The Near West Side and South Side of Syracuse have been blessed with new and needed businesses in recent weeks, including a Shop Rite grocery store on South Avenue and the Salt City Coffee roastery and cafe on West Onondaga Street. Shop Rite, in an under-served neighborhood, opened with fanfare. Salt City Coffee debuted more quietly on March 27 and will soon have its grand opening.
Salt City Coffee is new to the neighborhood, but it’s not new to Syracuse. For five years, owner Aaron Metthe has been roasting coffee beans, establishing wholesale and retail coffee accounts, making deliveries every Thursday to home and office subscribers — and working to open a retail location. He originally hoped to do that on the city’s North Side, near St. Joseph’s Hospital, but when that plan didn’t work out, he looked to the Near West Side.
“One of my goals was to be in a neighborhood,” Metthe says. “We’re right up the road from Strathmore, we’re not too far from Onondaga Hill. We get an eclectic mix of people. We’ve had nothing but good feedback.”
The building, built in the 1860s as a residence, is owned by Axiom Church, a small faith community describes itself as a church “living in community, learning to be disciples and loving our neighborhoods.” Metthe and his wife, Maria, are leaders in the church, and members gather for worship the first and third Sunday of the month at Salt City Coffee. The roastery and cafe leases its space from the church.
The first floor of the building, formerly occupied by the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center, now has a counter and kitchen area, a roasting room, comfy couches and chairs and about a dozen tables made by Metthe and members of his family. The walls have been painted a fresh shade of green, with an old wooden pocket door uncovered during renovations now worked into the decor. Some people come in for a quick cup to go, while others linger over their coffee or tea and make use of the free WiFi.
The menu features drip coffee, pourovers, espresso drinks and several specialty drinks. A favorite already is the ‘Cuselandia: iced coffee, shaken with ice in a cocktail shaker, then blended with milk and salted caramel syrup. There’s also a black cherry mocha: mocha mixed with black cherry syrup. A variety of loose leaf teas are available, as well as chai lattes, made with chai that is brewed fresh each day.
Cookies, muffins, scones and apple sticks (sort of like a hand-held apple pie) are from the Patisserie bake shop in Skaneateles. Barista Becky Benedict is working on a menu of cold sandwiches, Metthe adds. The kitchen doesn’t have an oven, and is limited in what it can serve.
There are no signs of Axiom Church in the coffee shop, but there is a sign of the church’s mission and of the Metthes’ mission. Customers are invited to “pay it forward” and buy a cup of coffee ($1.50 donation) for someone who can’t afford it. “Pay it forward” tokens are posted to a wall at the counter and can be redeemed for a cup of coffee.
Metthe, 34, grew up in Schroon Lake, in the Adirondacks. His wife, Maria, is from Central Square. The couple has two young children and will welcome a new family member in June.
Metthe worked for several years at Hillside Children’s Center on Wyoming Street, providing support to youths. He started roasting coffee as a hobby and in 2012 launched his wholesale business, with an eye toward eventually having a storefront roastery and cafe. In his roasting room at 509 W. Onondaga St., he can roast 18 pounds of coffee an hour.
“It’s been exciting to watch him grow the company, so smart of him to develop his customer base before opening a brick-and-mortar location,” says Linda O’Boyle, owner of Metro Home Style, in Franklin Square, one of Metthe’s retail customers. “I love the café. It’s obvious he spent a lot of time planning to make sure the customers would have a great experience.”
Metthe sees it as a place of mission and opportunity, where people can come together over a cappuccino or a regular old cup of coffee.
“We want to educate people on coffee and how it’s roasted and made,” he says. “We take coffee-making seriously, but we don’t want to be pretentious or snobby.”
Parking for Salt City Coffee is available behind the building. Hours are Mondays through Fridays, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Aaron Metthe is also exploring the idea of Saturday hours. For information, visit saltcitycoffee.com or facebook.com/saltcitycoffee.