By Carol K. Dumas
Kate Corliss worked years in the restaurant industry, serving, hosting and managing.
“I have done fine dining, pubs, Mexican, sports bars and martini bars in the Boston area,” says the Yarmouth native, who first started out in the business at the age of 17.
But when it came to opening her own business, she was sure Cape Cod didn’t need another bar.
“I was in the industry because of the people,” she explains. “I believe we needed more places for people to gather, to meet and work as well as grab a coffee, and a place where families were welcome. And I’ve always been a coffee person!”
She and her husband Mark’s vision was to offer great coffee, sandwiches made from the freshest ingredients and delicious pastries, amid a welcoming atmosphere. Their motto: “We treat people right.” Old King’s Coffeehouse opened in June this year, just before the high tourist season got underway on Cape Cod.
The lines out the door all summer was a testament to their instant success.
The former Steve & Sue’s ice cream parlor on Route 28 was transformed into a cozy open space for casual dining for families, singles working on their laptops, tradesmen grabbing a coffee on their way to work, or business people meeting up with clients. The décor is simple with an urban hip vibe: brick walls, dark wood tables and high tops and cozy booths speak to the variety of customers they hoped to attract. Blackboards advertise the breakfast and lunch menu. Plenty of outlets are located along a wall for people wishing to work on their laptops or charge their cellphones while lingering over coffee or a meal. In good weather, the deck offers outside dining.
Corliss’s experience managing restaurants shows in the purposeful flow that guides customers to the menus, counter and dining area. Breakfast and lunch is offered seven days a week in this prime Route 28 location.
While Corliss had managed restaurants in her career and her husband owns a business (Spilt Milk in Hyannis), she realized a learning curve lay ahead for this new venture. A graphic designer, Corliss knew what she wanted the coffee shop to look like, but a business plan was something that required research.
“If you put in the time and soak up as much knowledge as you can, it will work out,” says Corliss. “I read a lot of books, took courses, reached out to friends with coffee knowledge and yes, tried a lot of coffee.” They looked at several locations and decided this structure would be perfect: it had an established kitchen, space for dining, a parking lot and was located along a busy strip of Route 28, near Hyannis, the hub of the Cape.
She structured her studies at Cambridge College around business management and field-tested coffee roasters, eventually deciding on a Kingfield, Maine roaster who offered globally-sourced beans. “I selected a blend for medium and light and then a very specific one for dark roast, my favorite,” she says. The coffeehouse offers a house-made cold brew (“It took months to perfect), as well as seasonal ice teas on draft, hand-crafted seasonal espresso drinks and a constantly evolving smoothie menu.
“I brought in my own ideas and combined it with what most people wanted,” Corliss describes the simple, yet creative menu.
For breakfast, choices are three kinds of egg sandwiches, a breakfast burrito (“I eat it every day,” Corliss says), overnight oats and yogurt and fruit as well as bagels and house-made doughnuts and muffins, among assorted pastries. Lunch items include sandwiches and salads including their signature OKC BBQ Chicken (marinated grilled chicken breast, barbecue sauce, bacon, sharp cheddar), and some kid- friendly grilled cheese and peanut butter and jelly. Instead of the usual English muffin or bread, sandwiches are served on the OKC Muffin, a nod to Corliss’s childhood.
“My dad used to bring home the most amazing Portuguese sweet rolls for Sunday breakfast,” she recalls.
As particular as she was about the coffee, Corliss sought out the best ingredients for food items.
“For our egg and cheese, I use the best sharp cheddar I could find and it has two eggs, not one like many places. I offer chicken sausage as a healthier option. We broil fresh chicken to grill and nothing is pre-packaged. Our cookies are from ‘Kayak Terry’ (Hyannis cookie making company) and we make our doughnuts and muffins.”
As summer turned into fall, Old King’s Coffeehouse added soups and autumn-inspired drinks. Other seasons will likewise inspire slight tweaks to the menu. While the summer crowds have faded, the coffeehouse remains busy and well supported by the community.
“It’s great to have the locals venturing in now that the crazy summer has passed,” says Corliss. “We had lines out the door every weekend and most week days throughout the summer. Now we have local businesses, schools, sports teams, medical personal, first responders, and straight hard workers coming in on a daily basis.”
Having been born and raised on Cape Cod, Corliss recognizes the importance of supporting the community and part of her business plan is giving back through fund-raising and special events. In October the proceeds from sales of a pink doughnut will benefit Cape Wellness Collaborative to help women, men, and children with cancer. “We have over a dozen companies who have agreed to match our funds raised and donate as well,” Corliss adds.
At the end of the month, they’ve planned a pumpkin decorating contest for children and families, in November, a community Thanksgiving dinner will be offered to those without a place to go, and around Christmas, participants will be invited to shop for a foster child or teenager.
Running a business, being a mom to a 3-year-old, maintaining her graphics design business and coaching girls soccer at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School is how Corliss rolls.
“If you’re going to live here, you should be part of the community,” she says.