Brewing in Woodstock: Coffee entrepreneurs challenge town's "no fun policy"
It was gonna be so chill. The young entrepreneurs behind Woodstock's Abracadabra Coffee Co. planned to expand their serving hours to weekend nights, offering customers a nighttime treat of food truck fare, CBD-infused coffee and, eventually, beer and wine.
All in all, a lively alternative in a town without a whole lot of lively.
But then ... Nope.
Abracadabra had planned to host the first of its Friday soirees on July 13, using the date to release its new Chill Brew, 12-ounce cans of Ethiopian coffee infused with hemp extract from the Luce Farm in Stockbridge. But hours before the event was to begin, it was cancelled — due to what the roasters' Facebook page called "Woodstock's no fun policy."
Does such a policy exist? I stopped by to see Michael Brands, Woodstock's town planner and a guy who has a picture of the Grinch on his desk and jokingly mugs like the Seussian spoilsport.
"Yes," he deadpans. "Look at the demographics of the town and you'll figure that out."
Michael Brands, Woodstock's town planner for 30 years
Brands is kidding, of course. But seriously, he says, Abracadabra is ill-suited to hosting big gatherings in its current location — a rented first-floor space in a residential property located down a narrow driveway at village's eastern entrance.
There's no space for customers to park, no room for a sign that meets the town's regulations and no clear authority to sell food from a truck in a town that doesn't generally allow that sort of thing.
"It would be better for them if they were in a better location with proper access and proper parking," he says. "It's not 'no fun' — but we do have to comply with the rules and regulations."
On Wednesday at 7:30, the Abracadabrians will make their case for an exception to those rules before the Village Development Review Board. The board's five members, all citizen volunteers, have the final yay or nay on a business that wants to color outside the lines.
Clint Hunt is one of the three thirtysomething entrepreneurs behind Abracadabra. A coffee geek since his teens, he's more comfortable talking about roasting profiles than he is navigating governmental shoals.
"There are these things that we're dealing with that are ridiculous," he says.
Clint Hunt uses a computer-assisted roaster to turn single-source beans into high-end roasts.
At the same time, he and business partners Sarah Yetter and Antoinette Hunt (also his wife) say that they are trying to address the concerns of town officials and neighbors. They hope Wednesday's hearing will resolve the issues and allow them to move forward.
"They do want to help us," Yetter says of town planners, echoing her business partners. "We're optimistic."
Abracadabra represents a new kind of entrepreneur, foodies who start small but don't want to measure growth by the teaspoonful. In the spring, they got town permission to invite customers for coffee tasting and catered food (waffles, tacos) on weekend mornings and early afternoons.
Encouraged by the success, they asked for clearance to expand the hours to Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, adding pizza to the food mix. That's when town planners tapped the brakes and asked Abracadabra to come in for one hearing and then, Wednesday, another.
Woodstock is a lovely town, but let's face it: at night, it's only slightly more fun than a funeral home. If Abracadabra is allowed to stay open beyond sunset, people will turn out. Already, their Saturday and Sunday brunches have drawn raves.
Abracadabra and its owners are the kind of enterprise Woodstock should encourage. Their coffee is not cheap, but damn, it's good. They purchase in a way that fairly compensates small farmers in Africa and elsewhere who grow beans in a high-altitude, pesticide free environment. They roast the beans onsite with the care of artisans.
Plus, they have cool tattoos, conspire with food truckers — and want to string up party lights and invite the rest of us over to join the fun.
If town planners want to be sticklers for regulations, Abracadabra doesn't stand a chance. But really, Woodstock — can't customers park in the East End Park lot next door when it's not otherwise in use? Does the sign at the top of the driveway really have to be the size of a postcard? (Okay, I exaggerate, but only a little.) And given that food trucks already have to pass muster with state health inspectors, might Woodstock consider giving them a try instead of sending would-be diners off to Lebanon and Hartford's growing food truck scene?
Here's hoping the Abracadabrians and their town can find a healthy balance Wednesday night. People who have opinions one way or the other should turn out to weigh in.
In the meantime, all involved might want to pop open a can of the Chill Brew. It's got enough caffeine to keep you up late (yes, 7:30 p.m. is considered late under Woodstock's prevailing circadian rhythms), but also 20 milligrams of cannabidiol (CBD) — weed's perfectly legal and less psychoactive cousin.
"It mellows you out," Yetter says. "It kind of takes the edge off the caffeine."
And, just maybe, the politics.
UPDATE: Town board approves expansion, food truck experiment.