Greene's Beans Cafe thrives by making really good coffee
Greene's Beans Cafe is a family-owned cafe specializing in unique coffees and "in store" drip, as well as specialty gift items. (Photo submitted by Greene's Beans Cafe).
By Laurie Gordon
SPARTA — Greene's Beans Cafe has been going strong for many years in Sparta and in Hackettstown. The secret its success is pretty simple: making good ... really good ... coffee. “In the 1950s and 60s, our parents drank coffee brewed in the then ubiquitous percolator," said owner Dave Greene said. "Every morning a pungent aroma filled our small house. Naturally ,we eventually learned to enjoy coffee, too. As the years passed, it seemed that the coffee we consumed became less and less pleasant until it seemed to serve merely as a vehicle for the delivery of caffeine. "No matter how we consumed it," he added, "brewed in a percolator, an electric drip pot or as instant coffee – ‘the thrill had gone.'” Greene said that coffee experts attributed a decline in consumption for a number of years to price, competition and an increased percentage of lower quality lower cost green coffee, including not only lower quality Coffea Arabica beans, but also the addition of the lower grown Coffea robusta (species) of bean in blends. This continued decline in coffee cup quality paved the way for the rise of specialty coffee roasters. In the early 70s, Brian and Dave Greene enlisted in the military: Brian in the U.S. Navy and Dave in the U.S Air Force. Near the end of his enlistment, while stationed at Andrews Air Force base (Price Georges County, Md.), Dave Greene would visit Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, during time off. He discovered a small shop on Duke Street a few blocks from the Potomac River, where a man roasted coffee daily in small batches (10 to 20 pounds or so) in what he described as “an imposing machine” called a drum roaster (manufactured by a company named Royal). “A pungent and smoky aroma outside his shop had drawn me in,” he said. The shop offered about eight different origins (specific places where coffee is grown, processed, and/or exported) of roasted coffee – from Colombian Supremo to Venezuelan Maracaibo to Hawaiian Kona and more. “I sampled a brewed Guatemala Antigua and was immediately shocked at how aromatic and flavorful it was,” Greene said. “I’d never had a cup of coffee that tasted this good. After a little conversation with the owner, I bought half a pound of two different coffees, a Guatemala Antigua and a Celebes (an Indonesian island now called Sulawesi) Kalossie. "I also decided to buy a grinder and an inexpensive but special ‘flip-over’ style brewer called a Napolitano or Neapolitan," he recalled. "The knowledgeable store owner (roastmaster) insisted that coffee loses much of its character over short periods of time beginning about an hour after grinding it.” He said that from then on, “wherever I went, I looked for a local, small-batch roaster from whom to buy my coffee. In Houston, where I lived for some time after leaving Alexandria, I found a specialty roaster situated in a neighborhood between my home and my job. "When I came back to Sussex County, New Jersey to live, I could not find a local coffee roaster," Greene said, "so I would buy coffee via mail-order or in Newark or New York City when I got there?” He and his brother, Brian, used to talk about how they could open a small roaster, so people would have easier access to great coffee. Meanwhile, Brian Greene worked for Eastern Propane for years and delivered propane gas before advancing to service specialist. Dave Greene had worked as a Clinical Laboratory Technician from the time the Air Force trained him and was working at the Newton Memorial Hospital (Newton Medical Center). Dave Greene said that when Brian called to ask about going into business together he said he was definitely interested. “With blessings from Brian’s wife, Victoria, and my wife, Ann, we agreed to research the roasting idea and found that we could purchase a new gas-fired drum roaster for $25,000 to $30,000. We eventually bought an American-made (Sand Point, Idaho) 12 kilo gas-fired Diedrich drum roaster,” Greene said. Unable to find a suitable, available location inn Sparta or Newton, they tried Hackettstown. “We contacted a real estate professional, Mr. Hank Monetti, who put us in touch with the owners of the Sasco Insurance Company (313 High Street) in Hackettstown,” he said. “They had an extra space in their building that they wanted to rent. Each of the three partners (now two) were helpful and