Downtown New Paltz offers a wide selection of places to sit down and have a cup of coffee, each with its own following. So, the recent change in proprietorship for “the Caf” at 58 Main Street will come as good news to some, alarming to others. Formerly known as the Cafeteria Coffeehouse, the space has been rechristened CafAmelia by the business’ new owners, Rebecca and Casey McCann, in honor of their daughter Amelia. Soon to turn six, Amelia is already helping out by bagging up bulk teas and stocking the cooler, according to her mother, and very proud to have the place named for her.
A broader, more family-friendly appeal is part of what the McCanns say they’re after. Casey reports that, in his informal surveys of passersby during the three-month period when they were scoping out the prospect of taking over the lease and renovating the space, many locals told him that they didn’t feel welcome in the Cafeteria. Its trademark ambiance of sprung couches that poofed out clouds of dust when sat upon made college students feel at home, according to Casey, but older potential customers, not so much. The regular entertainment also seemed geared to appeal to a highly selective crowd: “They had pretty much the same 50 people every Monday night,” he says. “Other people felt pushed out.”
The McCanns intend to continue hosting the Caf’s signature open-mic nights, but to split them up — music on Mondays, poetry and spoken word on Thursdays — and to diversify the styles of music offered, with live entertainment nightly and a jazz brunch added on Sundays. Local performers can simply sign up and wait for their turn to play on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Designating one night a week for cabaret, another for magicians and psychics, perhaps a film night, kids’ entertainment on Saturday afternoons, monthly mixers for downtown businesses — all of these are on the new owners’ drawing board, as well as art exhibitions and pop-up galleries. It will remain a quiet space for locals to bring their laptops and get work done up until 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, offering “the best Wi-Fi in town.”
But first things first: an ambitious four-day “deep, deep cleaning” marathon at the beginning of April that Casey dubbed Hellp Week. “We had to get rid of about five couches,” he says. The old wood floors needed to be cleaned four times over to budge thick layers of ground-in dirt. The McCanns were fortunate to have the assistance of the entire former staff of Cafeteria, who all agreed to stay on when the couple and their partner, coffee buyer Ben Weinstein, took over the lease from the former owner, who owns “half a dozen other places” in Dutchess County and rarely paid a visit to his New Paltz establishment, according to Casey.
The McCanns first met while working at Gadaleto’s more than 15 years ago, but in recent years had moved on to work outside the restaurant industry — Rebecca as a nurse, Casey most recently as CEO of a seafood company. The arrival of daughter Amelia, and of their son Harrison less than a year ago, made them feel increasingly isolated in their jobs, so they began looking for a project that would enable them to work closer to home. They also both wanted to return to a restaurant or café milieu.
When they found out that Cafeteria’s staff members were growing restive, they jumped on the opportunity and made its owner an offer. “He was a good guy,” observes Rebecca. “Cafeteria just wasn’t his focus.” The couple made a deep dive, signing up for a 15-year lease and securing first option to buy if owner Bobby Downs decides to sell the building. “This is a long-term play for us,” says Casey. “We felt an obligation to save this place.”
The McCanns’ plans for the café are comparably ambitious. Beyond the initial cleanup — which already makes the space considerably more appealing to people with mold and dust allergies — and the removal, already accomplished, of the front entrance’s old airlock, the couple have drawn up schematic plans for significant alterations. “The entire loft is coming out,” says Casey, pointing to the rear of the space. By September he hopes to put several doors through the rear brick wall and install a kitchen there, plus two new bathrooms. A mural of “Timeless New Paltz,” featuring contemporary characters painted into a turn-of-the-century setting, is planned for a new wall dividing the bathroom entryway from the main space. Another new door through the building’s east wall will eventually lead to a flight of steps leading to a 30-seat outdoor patio accessible from the rear parking lot. They’re envisioning a combination of tapas restaurant and raw bar as CafAmelia’s future culinary incarnation, plus facilities for catering special events.
The focus on coffees and teas won’t go away, though. “We’re moving the coffee bar to the front. We’re going to start roasting our own beans soon,” says Casey. A separate “terroir bar” will cater to coffee connoisseurs, who will “be able to ask for the full story and get it, right down to the farmer who grows the beans.” “Cuppings” — the coffee world’s version of wine-tastings — will be regularly featured, along with pourovers and “French press for two.” Shadegrown fair-market coffees are merely the beginning of CafAmelia’s commitment to sustainability: Plastic will be out, recycled paper containers in. Casey says that he might adopt a practice he recently discovered at another café of substituting strands of raw fettuccini for plastic or wooden stirrers. Oat, almond and soy milks are already available as dairy substitutes.
By this coming summer, CafAmelia will be offering some 25 flavors of Andy’s Italian Ices, as well as Jane’s Ice Cream, which will be used to make “real deal” milkshakes and nitro coffee floats. They also hope to obtain a liquor license in order to begin serving locally sourced beers and wines by midsummer. Also in the works are upgrades to the stage, which will remain in the front corner, and new lighting. Modular seating and bistro tables will be moved around to accommodate cabaret nights, or outside on the sidewalk in nice weather. “We want to upgrade without updating,” preserving the circa-1880 former general store’s “vintage charm,” says Casey.
To finance the costlier renovations that they have in mind, the McCanns are launching an IndieGoGo campaign with a goal to raise $10,000 in 30 days. To learn more, visit www.facebook.com/pg/CafAmelia or www.instahats.com/u/cafamelia.