Thursday, December 11, 2014

Time for one last cup before they go

Robbie and Ellen
PANAMA CITY — I had coffee with Robbie Fehrenbach and Ellen Mapelsden on Thursday morning, and we talked about the little shop they opened in St. Andrews in 1998.

St. Andrews Coffee House will close its doors Dec. 20, although Robbie and Ellen assure longtime customers and friends that the new owner, James Pigneri, will reopen under a slightly changed name and menu in early January 2015. (Stay tuned to and these pages for details when the St. Andrews Coffee House & Bistro will debut.)

“We can’t wait,” Ellen said of Pigneri’s reopening. “We plan to come here for good coffee and a good meal.”

The duo once told me they opened the shop “on a dare.” They said in front of the wrong people that “somebody ought to do something” in St. Andrews, and that someone pointed out they were somebody, too.

“For us, it was a means to an end,” Robbie said, that end being to revitalize their beloved St. Andrews community. “Over the years, it has made us so busy that we have much less time for community involvement.”

Their grandfather, Ed Day, arrived in St. Andrews in 1887 as a child. The building the coffeehouse occupies was built in 1927. Great Uncle Bill opened Gainer Brothers’ Grocery there, and their Aunt Weezie cut meat in the same spot where they now make sandwiches.

They enjoy “doing everything” from taking orders, to cooking, to serving tables, to running the register, Ellen said. But as business has grown, doing everything has become more difficult.

“We opened a little coffee shop, and it’s turned into a food place,” Robbie said. “It’s a faster pace than we can keep up. It’s growing, and it needs to grow, and for that it needs a new set-up.”

Recent years have seen a “younger demographic” frequent the area, including families and young professionals, and that makes them hopeful their work is bearing fruit.

“We’re so excited that our baby has grown up, and it’s going to continue,” Ellen said. “It’s time to pass the torch.”

The Coffee House will open regular hours for its final week in this incarnation, and will run a special fundraiser on its final day. From 7 to 11 a.m. Dec. 20, a minimum $5 donation will get you a drink and a simple breakfast item (no eggs or regular breakfast menu will be served). Every penny of the day’s proceeds will go to Lucky Puppy Rescue and Castaway Cats.

“It will be a little send-off and a little fun,” Ellen said.

I will miss Robbie and Ellen. I meet with friends for lunch at the shop each week, and was honored when I’d become enough of a fixture for them to know my “regular” order. They labeled us the “Marvels” and reserved our table with a sign they fashioned using a toy Batmobile.

“It’s bittersweet. We wanted to leave it when it would be hard to leave, not when we were tired of it. So it’s a good thing,” Ellen said. “Robbie and I are actually starters. When we started with this, we had no idea we’d still be doing it all these years later.”


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