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Going grande - Local coffee shop upsizes for smoother service

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cheryl Wells, of Le Mars, who owns Habitué Coffehouse and Creperie with her husband, Mike, stands in one of the new doorways that connect the original Habitué with a newly-renovated next door building, adding more seating, a stage for live music, and a larger main-floor kitchen for the Le Mars coffee shop. The updated Habitué reopened Monday.
You know the whipped cream on top of your hazelnut latte?

It's like that.

After three weeks of being closed for renovations, Habitué Coffeehouse & Creperie is debuting with extra touches: a bigger restaurant area and more on the menu.

Artfully packing serving-size pots with bread pudding, Kim Ibanez says she enjoys working in the Habitué kitchen, especially now that it is a larger, brighter space.
(Sentinel photo by Magdalene Landegent)
The restaurant now extends into the building just to the south, offering more seating, a stage for live music and a main-floor kitchen.

The expanded Habitué is beyond what co-owners Cheryl Wells and her husband, Mike, imagined, Cheryl said, looking around the new professional kitchen.

"We would tell people we were going to open a 'little coffee shop,'" the Le Mars woman said, smiling at the memory. "It's not just a little coffee shop."

All around her, members of Habitué's 20-member staff are bustling around, stacking mini pots with gooey bread pudding, assembling the menu's new cold sandwiches, sending dishes through the washer, stirring ice cream into blended coffee drinks.

The Wells announced the planned expansion last March, at the one-year anniversary celebration of the coffee shop's opening.

They had purchased the building next door and planned to connect the two.

"We cut doors through the walls in three places," Cheryl said, standing in one of the new doorways. "The walls between were 4 feet thick."

Now the front of the building next door features comfy booth seating, including one big, rounded booth for a large group; a bar-height row of seats; big, bright windows; and the new performance stage, which will soon have a piano, ready to play, Cheryl said.

The original part of Habitué was updated to include matching booths, too, with some funky furnishings throughout the rooms.

"We have as much seating on the main floor as we did in the whole building before this," she said.

With groups like bus tours to the "Ice Cream Capital of the World" bringing many people to the restaurant, there was more demand for first-floor seating, she explained.

Sarah Gramlow, who has worked at Habitué since March 2011, said customers are already appreciating the additions.

"The new seating has opened up a lot for us," she said, adding that the stage will offer live music, including local musicians.

"Customers love it," she said of Habitué's new look. "They think it's beautiful."

And Gramlow likes how the coffee shop's profits still benefit ministries.

"It's good to know you're working for a good cause," she said.

After a grand re-opening, to be scheduled in August, Habitué will also offer later hours in the evenings, Cheryl noted.

Habitué's expanding menu and growing number of fans also called for a bigger kitchen than the original, which was in the basement.

Replacing the old kitchen's lower ceilings and tight corridors are bright work spaces in separate areas of the new main-floor kitchen, plus a big walk-in cooler and freezer.

"We're excited about all the space," said Beth Campbell, a Habitué staff member. "We came from a very small space to a very big space, so we're blessed to be able to move around now."

As busy as the kitchen gets, Campbell said the staff still has fun.

"Teamwork is huge here," she said. "Every area is very busy, but everybody works together."

Campbell said she's also eager for people to try the new foods on the Habitué menu.

Some of the new offerings are cold sandwiches with flair: including a buffalo chicken sandwich, a California cobb sandwich and a raspberry turkey deluxe sandwich.

A lot of people were requesting boxed lunches for their businesses, Cheryl said.

That's where the idea to add cold sandwiches to the menu started.

Businesses can now order boxed lunches, complete with a cookie, chips and more, all packed in a "beautiful little brown box," she said.

"We wanted it to look like Habitué quality," she said.

Cheryl said a consultant from Minneapolis who has opened 280 restaurants told her he couldn't find a coffee shop like Habitué in the Minneapolis metro area or even the East Coast.

"He said, 'there's not a place like this,'" Cheryl said.

She believes the reason behind this is the people at Habitué.

"We have a great staff here," Cheryl said, pointing out that employees spent the past two weeks together, doing a lot of hard work to get the coffee shop ready to re-open.

"We just want to say 'thank you so much' to our workers," she said. "All the people that have been a part of building this, they went over the top, just to be here."

That kind of commitment stems from the community feel in Le Mars, Cheryl said.

"We love our community," she said. "That's why we started this business downtown. It's about the people."

Cheryl said the long-term goal she and her husband shared in opening Habitué was to invest in the community and downtown Le Mars, hopefully inspiring others to invest there.

"I think we're already seeing some of that happen," she said.

And that all started with a dream of opening a "little coffee shop."

"It's been fun to see the dream, the vision really expand," Cheryl said. "You think you know what you're doing, then you step into it and it just keeps getting bigger."

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Wahoo to the future of later hours!! Can't wait for a place to hang out in the evenings and experience a tasty beverage that isn't located in a bar.

-- Posted by iamwise on Tue, Jul 10, 2012, at 2:16 PM

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