Charlie's Coffee House a familiar experience


MANCHESTER — Charlie's Coffee House looks and feels familiar, and that's the point.

The cafe, which has taken up the space formerly inhabited by Covey & Nye on Bonnet Street, is just two doors down from the former Spiral Press Cafe. When that restaurant inside the Northshire Bookstore closed at the end of summer, owner Bill Drunsic brought the espresso machine, pastry display cases and a few employees two doors down, to a building he owns, and started anew.

The coffee is the same — Mocha Joe's, roasted in Brattleboro. And many of the sweet treats the Spiral Press served are on the menu, most notably its morning glory and pumpkin chocolate chip muffins.

Charlie's is hoping to succeed by doing some of what the Spiral Press did successfully before, and doing some things differently. Its manager, Kim Harrison, wants the vibe to be casual and friendly.

"It's comfy, all very down to earth," Harrison said. "We want to offer the sort of stuff you'd expect to find at your grandma's house." It's casual enough that the cafe's mascot is a regular presence. That would be Charlie, Drunsic's affable dog. The cafe began serving customers last week with a "soft opening," and a formal grand opening event will come later. "We want to start slow and make sure we meet everyone's expectations," Harrison said.

Harrison, who has lived in the Northshire for several years, studied baking at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island before shifting gears and graduating from the University of Massachusetts' acclaimed hospitality management program. She had been working at the Spiral Press for just three weeks before it closed, and stayed on to manage the new business.

"It was nice to have an opportunity to build something from the ground up," she said of the chance to manage Charlie's. The Spiral Press, an institution for years at the Northshire Bookstore as a meeting place and hangout, closed in August, as a number of problems befell the business. Drunsic said the loss of a long-time manager was the first blow, and trouble hiring and retaining trained staff followed. Rising product costs, the physical layout of the Spiral Press, and the intersection of staffing difficulties and hours of business stipulated in the lease were all factors, Drunsic said.

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"It was not the way we wanted to end it. That's a fair statement," Drunsic said. "In fairness to the bookstore we were not meeting their needs — it was a difficult space to operate out of, and we were not free to adjust the hours to an open schedule that made sense."

But Drunsic, who also owns the Union Underground restaurant and bar in Manchester (on the lower level of the Factory Point National Bank building), still had the furnishings and equipment from the Spiral Press, a core of employees, and customers asking if he was going to give it another try. He decided the answer was yes.

So as plans moved forward for a new restaurant at the Northshire Bookstore — The Next Chapter, featuring Sandra Kraehling's pan-Latin cuisine and also open this week — Drunsic went to work turning the former Covey & Nye, which closed in June, into a cafe.

Drunsic said he felt obligated to the staff who were with him at the end, including Harrison, who had joined just before the business closed, to give it another try. And he had the space, the equipment and loyal clientele asking him if he was going to open elsewhere.

"We're going to to give it another shot. That's my nature. But we're going to do it differently," he said.

To stay out of the made-to-order chokepoint that exposed the lack of trained staff, Charlie's won't be offering made-to-order food. Instead, the cafe will be offering ready-made grab and go breakfast sandwiches for hungry morning commuters, and salads, soups and sandwiches for lunch. Harrison also sees the cafe branching out to baking pastries to order, such as specialty cakes, as well as catering.

"I'm excited," Drunsic said of the venture. "If I have a place to go and a coffee and a fresh-made muffin in the morning, I'm a happy person."

Reach Greg Sukiennik at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal or at 802-490-6000.


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