Jul 29, 2014

Custom House Coffee Adding Alcohol to Beverage Menu

While the Portsmouth location will be unable to add spirits to the menu, Custom House's Middletown location will be expanding its offerings to alcohol-based products.

Custom House Coffee Adding Alcohol to Beverage Menu Custom House Coffee Adding Alcohol to Beverage Menu Custom House Coffee Adding Alcohol to Beverage Menu

Ordering an extra shot at in Middletown will soon have new meaning.

Besides coffee, tea, cappuccinos and lattes with shots of espresso, customers will soon be able to order such coffee-based drinks as an Espresso Martini, Irish Coffee, or frozen mudslide, or a bottled beer or glass of wine touting the labels of local breweries and vineyards. While the Portsmouth location of Custom House cannot add these beverages to the menu due to proximity to a nearby church, the business did add the offerings at its East Greenwich site earlier this year.

The Middletown coffee house’s move to offer a limited selection of alcoholic beverages follows a growing industry trend across America, according to owner Bob Mastin, who opened the first Custom House Coffee in Middletown in 2002 and the second location in Portsmouth in 2006.

“I get all the trade magazines and it seems to be the growing trend,” Mastin said. “It’s common to see these all over Europe, where you can find have both options at one establishment.”

Mastin sees the trend emerging during a challenging economy where café owners are making the most from their establishments being community-gathering spots. Whether to socialize, have a business meeting, read a book, study, catch up on work or relax, customers are looking for more reasons to stay and linger at the coffee houses.

But there are only so many coffee or tea beverages customers will drink or buy in one day, no matter how large or loyal the customer base.

Over the years, both small mom and pop coffee houses and the big chains have moved to offer everything from sandwiches, pastries, desserts and salads, to internet access, arts and entertainment.

“Anything you can do to increase the frequency of their visits and increase the ticket price of each visit is a good thing,” Mastin explained.

Custom House's coffee, tea and espresso-based drinks will continue to run for $2 to $4, while the alcohol-based products will sell for between $5 to $9 each.

“The margin on coffee or tea is as large if not larger than on alcohol,” Mastin said. “But people might order two rounds of beer, but not two rounds of lattes.”

Serving the two products also will be treated differently. Unlike the coffee drinks, smoothies and food served at Custom House, no alcohol will be ordered at the counter. The wait staff will take all drink orders and serve the alcoholic beverages table-side.

But make no mistake—Custom House Coffee is not turning into a bar or tavern. Mastin is adamant about this point.

“If you’re going to come in here and order a gin and tonic, you’re not going to find it,” Mastin said. “I want it to be secondary, kind of like how tea is secondary.”

Instead, he hopes the alcohol-based drinks will increase the daily lunch traffic as Custom House provides another local venue for business meetings. He also hopes the expanded drink menu will make Custom House Coffee a post-work stop-off to unwind.

Mastin received his liquor license from the Town of Middletown last month and currently is going through the process of training staff and getting them certified to serve alcohol and getting health department approvals.

Custom House Coffee will likely begin serving alcohol by late October or early November, said Mastin. Hours of operation might be expanded to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays if the coffee house sees customer demand for it, he said.

For more information, visit the Custom House Coffee website.

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