TEXT AND PHOTOS BY KAREN PACKER
Is there really a place you can go where everybody knows your name, and the people are always glad you came? At The Coffee Roaster in Sherman Oaks it may take a week or two for the owner and her staff to memorize your name and your drink of choice; but the welcoming feeling begins as soon as you walk through the door.
“All of the people that come in are fabulous,” says Van Nuys native Tracy Meehan over the whirl of the 22-year-old Diedrich coffee roasting machine. “It’s like a little family in here.”
When she bought the inconspicuous little coffee shop on Ventura Boulevard last November with her daughter Cassidy, a college student, Meehan became the third owner of the establishment and part of a neighborhood legacy started in 1987 by the original proprietor Dick Healy.
The story of Healy opening the shop because he couldn’t find a good cup of coffee in town is the stuff tall tales are made of. Before the coffee explosion of the 1990’s, there were very few coffee shops in the area. When The Coffee Roaster opened, it became a hangout of sorts for area musicians, actors, creative types, and others who wanted a rare cup of freshly roasted coffee, homemade pastries, and a place to meet and mingle.
Paul Cronin, a guitar maker and retired paramedic, and Stuart Heiman remember those times. They have been coming here since the shop first opened. Along with their friend Brandon Morano they meet everyday for a cup of coffee and conversation.
“It’s a small coffee shop, so it’s a small community. Everyone knows each other. You sit down at a table and you already know people sitting there,” says Morano. “It’s like sitting in front of a barber shop,” Cronin adds.
For Heiman it’s also about the coffee. He says The Coffee Roaster is still the only place in the area that roasts its own coffee beans, a practice that pleases coffee aficionados as well as the average coffee drinker.
As the beans continue to tumble in the roaster, Meehan pulls out a few, smells them, and then puts them back in the machine. “Coffee roasting uses all your senses,” she explains. I’m looking for color, I’m looking for smells, and I’m listening for sounds.”
The burlap bags strewn on the floor and buckets of raw beans labeled Ethiopian, New Guinea, Sumatra, Italian, and Malabar are an example of the variety of coffee sold here. All of the beans are grown on small specialty farms and then shipped to the shop and roasted daily in small batches as needed. Wide selections of loose leaf teas purchased from respected tea brokers are also available.
While Meehan roasts the fresh beans, barista Mike Doyle greets customers by name, and begins making their drinks from memory. When the transactions are completed he sends them on their way with well wishes. “We try to make a very enjoyable experience. Not just getting the best coffee you can buy, but getting the best experience you can have,” he says.
The Coffee Roaster is located at 13567 Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. For more information go online to www.thecoffeeroaster.net.
Karen Packer is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, but now calls the San Fernando Valley home. She has spent the last 15 years working as a freelance writer, teacher, and publicist.