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Old Saybrook - Ashlawn Farm Coffee has moved west of the Connecticut River with its first family-owned shop outside of the original location in Lyme.
The new coffee shop at Saybrook Junction next to the Old Saybrook train station had its grand opening this week. The shop has kept a post-and-beam theme carried over from its first location at Ashlawn Farm on Bill Hill Road. The Lyme farm, in business continuously for more than 300 years, has been roasting and marketing its own brand of coffee for 11 years under the ownership of Glenn "Chip" and Carol Adams Dahlke, but this is the first time it has begun a retail business outside of the farm.
Carol Dahlke said the idea of opening up a coffee shop has been percolating for many years but didn't start coming together until a year and a half ago, when a location became available at Saybrook Junction and she was able to obtain money from the state's Small Business Express program. She worked for five months to set up a new space, with a children's play area and Wi-Fi for travelers on the go, getting help from John Evans of Explore Media, a Disney-trained event producer.
"The whole idea was to transform the space and make it feel like the farm," Dahlke said.
She also wanted to build a place where people looking for the ultimate coffee experience would want to go - something in the mold of the nationally known Intelligentsia and Counter Culture brands. She has installed a new Alpha Dominche Steampunk MOD single-cup brewer that will help bring out the best in Ashlawn Farm's specialty blends, she said.
While Ashlawn Farm is well known east of the Connecticut River, with 65 active wholesale accounts including Thames Greenery in New London and a roasting workload that has grown to 1,200 pounds a week, Dahlke admitted that Old Saybrook residents may not be as aware of the brand as people from New London County. But she has been active in getting the word out, including Ashlawn's sponsorship this summer of an adult softball team called The Brewers.
And while some might suspect Dahlke's interest in opening a coffee shop might segue into larger ambitions, she insists that she is not looking to franchise the concept.
"I don't want to water it down," she said. "I want to stay small."
But Dahlke is trying to ensure the success of her new enterprise by hiring two Culinary Institute of America graduates. Sarah Boone, who served as pastry chef at Robert Redford's Zoom restaurant at Sundance Resort in Utah, will be developing the breakfast and lunch menu, while Jocelynn Neri, who interned at the farm, will be the coffee operations manager.
The coffee shop's normal hours will be 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., but on Black Friday, hours will be extended to 9 p.m., with special entertainment planned.
Ashlawn Farm Coffee's new retail location in Old Saybrook will include a "goat cam," allowing patrons of the shop to keep track of what is going on at the Lyme farm, where their coffee is roasted, thanks to a special Wi-Fi hookup.
"We've always had great pride in our farming roots, so having a 'goat cam' in our newest location is something we feel will not only entertain our patrons, but also bring them a little bit of home before starting their morning commutes," said Ashlawn Farm Coffee owner Carol Adams Dahlke in a statement.
At the same time, customers will be able to access the Internet for their own needs thanks to the Wi-Fi, provided free of charge by Comcast, the national video, Internet and phone provider. Comcast took the occasion of Ashlawn Farm Coffee's grand opening Tuesday to announce the launch of its Business WiFi service that has set up more than 1,800 hot spots in Connecticut and 350,000 nationwide.
Charlie Tzoumas, vice president of Comcast Business in Connecticut, said technology add-ons are becoming more and more important to businesses small and large. While coffee shops near transportation networks may seem a natural spot for a Wi-Fi system, he added, even self-service laundries and automotive-repair shops might be at a competitive disadvantage these days if they didn't offer customers a way to log onto the Internet.
"It's a good way to attract customers," he said. "It keeps people coming back."