Arabica / There and Back Again- a Coffee Shop's Tale

Posted by Christopher McClure on

Picture Maine in the nineties: boy bands on the radio, mood rings and scunchies everywhere, families watching Full House around fat TVs with rabbit ear antennae. You get out of bed in the morning and you have a cup of Green Mountain blueberry flavored coffee (and that’s if you’re being fancy). Craft coffee does not exist, most people don’t even know that Starbucks is a thing, or even realize that Starbucks could be a thing. This was what John and Cathy walked into as they were moving to Portland, ME to open a coffee shop.

Obligatory Dateline-style Photo
They were from the Northeast themselves, met in college in Massachusetts, and after graduating they decided to see the world a little and moved out to Seattle. It happened that the world in Seattle included a lot of coffee, and that coffee came in interesting forms like lattes and shots of espresso. After developing a love of coffee and the coffee shop atmosphere (with no little thanks being paid to the fact that Espresso Vivace was just around the corner from their apartment), John and Cathy decided to open a business together, and realized their caffeination infatuation had potential as their business venture. They chose to move back to the Northeast to be close to home, and after a few years of research and countless hours of work, Arabica was born in August 1995.

Pictured: Their first and possibly most demanding child. 

At first everyone thought they were destined to fail: they didn’t have flavored coffee, they had this weird thing (called an espresso machine) to make even weirder coffee, and, most importantly, they weren’t Green Mountain or Dunkin’ Donuts. Closing in on the 20th anniversary, we’re happy to say that Arabica is still here and strong, but it’s certainly not the same creature it once was.

"Wait... what is that thing? I don't like it." – Maine, circa 1995
At the start, Arabica sourced beans from Vivace Espresso and Scott Rao. Scott was kind enough to teach John how to roast and he’s been doing that since 2009. We’ve shifted a few doors down and the ‘original’ store is now at 2 Free St. instead of 16 (we appreciate the windows: we hope you do too!).

We might not miss the dark 16 Free St. location, but we do miss the days of yore, back when $2 could get you a cappuccino, or a three course meal, or a new car. We might not remember those days too well.
We have a second location opened in 2012 that, in addition to housing the roaster, is a full fledged bakery. Some of you might recall that this location, until recently, was called Crema. Initially there was a partner involved and it had to be a separate business, but not long after opening there were some hints that maybe there shouldn’t be partner. A year after opening it was clear that all parties would be happier if there wasn’t, and John and Cathy bought the partner out. 
There was some debate about whether or not to change the name of Crema to Arabica for awhile, but in the end it made more sense the business to have a little more continuity. Many of our customers had no idea that the two businesses were connected in any way, and we wanted to let people know that when they were enjoying coffee at Crema, it was Arabica coffee they were enjoying!
Not to mention everything is more fun when it's called Arabica. Pro tip: This works with everything. Businesses, unruly pets, rusty bicycles, even the occasional old computer are all much better when named Arabica. Try it out!
It’s been a long adventure for Arabica to become what it is, and we’re happy that you’ve joined us along the way. Keep an eye out for our 20 year celebration coming up in August!

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