Finding good coffee on the Cape is no longer a grind
BREWSTER — A half-dozen winters ago, the elusive snowy owl suddenly began showing up in surprising numbers around Cape Cod. The majestic, solitary birds were spotted in the dunes along Coast Guard Beach and Nauset Beach and out at Race Point.
A season or two later, Shayna Ferullo and Manuel Ainzuain opened Snowy Owl Coffee Roasters in Brewster. Like the rare bird that inspired the name, the couple’s business is part of a novel influx on the Cape: In one of the regions of New England most resistant to change, the “craft” coffee scene has arrived.
And it’s about time. You go to the Cape for the escape, the immersion in another way of life. A good independent coffee shop can serve the same purpose. Whether you’re looking for a place to pull up an Adirondack chair in the morning sunshine, cold brew in hand, or a cozy table and a warm cappuccino to ride out that one rainy afternoon on your vacation, the number of maverick coffeehouses is on the rise on the Cape.
It’s been 12 years since the locals in Barnstable Village welcomed the Nirvana Coffee Company on Main Street. Laura Shechtman assumed ownership about six years ago. A veteran of the restaurant business on the Cape, she recognized a place with a priceless asset: a well-established sense of community.
“We have a little bit of a cult following,” she says on a recent weekday, after restocking the kitchen with another big bag of bagels. “People attract people.” Among her regular clientele are the teenagers of families who have homes in the area; she often hears from parents thanking her for giving their kids a safe place to hang out.
Specialty coffee shops like Nirvana “have kind of taken over from the old-fashioned diners,” Shechtman says. Having added panini, salads, and other cafe choices to the usual menu of lattes and Americanos, she’s really in the hospitality business.
“My husband makes fun of me,” she says, mimicking him: “You’re not even in it for the money. You just want to make people happy.”
Nirvana brews coffee using Dean’s Beans, the organic roaster based in Orange. “Once you get used to a quality bean,” Shechtman says, “there’s no turning back.”
The Cape, of course, has more than a dozen of those familiar orange-branded coffee drive-thrus. It also has franchises of that green coffee chain named for Moby-Dick’s Nantucket mariner at almost every shopping plaza of note.
But you don’t go to the Cape for the shopping plazas, however notable. From Cataumet’s Daily Brew to Provincetown’s KoHi Coffee Company (which now has sister shops in Boston and Brighton), the peninsula has a growing inventory of destination coffee bars that encourage staying put, at least for the time being.
At the homey Daily Brew, located next to a miniature golf course, customers have their pick of picnic tables, a shaded back porch, or a second-floor den under the building’s A-frame, where they keep the chess pieces in an old mailbox. “Courtesy is contagious,” it says on a big slab of driftwood hanging upstairs. “Let’s start an epidemic.”
In West Dennis, two world travelers, Catherine Bieri and Ron Reddick, opened Three Fins Coffee Roasters two years ago in a huge, roomy space along Route 28. The roasting machine is on display in the back half of the space, with sacks of beans laid out in a kind of still life (with surfboard). You could spend half the day there, and some folks do, catching up on their laptops or playing Monopoly.
Or you could sit outside. Behind the Snowy Owl, there are seats and tables tucked away in a magical little herb garden. (The business shares the renovated, barnlike ranch, named the most beautiful coffee shop in the state in a 2018 Architectural Digest feature, with the herb apothecary that used to occupy the whole building.)
Inside, the store feels like a cabin, combining reclaimed wood with modern fixtures. A picture book about mandalas has pride of place on the table in the center of the communal seating area. They roast direct trade coffee from Peru, Manuel’s native country.
“It’s all about the relationships for these guys,” says Derek Jamieson, one of the managers, about the Snowy Owl’s owners. Jamieson, a young coffee enthusiast with black glasses and small hoop earrings, grew up on the Cape and met the owners at a farmers’ market. He’s well aware of the fine balance required to offer a new experience to a constituency whose families might go back generations on the Cape.
Like the snowy owl, which you won’t see in summer, the coffee shop of the same name was created with the winter months in mind. Jamieson mentions a group of retired fishermen who showed up skeptical but have since become cherished regulars. While many Cape Cod businesses thrive on the three-month tourist season, the Snowy Owl, he says, was designed for “the nine months of slowness.”
But you’re certainly welcome to stop by on your way to the beach. Vacation is meant for slowing down, is it not?