By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Cafe II is the second time around for Mark Johnson in more ways than one.
In the middle of June, Johnson opened the Cafe II Coffee Shop and Bakery in the Colfax Arts and Antique Mall.
The coffee shop occupies the space previously occupied by Lynn’s Brewed Awakenings.
“We have the antique mall and a flower division. So now we have a coffee shop too. It is also the second time I have operated a coffee shop, bakery, restaurant here in Colfax in this building. So it’s the second time around. It’s a double meaning,” Johnson said, noting that the first bakery he operated in the building was 28 years ago.
“I’ve learned a thing or two in the last 28 years,” he said.
“Having a 28-year-gap from when I had the previous bakery until now, the life experiences I’ve had, the traveling, working in different restaurants, bakeries, and businesses. The second time around, we’ll do things differently. The economy is different. The world is different. The eating habits are different,” Johnson said.
When the space previously occupied by Lynn’s Brewed Awakenings became available, Johnson said his dream of having another coffee shop and bakery began to look as if it could become a reality.
“A number of former customers of (Lynn’s Brewed Awakenings) asked if someone else was going to open a coffee shop, and I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ And I did. It took a couple of months to put it together. I put a lot of thought and planning into it. June 16 was the official licensed first open day,” Johnson said.
Since Johnson also owns the Colfax Arts and Antique Mall and Flowers 2 Go, it is a natural progression to combine those two businesses with the coffee shop and bakery.
The décor in the coffee shop could change from day to day, depending on what antiques or collectible items have sold and which vendors have brought in new items, Johnson said, noting that because he also has the flower shop, he decided fresh flowers on the coffee shop tables would be a nice touch.
The coffee shop has a cluster of tables where customers can be seated if they choose, but the coffee shop also has a sitting area with rocking chairs and small end tables located close to book shelves of collectible books and a rack of collectible magazines and other publications where coffee shop clientele can sit and relax.
Johnson says several groups that used to meet regularly at the previous coffee shop have returned to Cafe II, and that in fact, any group looking for a meeting space is welcome at the coffee shop.
“Groups also have asked about renting the room. We welcome any group that would like to meet here. The Colfax Commercial Club has been meeting at Cafe II recently,” Johnson said.
“We’ve changed up a few things and have kept a few things. And we will add as it goes. We will try something a few times, and if there is no interest in it, we will weed it out and go from there,” he said.
Cafe II features Berres Brothers Coffee, a brand that other establishments in town used to carry but no longer offer.
“I found out that no other establishment that sells coffee is offering that brand, so I picked them up, and they are actually a Wisconsin roasted coffee. I decided to keep just one flavor of coffee, breakfast blend and decaf. We have flavored syrups if someone would like a flavored coffee,” Johnson said.
Berres Brothers Coffee Roasters Inc. is located in Watertown.
“Probably during the holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, some of those fancier Christmas blend coffees with a little flavoring might sell better. I have been finding for the regular day-to-day Norwegian coffee drinkers in town, hot black coffee is what they want,” he said.
“Sometimes I like a little sprinkle of cinnamon or chocolate powder on top of my coffee. I also have nutmeg. That’s there for anyone to sprinkle on their coffee if they like,” Johnson said.
“If you come in and enjoy a cup of coffee in-house, it’s $1 per cup, but we also have 16-ounce and will soon have a 20-ounce to-go cup. But if you want to come in and sit in the coffee shop, it’s all the coffee you can drink for $1,” he said.
Cafe II offers speciality coffee drinks as well: Espresso, Latte, Cappuccino, Mocha (a chocolate syrup base), white chocolate and carmel.
Italian Sodas (carbonated water and flavored syrups) are available, too, along with chillers and smoothies.
The chillers can be ordered either with or without shots of Espresso coffee, Johnson said.
The chillers are a powdered blend of flavor mix, ice, milk and coffee, and the fruit smoothies are a fruit-based drink made with ice and milk.
Johnson said he strives to keep the baked goods at Cafe II “fresh and rotating.”
“I have added on a variety of baked goods, mostly based on what I want to bake that day,” he said.
On any given day, Cafe II clientele might find fresh baked blueberry or banana nut muffins, chocolate chip or molasses cookies, a cinnamon-roll pull-apart caramel bread called Monkey Bread, turnovers, or Danish pastries.
“I make small batches so the baked goods are fresh on a rotating, daily basis. Right now I have four different cookies: chocolate chip, molasses, white chocolate with macadamia nut, and peanut butter,” Johnson said.
“What I have geared up for is the sit-down coffee shop if people want to come in for baked goods with their coffee … I am banking on small batches, fresh, rotating. So come in often! You never know what you will find,” he said.
Still, if someone wanted to order fresh-baked cookies or pies (either fruit or cream pies) or a birthday cake or a sheet cake, Johnson said he would be happy to work with customers to make what they want.
Johnson also has been experimenting with a Scandinavian almond cake.
“One of the customers who is a booth vendor in the antique mall brought in a recipe and said a bakery up north sells the almond cake and that she thought it would do well here. So I’ve been playing around with recipe,” Johnson said.
Customers of the previous coffee shop also have asked about soup and sandwich lunches.
Lynn’s Brewed Awakenings offered soup and sandwiches, and prior to that, the Country Shoppe, which later became the Farmhouse, served soup and sandwich lunches.
“That’s the plan for the future,” Johnson said, noting that this fall when the weather is cooler and people are more inclined to eat soup, he will work on adding soup and sandwiches to the menu.
“I try not to triplicate or duplicate what other establishments in the village are selling. When it comes to soup and a sandwich I am going to take my time and think about what I can make that is totally different than what my fellow businesses are offering,” he said.
“Competition is good, but if there are five places that make a hamburger … when people come in and ask where’s a good place to eat, I ask what they are looking for. Pizza. Family style sit-down restaurant. Burgers and fries in a bar-type restaurant atmosphere … what I add on will be something unique to the cuisine in Colfax,” Johnson said.
Johnson says he has a very good support base of family and friends who have helped immensely with running the shop.
He also says he is happy to see positive developments, such as the village’s plan for the East View residential lots and discussions about expanding library services.
Keeping retail storefronts open “is what is going to help all of us. The business owners working together is important,” Johnson said
Cafe II is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and is open Saturdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For more information, call 715-704-6086.