I feel that this story published in the Albany Times Union about a customers experience in our shop, is a good representation of what we strive to accomplish every day.
In a customer-is-always-right world, what if the customer is wrong?
It was a place where no one would be sucking down a large Jamoca Almond Fudge Swirl Iced Latte through a plastic straw while surfing the Internet. Laveggio Roasteria says on its website that it isn’t about Wi-Fi, overstuffed couches and oversized muffins. Coffee is the priority at this coffee shop.
Order an espresso and you will be asked if you want it long or short, terms that date back to the days when baristas “pulled” shots manually. A visit to the Binghamton coffee shop had been on my radar for a while. For me, the consumption of strong coffee is one of the poles around which daily life revolves, and I keep a mental roster of places I can go to when out of my usual home-to-work orbit. (In Burlington, Vt., it’s Maglianero. In Ithaca, Gimme Coffee! In Boston, Thinking Cup. Etc.)
There had been no go-to spot in Binghamton, my wife’s hometown and a place we visit often, but last year I spotted Laveggio and thought it looked promising. On that visit, I got to the door twice, but it was closed both times. This time we would be in town a week, and I drove to their door soon after we arrived Sunday night and noted the hours.
The next day, I gleefully entered the shop and downed a doppio macchiatto (double espresso capped with foam) before embarking on a bicycle ride through the hills south of the city. It was perfectly done espresso, just the fuel I had wanted. A few hours later, I was in Pennsylvania, asking directions back to New York.
I was back Tuesday, needing a boost before driving to Ithaca. I told the barista how much I liked the shop and said I planned to be there every day. Laveggio had turned out to be just what I wanted.
But then I went and wanted the wrong thing. On Wednesday (golf with brother-in-law day), I scanned the board and asked for a cup of Ethiopian, with a shot of espresso added.
No, said the middle-aged woman behind the counter who had previously identified herself as Laveggio’s co-proprietor. She was not willing to add espresso to the Ethiopian (“my Ethiopian,” she said) because it would ruin the flavor. Too delicate. She offered to put espresso in that morning’s other variety, Sumatran. Apparently beans from that wild Asian island have broader shoulders than their Ethiopian cousins.
There’s a wide range of possible outcomes when we walk into a new place looking for something to eat or drink. It’s likely that there will be some navigating and negotiating. Customers place “orders,” and we want things done to our liking. But it doesn’t hurt to be open to learning from the professionals.
A few weeks ago, my sister and I met up in Boston, and went to a place in Somerville that had opened a year before to glowing reviews. Feeling overmatched by the menu, I asked the server what he would suggest for a hungry carnivore who wanted beer with his meat. He delivered the best plate of food I’ve ever been presented, listed on the menu as Wagyu beef sauerbraten, and a perfectly complementary beer. At my urging, my sister, a non-beef eater and non-beer drinker, enjoyed several samples of both beef and beer. I’d put my meal in a pro’s hands, and he’d delivered. It makes sense: Presumed expertise is part of what we are paying for, after all.
But that morning at Laveggio, I just wanted what I wanted.
And I was being told no.
I paused a moment, feeling oddly tested. It was an interaction that would have led some people to blast the place on Yelp, but I gave in. I said I’d have the Ethiopian, straight, then sat down, opened the newspaper and sipped. The barista was correct. It was a fine, bright cup with delicate flavor notes that espresso would have erased. Clearly, this was a temple of coffee, and the high priestess had spoken truth. I paid for another cup, then went out and golfed unexpectedly well. I felt my day had been made better by a person who takes her craft seriously.
A couple of days later, sitting on the patio at a sister-in-law’s house, I was telling about my Ethiopian mis-order. I mentioned watching a couple who had come in on another day while I was at a table and asked for hazelnut coffee. We don’t flavor our coffee, came the answer, we are coffee purists. The two customers, who were of student age, left a couple of minutes later holding iced, unflavored coffees, looking a bit dazed. It’s a great place, I told a patio gathering of relatives and friends, they really know what they are doing — you guys should go there. My listeners seemed unpersuaded. “Why can’t they make it the way you want?” someone asked.
It’s a fine question, but sometimes it could be the wrong question. We want what we want, but what if what we want could be made better by some added information? Isn’t that in part what the artisanal food movement has been about?
It was a story I had to share with my sister, a Florida resident who was a foodie before the word gained currency. She responded with two words: “Big Night.” In that food-themed 1996 movie, a brilliant, high-strung Italian chef is brought to despair by a customer who expects spaghetti (with meatballs) to accompany the artfully prepared risotto she had ordered. (Another character intervenes, saying “She likes starch.”) It was an apt comparison, except that in my case, the customer was glad to admit he was not right after all.
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