In the Adirondack Mountain area in upstate New York, Origin Coffee Co. has locations in two nearby towns, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. It is no coincidence that both shops are located on Main Street of their respective towns.
Origin Coffee Co. is the quintessential Main Street café, where locals come to congregate for coffee, munch on a fresh blueberry muffin, or dine on home-made lunches.
Its owners, Mike Barillari and Carolyn Bordonaro, who are business partners, acquired it in February 2022, using what Barillari calls their “own hard-earned money through years of working 60 plus hours a week in hotel and food beverage since we were teenagers.”
Both had run the Madalin Hotel in Tivoli, N.Y., and then Barillari served as executive chef at the Crowne Plaza Resort & Golf Club in Lake Placid and Bordonaro was director of sales & marketing at the historic Hotel Saranac.
Two local Origin Coffee Co. shops in the Lake Placid area are appealing to locals and tourists and finding success, despite several challenges.
Lake Placid, a town of 3,000 residents, is where the winter Olympics took place in 1932 and again in 1980, when the USA men’s hockey team achieved its Miracle on Ice victory when they beat the heavily favored, more experienced Russian team and Eric Heiden won five gold medals in speed skating.
It’s still the training center for the US Olympic winter teams for skiing and ice-skating, helping Lake Placid draw throngs of tourists, particularly in the warmer months.
Getting involved in the community, knowing their customer, and aiming to treat their staff well are the hallmarks of owning a café in small-town America, Barillari suggested. “We display rotating local art, highlight local producers on our menus, volunteer and support local organizations,” he said.
It also hired additional staff to produce more efficient service. Between the two shops, it has grown to 20 employees, and most staff takes shifts at both shops, creating flexibility between them.
But running two coffee shops in small town presents challenges. “It’s a tough spot to find purveyors, and staffing is always a balancing act,” he acknowledged. They’ve established a network of 20 purveyors, work with local farmers, and still make occasional emergency trips to local grocery stores.
Hospitality is critical to its success. Staff is trained to greet guests as they walk through the door, and create a conversation beyond, “What can I get for you?”
Its clientele is about 40% locals in high season and can rise to 70% locals in winter, though Lake Placid still manages to attract tourists year-round.
Co-owner Bordonaro focuses more on accounting, bookkeeping and social media, and Barillari is more “boots on the ground” and doing daily hiring and overseeing staff.
Barillari had worked in larger hotels in the past and prefers being an entrepreneur where he can “curate the workplace and create the atmosphere he wants.”
Why It Closes Early
Each Origin Coffee opens at 7 a.m. but closes at 2 p.m. Closing early each day ensures “quality of life for our staff and ensuring a great customer experience every time, and there is a sales component as well,” Barillari said.
“We know some people like to drink coffee late in the afternoon but not enough for us to risk staff challenges and burnout,” he added.
It buys coffee beans from Coava, a Portland, Oregon coffee roaster, known for its unique blends and Ethiopian blends.
50/50 Split Between Food and Coffee Revenues
But Origin Coffee, more so than most coffee shops, emphasizes home-made food. “We bake our own buttermilk biscuits, focaccia, and baked goods in-house,” Barillari noted. Yelp responders praised its avocado toast and frittatas, and its breakfast burrito and turkey brie sandwiches are perennial best sellers. In fact, its food and coffee sales are split 50/50.
It introduced a new drink Sweater Weather last winter, consisting of a double shot of espresso, with local maple syrup and steamed milk, which has proven so popular that it stays on the menu year-round.
In Saranac Lake, its location is at the center of town, near several art galleries, the Book Nook and the Adirondack Center for Writing, but in Lake Placid, it’s off-the-beaten track, away from the main part of town, where there are ample t-shirt and gift shops and some eateries including Starbucks.
Barillari loves its location off-center and “could never afford the absurd rents on Main Street in Lake Placid. Locals find us,” and yet they’re in walking distance to the town’s nexus.
Consumer feedback on Yelp tended to be positive with some exceptions. For example, Alex, a tourist from Washington, D.C, said the Lake Placid store, “excels because it combines cheerful ambiance with quality food and drinks. Their oat matcha honey latte is among the better machas I’ve ever had.” But Kamil from New York City found the breakfast sandwiches rather dry and needing some sauce.
Opening a third coffee shop isn’t being “ruled out,” he said, but they don’t want to dilute their customer service. But they are introducing a mobile espresso cart for music festivals and special events.
Asked the keys to its sustained success, Barillari replied: 1) It’s all about the staff, 2) Keeping the general economy strong so people have discretionary money to spend, 3) Maintaining consistency with the guest experience.