The Red Hook Coffee and Tea Company opened quietly in the fall of 2006. Situated near the corner of 4th and Catherine it developed a small, fervent following with its Fair Trade coffees and vegan menu. After four years and a crippling recession, the ivory door nearly closed for good. Unwilling to let that happen, two baristas, Kelsey Tagg and Chloe Stettner took the reins. Six months later, Red Hook Coffee survives, and Stettner sits down to talk about the journey.
Q: You took over Red Hook from the previous owner. Are you first-time entrepreneurs?
A: (laughing) Yes.
Q: You’re first-time entrepreneurs. Coffee shops are notoriously dicey investments. What made you care enough to keep Red Hook alive?
A: We both loved it here. We knew it had potential. The previous owner wanted to sell it. It was either keep it alive or let it become a pizza place. What else could we do? It’s a challenge, but it’s exciting.
Q: There are at least a hundred coffee shops in the Philadelphia area. What gives Red Hook its unique identity
A: Community. We have a lot of local artists and musicians who come in. Both Kelsey and I are artistically involved, and we know a lot of artists and musicians in the area. There’s always new work on the walls, and we offer a comforting place for people to work away from home. People come in here. They hear good music. They could easily go next door to the food market for coffee, but they come here to enjoy themselves.
Q: You sit at the end of Fabric Row in Queen Village. How does Red Hook reflect the neighborhood?
A: It rounds it out. We have the same alternative way of thinking, especially with our organic food. We have something for everybody with our sandwiches and wraps as well as our vegan options. It’s a place to take a rest between stores.
Q: Where do you source your coffee?
A: Equal Exchange Coffee out of Massachusetts. They’re Fair Trade and organic. Recently we’ve been talking to One Village Coffee who are also Fair Trade, organic, and local. Right now we have their espresso, and hopefully we have them as our Roast of the Day.
Q: What’s the secret to a great shot of espresso?
A: Packing it so that it pours even. You have to apply the right amount of pressure. A lot of books talk about how much pressure, but you have to train. Also, you have to grind it just right. Too fine, and the espresso will be too thick. Too rough, and your espresso will be thin.