SPoT Coffee’s new location in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square opened to the public on April 17, and is already getting rave reviews.
By Ronni Newton
The paper has been removed from the windows at 69 Memorial Rd. in Blue Back Square – revealing a warm and friendly cafe filled with trendy and brightly-colored furnishings, that manager Graciela Garcia hopes will quickly become a gathering spot for the community.
And after just two days of limited hours during a soft opening period that saw a steady stream of customers, Garcia is already thrilled with the reception that SPoT is getting from the public.
Garcia, who formerly worked locally at Starbucks (she was assistant manager at the LaSalle Road location) and Burger King, trained with SPoT in Buffalo and Saratoga. “I’m very excited to open here. This is going to be a great location,” she told We-Ha.com prior to the opening.
Dan Hensley, vice president of Franchise Operations for SPoT Coffee, has spent the past few days in West Hartford along with Executive Chef Jeff Bright and Head Barista David Rodriguez, helping Garcia launch the new cafe.
“We had a great turnout for our first two partial days,” Hensley said, and he’s very excited about the West Hartford location, SPoT’s first U.S. cafe outside of New York.
Bright has developed the menu that’s used in all of SPoT’s cafes, and even though each dish is made to order, he’s overseeing the initial preparation.
Rodriguez is responsible for the coffee, and is overseeing that preparation product to make sure the brand standard is being executed correctly.
SPoT’s coffee is kind, and maintaining top quality is both an art and a science.
The beans are hand-picked, and roasted in small batches in the company’s Buffalo, NY, roaster. The house blend, decaf, and espresso should taste the same on any day, in any SPoT location.
Hensley said that SPoT also offers three types of single-origin coffee, and currently in West Hartford there’s a Papua New Guinea, a Columbian, and a Moroccan blend. “All are very different,” he said. “People get to try things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to try.”
SPoT’s espresso maker is set manually, and checked throughout the day to ensure it’s meeting the standard of the desired amount of coffee being brewed in the desired amount of time for the best possible taste. The barista may need to recalibrate the machine during the day, because factors like the weather may have an impact.
A double-shot of espresso is the standard in all of the coffee drinks.
Garcia will be receiving a weekly shipment of beans roasted in Buffalo, Hensley said, and the company’s strict standard is that they have a shelf life of no more than four weeks. Coffee is ground right before it’s brewed, to also ensure freshness.
Coffee is also sold by the bag, with a roasting date indicated rather than a sell-by date. The bagged coffee is discounted by $2 every Tuesday.
There are hot and cold options and Chai, as well as the “SPoTsicle” (a version of a milkshake) and protein shakes that “blur the line between healthy and decadent.”
The food is all made-to-order, with an emphasis on freshness and scratch cooking. “We’re using fresh eggs, we make our own focaccia bread,” Hensley said.
Garcia said her menu favorites include the spicy tuna wrap and pesto chicken panini, and there are also a variety of salads, eggs dishes, pizzas, and blender drinks. There’s no real differentiation between breakfast and lunch, and all menu items are available all day long.
While the cafes in Buffalo rely on a centralized commissary, the West Hartford does everything on site.
“SPoT Coffee is a terrific addition to our property; we know their coffees, teas, espressos and blender drinks will quickly become a favorite with our shoppers and guests,” Blue Back Square General Manager Robyn Rifkin said. “We love their all-day breakfast, and their menu of salads, wraps, paninis and gourmet pizzas are delicious.”
Lydia Randall, a West Hartford resident, had just finished a workout at New York Sports Club right down the street, and was sitting at a table with her friend Josh Zimmerman. She was finishing up an iced almond milk latte and had just eaten a bagel with peanut butter, both of which she said were great. Zimmerman said he enjoyed a “Mike” sandwich of eggs, cheese, and cream cheese, along with a chai iced tea latte.
SPoT’s decor is cool and hip, and customized for the West Hartford market. “All the designs are different. We build our cafes to match the community we’re in,” Hensley said. West Hartford is a little more upscale than some of the other cafes, which have a more hipster vibe.
SPoT has seating for about 100 people, at a mix of comfy couches and chairs, tables, with some surrounding a double-sided fireplace. In the back, there’s a longer table, which Garcia said is intended for larger groups of people who might want to use the space (there’s free wifi) for a meeting. It can even be reserved in advance.
Along one wall is a large and colorful mural that was created by Loren Constantini and other local artists and pays homage to important figures and locations in the West Hartford area. If you look closely at the purple eye of the person in the center of the mural, you will note that it says “SPoT Coffee,” and the white lines are actually the roads through Blue Back and the surrounding area. The frame is constructed from wood remnants from meaningful places.
Every cafe has a mural, Hensley said, and each one is centered around its particular community.
Next to the mural is a bare wood-paneled wall, but Hensley said it will soon become a rotating gallery for local artists to showcase their work. “All of our cafes do that,” he said.
To enhance the coffee house experience, there will also be entertainment and events, such as palm reading, Hensley said.
Beginning Thursday, April 19, SPoT will be open Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m.-11:30 p.m., and Sunday from 7 a.m.-9 p.m.
A grand opening, which will include free samples, will be held from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on April 30.
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