an interview with Coffee Plant’s founder, Mike Miller, and a glimpse behind the counter of an independent coffee shop.

Q: Not a lot of small, independent coffee shops have slogans or marketing campaigns. Tell us how “Fighting Corporate Coffee” came about and what it meant for Coffee Plant?

A:  At the time we opened in downtown, we were surrounded by large chain coffeeshops, which ultimately were purchased by one another in the last eight years.  The Plant was one of the few local places downtown that was focused on coffee, on creating a welcome environment that wasn’t sterile, and on carrying on the idea of fresh-baked pastries that our predecessor in the space, Bad Kitty Koffee had started in spring of 2003.

Q: What kind of reactions did it get from your customers and your employees?

A:  There were apparently some real estate brokers who found it too edgy initially but I’m hoping their sentiments softened if they tried our coffee or came into the shop.  Generally, I think customers appreciated that we were trying to set ourselves apart by offering things the big chains could not such as beautiful, delicious drinks and fresh-baked pastries.  Staff were good sports about participating in photo shoots and illustrations thankfully and had fun with the theme.  

Q: With Portland’s coffee scene really taking off and lots of smaller shops and roasters taking root, was “Fighting Corporate Coffee” as relevant anymore?

A:  When we put together the last “Fighting Corporate Coffee” campaign, we fulfilled an old desire of mine to have the staff illustrated as an aircrew in front of a vintage bomber.  I was psyched with what Corey Lunn had put together – it took great inspiration from postcards of that era that he was into – but I was wondering if the concept had lost its relevance.  Then, a shiny new cafe opened a couple blocks away that was postured as an independent place but was really a construct of a huge commodity-driven corporation.  To me, the campaign remains as relevant in downtown Portland now as in 2003.

Q: One of my fondest memories of Coffee Plant was the time I came in to your Corbett shop, ordered a latte, and while waiting for my coffee watched two of your baristas admire the work of art one of them had made with my milk. Before the guy handed me my cup, the girl snapped a picture of my coffee on her phone and they both high-fived. Wow. Was that a common occurrence?

A:  While everyone prides themselves on their latte art, I’m pleased that you caught that moment.  I think it’s great that the creations get documented and like a number of shops in this town, we’ve got some talented people.  I wish I would have done more of that myself.  

Q: Besides Stumptown coffee, which you sold at Coffee Plant, what are your favorite coffee shops or coffee roasters in Portland?

A:  Fresh Pot has a special place in my heart for a variety of reasons.  Tiny’s has great flavor.  Those are two favorites from beyond the Plant’s vintage.  I always get nice shots at Barista and I enjoy what’s happening at Water Avenue Coffee and Sterling/Coffeehouse Northwest.  Honestly, I don’t get out of my rut (worn between the shops for many years) much and there are a lot of places I hear good things about and want to check out.  I do like the folks who are trying to create good things without being overly gimmicky though.

Q: Final question…what is the coolest thing that ever happened at Coffee Plant during your 8 years?

A:  I wish I could relate some story about how some woman gave birth to twins during a morning rush after one of the staff had immobilized a tip thief with a day-old muffin, but the coolest thing is probably beyond an incident and more of a phenomena that happens over time.  I do feel like we amassed a pretty special group of individuals on both sides of the counter, worked with some excellent local vendors over the years, and helped stimulate the explosion in the quality of coffee and “non-traditional” baked goods.  If that sounds cheesy, I’ll come up with a good incident.

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R.I.P. Coffee Plant, Long Live Fighting Corporate Coffee

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Word on the street — and Facebook — is that Coffee Plant, one of my all-time favorite Portland Stumptown shops and the creator of the Kung-fu fighting corporate coffee campaign, is closing its 5915 SW Corbett cafe in John’s Landing this Friday, March 11, and moving its gluten-free bakery to a new locale not yet announced, sans the coffee (I think).

This comes on the heels of the downtown 724 SW Washington Plant closing last December; the space was thankfully picked up by another great local coffee shop, The Fresh Pot.

Before I had time to do a review of Coffee Plant or run a Q&A with my friend and Coffee Plant proprietor, Mike Miller, it’s time to bid adieu. But, not before thanking Coffee Plant’s awesome crew for some memorable times and a creativity the patrons of Coffee Plant will never forget — from baristas snapping photos on their iPhones of the beautiful coffees they just made before serving their loyal customers to fun and offbeat marketing campaigns to savoring the shots during those early sleep-deprived parenting days to arguably the best gluten-free pastries in the city.

Stay tuned for the next chaper of the gluten-free side of the business at www.glutenfreegem.com. One can’t help but wonder if the bakery’s marketing slogan will take on the Pillsbury Dough Boy or Monsanto.

Farewell photo from the closing of downtown Coffee Plant

Suzette Creperie and Courier Coffee, a match made in mobility

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A few months back, we stopped by Suzette Creperie in the Alberta Arts District of Northeast Portland for a Sunday afternoon crepe. And while there, we had our first taste of Portland’s own Courier Coffee. What a pairing, both in taste and mobile sensibility. Where Suzette makes its savory and sweet crepes in a silver Airstream parked behind the main cafe, Courier delivers its custom-roasted coffee to Suzette (and others) by bicycle. We’ve been back since for more crepes, more coffee and more surprises, including a fun series of movies that the creperie plays weekly along one wall of the cafe.

Notes on Suzette…

Location: It’s easy to saunter along NE Alberta and 29th Streets and nearly miss Suzette Creperie, which sits slightly back from the sidewalk at 2921 NE Alberta. Look for the French-inspired, pebble-footed garden out front and a sign pointing in the direction of the “crepes.” Suzette is open Wed-Sun and offers happy hour and weekly events, including movies like this month’s Hitchcock film fest and game nights every Wednesday.

Coffee: I had been wanting to try Courier Coffee for some time, but hadn’t been able to make it downtown to the roaster’s one and only cafe at 923 SW Oak, which is only open Mon-Fri during daytime hours. So what a pleasant surprise to order a coffee with my goatcheese-filled buckwheat crepe and discover the really nicely flavorful Courier-roasted and bike-delivered coffee. At Suzette, they painstakingly brew the coffee using the pour-over method, and in 3-4 visits it’s been a real treat. Robust and strong yet mild and delicious to the tastebuds.

Cool stuff: Suzette, named for the crepe recipe that combines carmelized sugar, butter and liquor in a burst of flame, has got an eclectic ambience that is both cozy and congenial. Order your crepe out back at the window of the Airstream, warm up inside at a table, on a stool or sit in a row of movie theater seats. The servers, including presumably owner Jehnee Rains, are friendly and attentive, obviously enjoying the joy they bring to their clientele. Eating chocolatey or cheesy crepes and watching old movies on the wall is a kick, too. Check out Suzette’s regular calendar of events here.

Not so cool: It can be a little chilly in the winter months ordering your meal outside and waiting for it to be delivered to the sometimes-drafty inside. Bring a coat and have some Courier coffee or a tea, and you’ll be just fine.