From the Kitchen

This coffee shop just opened and it already has regulars

Stacy Fernández | Asst. Feature Editor

Salt City Coffee offers a living room aesthetic to go with its wide variety of drinks. The shop opened two weeks ago in Syracuse's Westside neighborhood.

As the rain pounded the windows of the old building on a cold Friday afternoon, Salt City Coffee’s large green walls exuded only warmth and the drifting smell of freshly roasted coffee.

Salt City Coffee opened March 27 in the Westside neighborhood of Syracuse at 509 W. Onondaga Street. Founder Aaron Metthe said the shop has seen a steady stream of regulars since then.

“We didn’t do any formal marketing,” he said. “We basically just put it out on social media and told families and friends; it was all word of mouth.”

Metthe opened the shop’s doors with low expectations that have already been exceeded.

“If I saw 30 people through the door, I’d be happy,” he said about the first day Salt City opened. “The actual number turned out to be over a hundred.”

The brick-and-mortar location of Salt City Coffee might be new, but Metthe’s roast has been around for quite while. He had always practiced coffee roasting as a hobby and began selling his coffee wholesale online after he moved to Syracuse in 2010.

Wholesale and online deliveries worked well for Metthe, who had a full-time job as a Skillbuilder at the Hillside Children’s Center. As his coffee hit the market, he realized he had a customer base.

“It was very encouraging to see customers become loyal, so I knew I had a product that people liked,” he said.

It wasn’t long before a friend suggested that he open a cafe, and thus began Salt City Coffee.

“What I wanted was to create a neighborhood space that felt like you were walking into a living room,” Metthe said. “I intentionally didn’t want to be somewhere in Armory Square or somewhere overly commercial. I wanted to be up against a neighborhood.”

The house Salt City Coffee occupies was built in the 1860s. Once they tore down the sheetrock, Metthe found crumbling, original red brick. It added to the vision he had for the coffee shop and with a touch of veneer, the red bricks are now a staple of the interior decor.

Throw that in with the cherry-wood tables that Metthe and his family made, the leather armchairs and minimalist ladder shelves on the walls, the welcoming and casual aesthetic comes across easily. Sophia Kardaras, a dual advertising and information management and technology junior at Syracuse University, said it was like walking into someone’s house.

“What’s really fun is that this is on my route to campus,” she said. “I really love the atmosphere here. I love that immediately as soon as they opened here, it already feels home-y, it feels comfortable.”

Metthe also prioritized the “home-y” feeling when he began creating the coffee shop, almost like a cozy third space that wasn’t home or work. He wanted to “harken back to the old school Turkish coffee shops where politics and current events are talked about.”

He pointed out how the current climate was different and polarized, but he wasn’t discouraged. He still wanted the interaction to flow easily.

“The day we opened, we had a ‘who’s who’ of supporting local business and they ended up striking up 30-minute conversations with each other,” he said.

Further down the hallway, a back room houses one large coffee-roaster and sacks of coffee. Much of the coffee stored at Salt City is free-trade, organic and sourced from an array of countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Sumatra and Brazil.

Back in the “living room,” above the counter, these coffee beans take the form of small, medium and large drinks on the chalkboard menu.

Specialty items include the Cuselandia, a crushed ice cold drink, black cherry mocha and the salted caramel latte. Kardaras, who has become a regular in the two weeks Salt City has been open, found her favorite in the medium roast drip and remained loyal.

“Once I drink it, I feel like I can shoot lightning bolts out of my arms,” she said. “It’s the best fuel I could ever dream of.”

For those with a penchant for leaves over beans, 17 glass jars of tea stand right below the chalkboard menu. Mayan chai, winterberry spice, vanilla chai and monk’s blend are among the varieties available.

Metthe wanted to make tea prominent as well, for the people in groups who enjoyed coffee-shops but not coffee. Brendan and Jennifer Jackson, of Baldwinsville, were one such pair.

Nestled in the leather armchairs, Brendan enjoyed a vanilla latte and his wife, Jennifer, drank a chai tea latte and a cranberry-apple-turkey sandwich, an eclectic mix she was delighted with.

Brendan said the coffee shop was a beautiful space and that he loved that it was in this part of the neighborhood.

“I’m planning on coming back and bringing other people,” he said. “The fact that’s in an older house — I love that these guys took risks. We want to support local businesses, so we deliberately drove down here to see.”

Classics like hot chocolate, espresso, latte, iced tea and macchiatos don’t go above $4.75 at their largest size, which is 20 ounces. Cheap prices were intended from the beginning, to really open up the coffee shop to locals who would come back.

“Fresh served coffee should go for about $2 a cup, starting,” Metthe said. “Since we are a neighborhood coffee shop, we wanted to be able to say, ‘For $1.50, you can get cheap seed, enjoy some good Wi-Fi, hang out and strike up a conversation.’”

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