The new downtown business, located at 156 W. Second St., in Oswego, opened Oct. 18, 2012, and Aleta and Sharity said it has seen a steady growth of new and loyal customers, including SUNY Oswego students and professors.
Both Aleta and Sharity, of Martville, and Clay, of Oswego had been kicking around opening a coffee place together and both women said the college played a large part in their decision of where to open it.
"We definitely wanted a college town," Aleta said.
She said they started looking at property in Oswego and soon after attending a few ONE (Oswego Networking Entrepreneurs), she was introduced to Don BelCastro, who owns the building the shop is in.
"We started talking and he liked our ideas," Aleta said.
Between the three family members, Aleta said they have a lot of restaurant experience and ability.
"I have managed several different places as well as having waitressed in many places," she said. Her extensive resume includes, most recently, Skipper's Landing, in Sodus Bay; The Blue Moon Grill, in Fulton; Vona's, in Oswego; and Pleasant Beach in Fair Haven. She said her experience with management also included bookkeeping, giving her a well-rounded set of skills for the business.
Sharity said she has waitressed for about 16 years and both women proudly claim Clay as their "Sandwich King."
"He came up with most of the ideas for the sandwiches and we experimented with a lot with them before we opened," Aleta said. "Sharity and I do most of the baking and the soups."
Everything, they pointed out, is made from scratch on the premises and because they cook pretty much non-stop each day, their menu is constantly updated throughout the day.
"We also shop just about daily," Sharity said, adding that this is due in part to their limited storage space, but mainly for the purpose of being able to cook with fresh ingredients.
All of their ingredients are bought locally and Sharity said they are looking forward to spring, when they will begin having fresh produce delivered to them from a local farmer through their participation in CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture).
Through CSA, individuals purchase shares of a local farmer's upcoming crops. Once the crops are harvested throughout the spring, summer and fall, the "shares" are delivered to the share owners.
"We will have a box of fresh produce delivered weekly," Sharity said. "There is a lot of variety in CSA's and we will base our menus on what we get each week."
"That's the fun part about it," Aleta added. "You can't plan on what you are going to get; you have to get creative about what recipes you need to do that week...it's kind of fun."
"We are also going to try to have a plot in Oswego's community garden as well as grow our own fresh, organic herbs," Sharity said.
"I grew up like that," Aleta pointed out. "My mom and dad were way ahead of their time and did organic gardening when I was a kid."
Their coffee, which is also organic, is fair-trade coffee, which means no one involved in the making of the coffee is exploited in any way.
"One of the things I did not knowing going into this business is that coffee is one of the most heavily ladened pesticide foods there is," Aleta said. "If you don't get organic coffee, you are getting a terrible amount of pesticide."
Aleta said Anne Backer, of Taste the World, in Canal Commons, roasts their coffee for them and is phenomenal.
"My spouse is an espresso snob," she said with a laugh, adding that he has at least six shots a day and orders his coffee exclusively from Denver.
She said she has dragged him all over the state to try different espressos.
"But his favorite place of all is Anne's at Taste the World," she said.
As for their baking, both women mentioned that they have been asked by some customers if they had professional training and what culinary school they had attended. Both said their skills are not from classes, but have been passed down through the family.
"My mom is a fabulous baker and her pies are renowned," Aleta said.
"She was self-taught, too," Sharity put in. "I learned from Mom and she learned from her mother, who had to learn from necessity."
Aleta said the creation of the menu was an interesting process and they are letting the customers have a say on the way it develops.
"We did have a vision before we opened," Aleta explained. "But with any vision before the actual implementation, it changes. What we have found is that we are going with what the customers want."
She cited for example when they first opened, they had soups and breads, but no sandwiches.
"We figured we would kind of ease into it, but realized very quickly we needed to do the sandwiches," Aleta said.
"And as soon as we did, our daily sales jumped," Sharity said.
The CoffeeNook's recipes also offer vegan and vegetarian options.
"I felt it was very important to have a vegan menu and vegan options," Sharity stressed. "So every day we have a vegan soup and I also make vegan desserts."
She added that they do make some gluten-free items, like their soup, and she has baked some gluten-free pies and cookies, but they are still trying to develop more.
"We try to be as organic and natural as we can and still keep the cost down," Aleta explained. "We balance it all out with what is the most essential (ingredient) to use that is organic and natural.
She said, for example, of course they use sugar in their baked goods, but they also always use unbleached flour and aluminum-free baking powder, pure vanilla, organic carrots for their carrot cakes, and are currently transitioning into using free-range eggs.
"Home-baked goods are always better for you anyway," Aleta said. "But if you can throw in that extra nutrition, you are ahead of the game."
Aleta said they have also been asked to do some catering, which they admit is a challenge due to the limited kitchen space.
"We do have a tiny little kitchen and we have to dance around each other," Sharity said.
Aleta agreed, laughing."But you would not believe the stuff that comes out of that kitchen!"
When it comes to the daily menu planning, they both said that is the fun part.
"People come in and they don't know what to expect because it is always going to be something different," Aleta said.
"The element of surprise is what keeps it interesting; for us as well," Sharity said. "We will try to make some really creative thing we have not tried before in tandem with the ones we make all of the time that the customers want."
Both agree that their "Mile-High Apple Pie" is their best-seller and has become their signature dessert.
A sample menu might include something like vegan carrot raisin muffins with Chai glaze,vegan rosemary and thyme bread, New England clam chowder, honey carrot soup (which is vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free) and Chocolate Chip Explosion cookies.
Aleta and Sharity said the menu seems to appeal to their customers, who are quickly becoming like family, and the community and other business owners have been extremely supportive.
"We love it and part of what we love is the community feeling that we have here," Aleta said. "But we want to do other things, too; it's not just about selling our wares."
To that end, the CoffeeNook uses its wall space as a revolving art display for local talent and also hosts open mic nights – one for prose and poetry and one for music – as well as writing and photography classes. Recently, they opened their shop for a meet-and-greet for the community theater group, the Oswego Players, where the actors were in the costume for their most current production of "Dial M for Murder," serving coffee and treats to the patrons.
A business requires a lot of time and Aleta admitted it can sometimes be stressful. But, she said, the wonderful customers more than make up for the challenges a start-up business can hold.
"We truly enjoy coming to work every day and even better, the customers seem to enjoy it," she said. "We are very appreciative of that and don't take it for granted."
The CoffeeNook is open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m, Mon., Wed., Thursday, Friday; and 12-9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. It is currently closed on Tuesdays.
For more information, call 216-4343; or visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/coffeenookoswego.