Sunday, October 3, 2010

Caffe Vita Arrives in Portland

Rumors have abounded for several years about Seattle-based Caffe Vita opening its first shop in Portland. This has apparently finally come to pass. Caffe Vita is essentially Seattle's answer to Stumptown Coffee Roasters. They don't place quite the same emphasis on single-origin espresso as Portland's pioneer of coffee's "third wave," but they roast a mean bean and serve an extremely high quality cup of joe, be it of the drip or espresso variety.

This is a good thing, right? Well... not entirely. Because it turns out that Caffe Vita's arrival comes at the expense of what has long been my favorite coffee shop on the Alberta strip, the Concordia Coffeehouse, seen in the photo above with its name sadly absent from the windows. I first ran across Concordia several years ago while studying for my Polysomnography board certification test. I spent the better part of two years with my nose in a book in pretty much every coffee shop in Portland, and Concordia was the one to which I consistently returned, despite the fact that I lived in SE at the time. The coffee was good, the atmosphere pleasantly downscale but not quite dingy. The owners and employees, some of whom I got to know by name, were friendly, skilled and unpretentious. Basically, Concordia was the one place in town which most reminded me of where I got my introduction to decent coffee -first as a customer and eventually as an employee- at Saginaw, Michigan's Red Eye Coffeehouse. There was one other reason I was drawn to Concordia, which I won't mention here, but let it suffice to say that it has to do with a particular policy which is unusual for coffee shops in Portland. Anybody who's familiar with the place will immediately know what I'm talking about.

I passed the Polysomnography exam about a year and a half ago, and my trips to the Concordia Coffehouse became less and less frequent, until I moved to NE last summer. It's not my regular place, as it's not in my immediate neighborhood; that honor goes to the Gold Rush Coffee Bar. But I've made a habit of heading over once every week or two to spend some time with a cup of coffee and a book. I did so today, and immediately noticed that the place had undergone a pretty significant renovation, not a bad thing when all is said and done. Then I noticed that the retail cabinet next to the bar had been entirely restocked with Caffe Vita merchandise, and assumed that they'd brought Caffe Vita on as their supplier (not unusual among PDX coffee shops; the Gold Rush gets their beans from CV as well). Then I noticed that the words "Concordia Coffeehouse" had been removed from the windows, and a twinge of dread came over me. I brought this up with one of the (previous) co-owners, and she confirmed for me that they had in fact sold the business, and while the Caffe Vita sign has yet to be installed, they are now the managers of Portland's first Caffe Vita location.

While I welcome Caffe Vita's entry into the local coffee landscape, I'm not going to lie to you... I'm more than a little bummed about this. Caffe Vita is a fine company. They run a small chain of great cafes in Seattle and Olympia, and provide top-notch beans to coffee shops and restaurants all over the northwest. And I don't for one second begrudge the owners their decision to sell the business (and thank God it wasn't to Starbucks!). But I will miss Concordia. So long as the aforementioned unusual policy remains in place, however, I'll keep going back.

Many thanks to Larry, Jason, Craig and all the rest whose names I never learned, for making this one of my favorite coffee spots in town. I wish you all the best of luck in the transition.


Anonymous said...

The Concordia owners approached Caffe Vita to take over their location and business. Even if Caffe Vita had passed on the offer, Concordia would've still changed hands and likely name and look...or possibly just closed for good. Caffe Vita has also retained most of the Concordia staff. I can appreciate your nostalgia for the old shop, but, unfortunately, the only thing it fell victim to was the rise and fall that so many restaurants in Portland go through. At least the space is getting occupied by, as you said, a high-end coffee roaster that has a long history of giving back to the communities around its shops.

tommy said...

Oh yeah, I know how it works. I've been in PDX for over a decade now, I've seen a little bit of restaurant turnover, believe me. But hey, a friend dies, you write 'em a eulogy...