by Kristen Wilmer, CISA Program Assistant
Published in the August 2012 CISA enews
Click here for an interview and more from Esselon Cafe.
As you enter Esselon Café you’re greeted by the smell of roasting coffee. The coffee roaster sits in the back corner of the café, and you can watch golden beans being stirred round and round the open roasting vat. Mark Krause, who has owned Esselon for over four years, clearly loves his job. “All I do every day is taste coffee and tea,” he says, only half-joking.
Not that running a busy café in Hadley is a breeze. Mark is on his feet all day, which some might find exhausting but Mark loves. He has never wanted to sit in an office all day. Known as “the coffee guy” as a teenager, Mark has always had a strong love of food and coffee. The intense concentration, and expert taste buds, necessary to make the café a success appear to come naturally to him. “This job really requires a consistent focus,” says Mark. “We try to stay at the forefront of everything happening in the food world.” And part of that, of course, involves tasting coffee and tea.
Known for the quality of its coffee and tea, Esselon ships fresh-roasted coffee beans all over the Northeast and distributes more than thirty different kinds of tea. Mark chooses each based on flavor, giving priority to fair trade coffee, and that which is produced by cooperatives. Esselon supplies many other cafés, both near and far, with their coffee and tea, in addition to selling coffee equipment and offering design assistance to new cafés.
Esselon is about more than just coffee and tea, of course, offering a full menu and a strong community feel to boot. “We have the space, we have good food, and we go to it!” says Mark. Mark says he often hears from customers, “I don’t know why, but I just want to stay here all day.” This isn’t only due to their high quality beverages, and the convenience afforded by their Wi-Fi and big tables designed to be used for meetings. It’s also due to the comfortable gathering spaces Esselon provides – a large area for outdoor dining during the warm months and a community table inside the café. “A lot of friends are made here,” says Mark, offering his own experience as an example: “I actually met my future wife here.”
And then there’s the food. Esselon’s core tenets, says Mark are “fresh and local” and “consistent, friendly service.” “We have a core menu that we know is pretty exceptional,” he says, and then each day they offer up new specials to keep things interesting. The menu is vegan/vegetarian-friendly, and they work to accommodate those with food allergies.
Though he can’t get all of his ingredients locally yet (coffee for one!) Mark tries to source locally when he can and believes there are lots of good reasons to buy food from local farms. “Economic sustainability of local businesses for one,” he says, “and their products are definitely better. Anything we grow here is the best – amazing products in my mind.” Hadley has some of the best farmland in the world. Driving just a few minutes in one direction, Mark says, he passes four places he can buy local farm produce. “People say we’re in a good area for local farms,” says Mark, “but what they don’t realize is that we’re in a great area.”
Has owning Esselon lived up to Mark’s expectations? “Definitely,” says Mark, and then some. The best part, he says, are “the relationships you build up with customers and employees and other local businesses.” The café has an excellent and capable group of employees, says Mark, and he has built relationships that he never expected.
There is never time to get bored – “It’s a challenge every day,” says Mark. “We want to stay at the forefront of the food industry and keep it exciting. When we opened, people said, ‘wow, we’ve never tasted food like this before!’ We want to keep folks saying that.”