Youngstown native Carl Jones, who founded Arabica Coffeehouse in Cleveland in 1975, started the business because, at the time, he couldn't find good coffee anywhere else.
"It was just a hobby," he recalls. "I liked good coffee, and there wasn't any around." Jones now holds court at Phoenix Coffeehouse on Superior Avenue, his second stab at the coffee biz. He started Phoenix in 1990, after selling Arabica when the company found itself "under duress." Phoenix now has five locations, all of which have weathered, unscathed, the recent influx of national coffee chains.
"My father always said there's room for good," Jones says. "I always figured folks were volunteers. If people don't like it, eventually they won't come."
Jones says what truly sets different brands apart is nothing more than freshness. To that end, he has been roasting his own beans in-store since 1976. "If [people] prefer stale product from the megachains, that's their business," he laughs. "I can't make somebody drink good coffee. Hopefully, they do things because of enlightened self-interest."
To help enlighten the public, Jones will hold a coffee sampling this Sunday at the Cleveland Heights Phoenix, where he will explain the intricacies of gourmet coffee. Featuring five coffees that best exemplify the "insider" lingo -- full-bodied, with its lingering aftertaste; acidic, with a zing on the tongue and no aftertaste; or aromatic, which, like Colombian, is just "really good-smelling coffee" -- the sampling is intended to curb public confusion about what makes a "good" coffee.
"People taste things differently," Jones explains. "Really what you need to determine is what you like, even if you don't have the right terminology." His aim is not to create coffee snobs, but to make gourmet coffee "a part of the fabric of your life, as opposed to being something special. It's one of those things that allows you those couple of moments of peace in the morning, and we don't seem to be taking advantage of that anymore."
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