I was standing in line last week, waiting for Wilkins to prepare my Chai Charger, when Hannah handed a cup marked “Tired Dirk” to the man standing next to me. I raised an eyebrow and Dirk smiled. “Regular Dirk gets 2 shots of espresso; Tired Dirk gets 3,” he explained. “They know me well enough here – one look and they know which one to make. It’s like being a regular at a local bar.”
That was the consensus of everyone in The Handlebar Café that morning. They love the comfortable atmosphere. They love the coffee. They love the people. And many of them start every day in The Handlebar.
In just 15 months, owners Jason and Courtney Bridges have created what they like to call “a community space disguised as a coffee shop.” In addition to their coffees, they’ve become known for classes and workshops they have given, as a handy venue to meet clients, and as a cozy spot for a staged reading.
They’ve hosted Chamber events and even a photography show. With comfy seats as well as tables and counter seating, free wifi, and a “Secret Garden” in the back, The Handlebar Café adds just right mix of comfort and caring to their coffee and croissants.
“I thought it would take longer to build a true community: year-rounders, summer people, visitors… But it happened fast,” commented Jason. Not bad for an endeavor that he describes as “a total accident.”
He elaborated: “We were shown this space for our bike tour company, but when we saw it, we thought: too big, not quite right… Then as we walked out the door, Courtney and I looked at each other and said ‘coffee shop.’” The idea did not come completely out of the blue. “We both are restaurant kids. Courtney grew up with parents & grandparents in the restaurant business. I was washing dishes and clearing tables probably before I was legally permitted to in Indiana… Out here I managed fooods for a decade.”
Both Courtney and Jason had moved on from food service to other careers before the current entrepreneurial inspiration: Courtney taught and is now the executive director of Small Friends; Jason started Social Bridge Consulting and is Public Outreach Manger for the Town of Nantucket. Together they operate Nantucket Bike Tours. “Once you get the entrepreneur bug you see opportunities where you didn’t before.” Neither is a stranger to community spirit and volunteering, so offering The Handlebar Café as an island hub seemed natural.
Jason credits his staff for much of the Handlebar’s spirit and success. “We hire for character and teach the skills,” he explained. Hannah Johnson is the head barista at Handlebar. “She has the knowledge and a passion for coffee… She went to school in Seattle and worked in coffee shops there throughout school. She’s achieved Level 1 in National Barista Certification, and this year she’ll get Level 2. Hannah does all our training. Tanya is her protege, Wilkins has recently joined us, and Kate and Cobie are my Weekend Warriors during school and full time in the summer.”
The entire crew at The Handlebar is passionate about coffee. “It’s not too hard to make one good latte—it is extrememly hard to make a hundred good lattes in a row… We time our espresso shots…It changes for temperature and humidity—you can’t just push a button.”
Education is key to success in any business, and this winter Jason will be sending several employees to the headquarters of their main roastery, Compass Coffee, for additional training “to up their coffee game.”
Bridges is looking forward to the off-season, “it’s the season that makes life on Nantucket worth it all… we’ll have time to do more community events.” Other plans include adding more food to the current selection of pastries, muffins, fresh fruit, and convenience foods.
“We didn’t have food in the beginning because we wanted to get the coffee down really well. I think we’ve done that, so now it’s time to add some breakfast and grab-and-go food… and we plan to institute a new tea program.”
Handlebar is collaborating with Atlas BBQ & Fish House and The Dreamland in a Flashback Film series this fall, and watch the Handlebar Cafe website at handlebar.coffee for other event announcements which could include a chess club for students.
“We want to make people’s day better—we just happen to sell coffee.” Open daily at 15 Washington Street • handlebar.coffee