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Restaurants

With Coffee And Cocktails, Owners Mix It Up

By Beth A. Klahre, posted Apr 19, 2024
Ace and Jamie Alfalla, owners of Concorde Espresso Bar, sit in their coffee shop that doubles as a bar in the evenings. (Photo by Madeline Gray)
Coffee shop by day, bar by night. Blurring the lines between coffee and cocktails is a growing trend, including at Wilmington establishments. 

Baristas are incorporating craft cocktail techniques into show-stopping coffee drinks, and bartenders are mixing espresso and coffee liqueur beyond the traditional cocktail blends. The trend is capturing a wider variety of patrons while allowing owners to use their entire space during all hours of the day and night.

Jamie Alfalla is the co-owner of Concorde Espresso Bar inside the Front Street Inn at 215 S. Front St. in downtown Wilmington. 

“There is a natural synergy between coffee and cocktails. The espresso martini has been a classic cocktail for over 40 years. The coffee shop and cocktail bar concept allows us to create a social hub by day transitioning to an experiential evening gathering place,” Alfalla said. “Not only do the same guests come, but they come on the same day too. They love how the venue changes once the lights dim and the music starts.”

Loving Italian traditions, Alfalla likes to believe that this trend started with the espresso martini. 

“It was always customary to have espresso after a meal, after cocktails, to end the evening and aid in digestion. Whether on its own, as a cappuccino or poured over ice cream, enjoying coffee in the evening is an old-time tradition,” she said. 

So is coffee taking its cues from the bar, or are bar drinks taking their cues from coffee? 
Alfalla says that while there will always be the classic coffee drinks – cortado, macchiato or cappuccino – in reality, they mirror traditional cocktails such as the daiquiri, Negroni or margarita. 

“It’s exciting to explore how they spin together,” Alfalla said. “So I say coffee and cocktails are taking cues from each other and finding an amazing balance.”

Even baristas and bartenders are mingling. 

“Our bartenders are becoming baristas and vice versa,” she said. “The cross-training of baristas and bartenders is increasing versatility. The barista who has no bar experience and the bartender who has no barista experience are both becoming more well-versed. This serves them well long-term and gives our business the ability to create more revenue from what was once a one-revenue-center concept.”

All of this overlap is resulting in some interesting concoctions. 

Alfalla, who credits the chef from the Preston Restaurant for curating the Signature Latte Menu, said the Latte Olivia is by far the most-ordered latte at Concorde Espresso Bar. 
International favorites include Vietnamese coffee and Thai iced tea. The seasonal latte menu breaks many traditions. 

“We think a pumpkin latte should be available year-round, and because of that, we keep it on our seasonal menu. It’s called the Still Wearing My Fuzzy Sweater Latte,” Alfalla said.

The Signature Cocktail Menu plays on the hotel theme of cities worldwide, and the curated menu features cocktails from around the planet such as the passion fruit martini, which is widely ordered in the United Kingdom and comes with a shot of prosecco on the side.  

The espresso martini flight highlights the classic espresso martini. There is also a cookie butter-inspired espresso martini called the In Flight Snack and a mocha-inspired espresso martini called On Standby.

“Offering both cocktails and coffee makes complete sense for our business model,” Alfalla said. “As a hotel, guests desire coffee and a place to rise to in the morning. And after dinner, guests enjoy retreating to their room with a cocktail or having a nightcap at the bar.”

Also downtown, Bespoke Coffee & Dry Goods has been in business for eight years and has been another coffee shop to serve beer and wine. For alcohol offerings, Bespoke currently sells only beer and wine but is expected to implement a complete cocktail program later this year.

“Being a neighborhood spot anchored at Princess and Second, we expect many of the same customers coming for coffee and adult beverages,” owner Robby Dow said. “I’m sure there will still be some coffee and cocktail folks that stay keen on one offering more than others. From similar shops here in North Carolina and from my time in New York City, I think providing a cohesive and inviting space is most important. It will serve as a communal gathering point in the morning or evening.”

At Bespoke, baristas will use cocktail elements in their coffees, and bartenders will use coffee in their cocktails. “I think both schools of thought can and do work with each other. It’s a beautiful thing taking and implementing different flavors and techniques from both sides,” he said. 

Dow said the skill sets from coffee to cocktails cross over quite a bit. 

“This provides great access for someone to come into the world of spirits and cocktail technique if they are interested in doing so,” he added. 

Dow said that as far as cocktails go, the espresso martini is the quintessential modern classic of all coffee cocktails. The coffee drinks are created by Bespoke’s team of baristas, led by shop managers Halle Pugh and Abeer Askar. Dow’s background is in cocktails, so he will spearhead that program when the cocktail bar opens, which is set to happen in late summer or early fall.
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