Atlas Coffee to serve up Italian experience
In Italy they belly up to coffee bars the way we belly up to bars, lined up close together and leaning, working class men and women sipping espresso from those dainty cups as the baristas furiously work the gleaming, steaming, and elegant-looking espresso machines, pounding out spent grounds, packing in fresh rounds, and locking down levers as fast as an artillery squad during a barrage.
That won't exactly be the scene at Atlas Coffee, a new coffee 'bar' opening on Fontaine Avenue–- right beside Guadalajara in the old Jackson Hewitt Tax Service space–- but the owners say they'd like to be closer to an authentic Italian espresso experience than the typical American one, something the tiny space should lend itself to nicely.
"We see the small space as an asset because it will allow us to interact more with the customers," says Ruth Ellen Outlaw, one-fourth of the two couples–- and mother to more than one of the five children between them–- who have partnered on the venture. "Instead of the stand-up counters that you see in Italy, however, we'll have stools, and we'll have outdoor seating in nice weather."
For Outlaw and her husband, Woody, the move harkens back to their restaurant days–they met in Washington State at a restaurant that served Starbucks Coffee when it was a little roasting operation in Seattle, and in the late 1980s they cooked together at The Inn at Little Washington. Ruth would go on to become an architect, getting her masters at UVA, and working for a time with VMDO Architects. In 1999, she started her own firm, Outlaw Design. Meanwhile, her husband Woody is a partner in Hydro Solutions, Inc., a water treatment firm. It seemed their restaurant days were long over.
"The idea was born on a riverside camping trip with friends," says Outlaw," sitting around the fire."
Outlaw says she was complaining that her design business had slowed down during the recession and her friend Lorie Craddock, who, with her husband, Michael Manto, make up Atlas Coffee's brain trust, suggested opening a restaurant together. The Craddock/Mantos, both flight attendants, wanted their life to be a little more grounded.
"I told her she was nuts," says Outlaw. "There was no way would I would get back in the restaurant business."
However, Outlaw did start to warm to the idea of a coffee bar.
"I could feed my personal latte addiction, and have fun doing it," she says. "Lorie and Michael travel the world as flight attendants and are able to frequent the coffee bars in Amsterdam and other European airline hubs, and the Fry's Spring area is a coffee desert, compelling us and others to drive over hill and dale for good espresso."
Atlas Coffee's espresso will be made from Shenandoah Joe coffee, says Outlaw, and they'll be selling whole bean coffee and accessories as well. Carpe Donut donuts and pastries from other local bakers will also be offered. Look for them to be open sometime around mid-January.