enthusiastic about our plan.” They opened that shop in 1994, business has grown, and the principals at Sasco have made numerous accommodations for them which has helped them flourish. A year and a half later, the landlord of 31 Theater Center in Sparta called. “We had looked at a space he owned in Sparta whose current renters decided to stay in business and precluded our negotiations,” he said. “The space was now available if we wanted it. In 1996 we opened our second store in Sparta.” Greene said they knew it would be challenging and that consistency, quality, product mix, customer service were all key. “We believed that it could and should also be a fun and creative effort for everyone,” he said. “We strive for that not only for ourselves, but for our employees, our customers, and our vendors. We thank them for their support and offer ours whenever we can.” He believes it would have been harder if they’d concentrated exclusively on the sale of roasted coffee, so made sure to incorporate peripheral ideas an products to help attract people to the store. “We wanted to include tea drinkers in our plans and realized that it would be myopic not to make tea a central part of our focus.” The Greenes try to keep things interesting by offering “limited-edition estate coffees, and signature lattes of the month.” Occasionally they display unusual tabletop items like Polish pottery, and mugs, bowls, and teapots for people to enjoy seeing while they take their break. They also have handmade Chinese Yixing (clay) and Japanese Tetsubin (cast iron) teapots, “niche items which make wonderful gifts.” Opening day they offered coffee by the drip method; espresso, cappuccino, latte, brewed and loose teas, chai latte, herbal teas, muffins and bagels, snacks and sweets, coffee and tea-related gift items. “Our product mix morphs somewhat seasonally, growing or shrinking, and changing... This allows for all of us to be creative while providing products that people want.” Greene noted that they’ve added the “pour-over” drip method. It’s more labor-intensive, especially for individual servings, but it’s worth making it, especially for the large portion of their customers who are adventurous enjoy cold-brewed nitro coffee. Greene's Beans Cafe has maintained their basic concept, while increasingly becoming part of the community, and a destination café. “Customers enjoy having an upscale, unpretentious experience in a comfortable place they can call their own, where people treat them like guests, with courtesy and respect,” he said. “As Brian says, 'our stores offer a broad range of affordable luxuries.'” For most of their roasting, Greene's Beans uses an American made 12-kilo Diedrich drum roaster (mfr. Sand Point, Idaho). Drum roasters apply heat slowly, which allows for the development of complexity and depth of body; it takes 14 to 20 minutes to roast a batch, depending upon the depth of the roast. The drum roaster applies heat via air convection as well as contact with the heated drum. This process amplifies the body of the coffee while also maintaining its brightness. Most popular coffees? Colombian Supremo, Kenya AA, and Sumatra Mandheling, Hazelnut and Maple Walnut. Greene’s Beans Café is owned by brothers Brian and Dave Greene and their wives. Brian has been the roast master since the outset; he also oversees operations. Dave is responsible for purchasing tea and coffee and getting it to the shops. He leads the rest of the team in product purchasing. Gizelle Meert, a family friend, joined the business as bookkeeper/controller in 2007. She has been “the conscience of the business,” Greene said, since then, supervising finances for the business. She meets with vendors and ensures cash flow of payroll, taxes, etc., are closely managed. The general manager, Kelsey Walter, is an MBA graduate of Centenary University in Hackettstown, where she coaches women’s volleyball. Linda Bruscia is the store’s former manager and current lead barista at the Sparta location. Greene said they like to hire locally. “We have had great success recruiting employees from the local community, including the Sparta and Hackettstown High Schools, Sussex and Morris County Community Colleges. We occasionally hire homemakers who have some extra time to commit to a part-time schedule at Greene’s Beans. We have had the pleasure of hiring and employing a retiree or two along the way.” Greene's Beans has locations at 31 Theatre Center in Sparta and at 313 High Street in Hackettstown. For further information, or to purchase coffee or gift items, visit: https://greenesbeans.com.