Today I saw a Facebook post about how excited my friend was to roll through a drive-through again; she’d moved to the city a while ago and clearly missed the convenience. But this notion struck me, for never before in US history have we been more concerned about shoveling in food while on the run. We eat to vanquish hunger pains, often while our real focus is on meeting some deadline or other—or hovering over a smartphone. Of course, the first purpose of eating has always been nourishment (though that too is debatable today depending on what one eats). In addition to re-generating with food, we used to meet more often at tables, circled up to share food, stories and time. At Mudd Puddle Coffee Roasters and Cafe in New Paltz, NY, owners Michelle and James still value the notion that nourishment is gained not only by imbibing fresh-roasted coffee or specialty blended teas and feasting on home-made crepes smothered in James’ very own hot sauce, they know true nourishment comes to the soul via sharing a meal with others. Because they have such a keen sense of community and a knack for brewin’ up coffee that leaves a butterscotch kiss on your tongue, their business just keeps growing. They’ve been in business ten years now, but Michelle had dreamed of opening a coffee shop while she was still in college. On a whim, Michelle and James visited some friends and toured New Paltz’s Water Street Market district; they popped into a building, fell in love and signed a lease that same day. Michelle now had her cafe; she then taught herself how to roast coffee beans by reading books and testing out theories on her own.
Once they got the coffee shop up and running and the lines grew, James was able to quit his chef gig; thus, Mudd Puddle began offering breakfast and lunch. Members of the community flocked to the cafe; you’ll see the same faces today even if you only visit every few years. Their customers are so loyal because Mudd Puddle feels like home. It’s bright, cozy and warm. Michelle and James don’t delineate between their own family and the sense of family they have created with the neighborhood. As such, they take care of their community by offering the cafe for charity events; they open up shop and serve coffee and pastries before the annual Turkey Trot; they also host a Christmas sing-along, from which all the proceeds go to the Family of New Paltz, a local shelter.
Sit back and watch customers stream into the cafe, and you realize Michelle and James have had to make some decisions about how to balance work and home; they have three children and in order to be sure someone is home for the kids, they decided to split their time at the cafe. Michelle works from open to close two days a week, roasting beans and cooking when James is not there. They split shifts the rest of the week with James opening and Michelle closing. They take Tuesdays off together, but the cafe is still open. Customers know drinks are available, but they’ll have to save their appetites for another day. One day a week off might seem like torture to some, but James and Michelle love their work; it seems to feed them as well as they feed their patrons.
In order to counter the potential family-degradation that often comes with maintaining a business, James, Michelle and their kids eat dinner together at home every night. One might imagine this family hunkered down in front of the TV with exhausted parents serving up microwaved specials, but not in this home. Remember, James is a chef, and they both put so much energy into offering up quality food and beverages at Mudd Puddle there’s no way they’re going to let their kinds eat junk. In fact, the kids are quite involved in each kitchen rendering; they apron-up, grab cutting boards and chop like little champs, with Dad’s supervision of course. Perhaps their parents are preparing them to take over the business, or at least pitch in during the teenage years and college vacations. Either way, this family gets that sharing food isn’t just about filling the belly.
(Stay tuned for another brew tale, next time: James‘ story.)