World Travelers Wake Up to Gourmet Coffee at Cleveland Hostel
A new coffee shop in the neighborhood of Cleveland’s West Side Market serves customers from near and very far.
In today’s Quick Bite, we visit the Passengers Café at the Cleveland Hostel.
While most guests upstairs are still asleep, resting up for a day of sight-seeing, Trey Kirchoff squeezes behind the bar in the compact lobby of the Cleveland Hostel. “It’s a little tight, but I used to run cafes in New York, and there was definitely at least one in SoHo that was much smaller. I used to have to hire very
small people to work at that café.”
Kirchoff’s work starts early at the 60-bed establishment.
“I get here at 5:30, and we’re open at 6 every morning, trying to attract that real early morning crowd.”
Long before sleepy-eyed travelers start streaming into the lobby, Kirchoff’s ready to caffeinate them.
Globe-trotter saw opportunity
Kirchoff co-owns the café with Cleveland Hostel’s founder. Mark Raymond is a world traveler from Ashtabula who says he has stayed in about 100 hostels. He decided to own one after watching them open in other cities like Cleveland.
“Buffalo and Detroit , and Indianapolis. I always loved the city and wanted to live here, and so I thought that was a good way to make that happen for myself and also have a hostel in Cleveland.”
Business has been good. For bunk beds at $25 and private rooms at $75 a night, Raymond says guests keep arriving.
“Whether they’re riding a bike across the country, or flying in, or taking the train -- we even had a guy come in on a unicycle.”
Raymond and his family spent more than half a million dollars renovating the late 19th Century Victor Tea Company building on West 25th Street. They put in a communal kitchen, dorm rooms, single rooms and a rooftop patio.
Back-packer Chris Johnson is glad he found it.
“I’ve been on a road trip for about a year and a half now, but it’s great to come to Cleveland and see it, and I can’t wait to make some connections. You hear a lot about it in the media, but I never got to see it until just now.”
Heading home now to LA., Johnson says having a clean, affordable, well-located place to stay helped him see Cleveland.
Café and Hostel dreams unite
Until recently, owner Mark Raymond lived in the hostel, too, to make sure his guests were comfortable. He’d been in business four years, when the café opened in June. That wasn’t long after Trey Kirchoff and Raymond connected at an Ohio City Incorporated merchants’ association meeting.
"He was looking for a similar thing at the time,” says Kirchoff, “so we put our two ideas together and created this space in the hostel.”
Kirchoff is a New Yorker married to a Clevelander. They moved here last year with their 2-year-old son, Gus. Kirchoff admits he would rather make movies than coffee.
“I’m a filmmaker by trade. It’s great when it’s going great, and even then there’s an anxiety of not knowing when your next paycheck is going to come. So in between things, cafes have always been really nice to me.”
After 10 years of managing coffee shops in Brooklyn and SoHo, Kirchoff wanted to open his own cafe.
“I came pretty close a couple of times, but I essentially was going to have to sell my soul or raise an insane amount of capital to open the door, and it made me a little nervous."
"We moved to Cleveland about a year ago, and the opportunity presented itself almost immediately. So if there’s anything I can say for people who are interested in migrating to Cleveland, it’s that there are some real opportunities here to explore ... and get weird with us.”
No frills menu
There’s nothing too weird, though, on the Passengers Café menu. Kirchoff keeps it pretty basic.
“We have two kinds of breads and two kinds of spreads at any time. We do bagels and toast. In addition to that, we have hot and cold coffees and tea and espresso drinks.”
Cleveland Hostel guests have come from as far away as Mauritania, Nepal, and Ethiopia, but the bagels dropping into the toaster come from University Heights.
“A lot of people around here work with Cleveland Bagel Co., who makes a great bagel,” says Kirchoff, “but I was looking for something that was more like a doughy, sort of New York bagel. Bialy’s was the closest to that. They make a really good water bagel, and conveniently we can pick those as well as other produce and sundries up from the West Side Market, which is right across the street from us.”
With those fresh ingredients, Kirchoff makes only two sandwiches. The most popular he says is The Slow Bunny: “Avocado, hummus and sprouts on a bagel or toast. I also offer something called The Hungry Ghost, which is Nutella and bee pollen on toast.”
He says simple, basic nutrition to start the day is all hostel guests really need with so many options for lunch and dinner in West 25th ever-expanding restaurant scene. Kirchoff lives in the neighborhood, too.
"I’ve noticed working at the hostel, it is one of the things that people comment on, ‘I didn’t know there’d be so much variety in the food scene here.”
He thinks there’s a decent coffee scene in Cleveland, too, but Kirchoff’s a stickler when it comes to gourmet coffee.
For drip and iced brews, he imports Ethiopian Guji from Onyx Coffee Laboratories in Springdale, Ark.
"It is the best coffee that I’ve ever had in my life. I sampled coffee from a lot of different places when we were getting this place up and running. Onyx, who I wasn’t familiar with previously, sent me some samples. And they sent me this Ethiopian. It just totally blew my brains out.”
For espresso, he works with Gimme! Coffee of Ithaca, N.Y., Roast Magazine’s 2013 Roaster of the Year. “Just an exceptional balanced, delicious, bready, salty, tasty, hairy coffee. And we are serving their house espresso. It’s called ‘The Leftist,’ which represents their political leanings, which I’m also a fan of.”
The affable host presents every cup with flair.
“The espresso itself, a teeny tiny little saucer, an eeniemeanie little spoon, and these little sugar skulls that can go on the side of an espresso. They’re locally made artisanal sugar skulls, by an artist who lives in the neighborhood named Amanda Plavin. She’s amazing.”
Sugar skulls are a conversation starter at the hostel’s café, but Kirchoff has learned that coffee talk is not a universal language.
“We’ll get Australians in here, and they don’t want a Cappuccino, they want a flat white. They might not be interested in an Americano, they want a long black. You know, different names for similar things.”
For neighbors and passers-by, too
Whatever they call it, Cleveland Hostel owner Mark Raymond knows good coffee in the lobby is more than just a convenience for his guests.
“It’s also bringing in people in the neighborhood into the hostel so they can experience the hostel as well. A lot of people would say that, ‘Oh yeah, the hostel’s great, but I just don’t have a reason to go there,’ if they live two blocks away. So now they do, and they can enjoy the hostel as well, just as people from all over the world do."
Trey Kirchoff puts lots of flower pots on the patio to catch the eyes of passers-by.
"And I put gregarious signage out on the sidewalk, trying to get people to laugh and maybe pop in for a coffee. ‘Hot, hot coffee for your cold, cold heart’ is a popular one.”