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Custom House Coffee Adding Spirits to Beverage Menu

Custom House Coffee is expanding its offerings with alcohol-based products that compliment the coffee house theme.

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

Besides coffee, tea, cappuccinos and lattes with shots of espresso, customers 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.

Custom House Coffee is building upon its existing menu with alcohol-based products that compliment the coffee house theme. The hot and frozen alcohol-based drinks will incorporate many of the coffee or smoothie products already found on its existing menu, such as a “Warm and Fuzzy,” which includes gourmet coffee, Tia Maria, Bailey’s, Grand Marnier and Frangelica liqueurs, or a frozen strawberry daiquiri or pina colada.

The Aquidneck Avenue based coffee house’s move to also offer a limited selection of alcoholic beverages follows a growing industry trend across America, says owner Bob Mastin, who opened the first Custom House Coffee in Middletown in 2002 and a second location in Portsmouth in 2006. The East Greenwich location that opened in 2010—which is under separate ownership—also expanded its menu to include alcoholic beverages earlier this year. (The Portsmouth location cannot, due to its proximity to a nearby church.)

“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, small mom and pop coffee houses to the big chains have moved to also 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.

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