(Updated 7:30 p.m.) It isn’t easy being an independent coffee shop with only a handful of part-time employees, especially one outside of a Metro corridor in chain-heavy Arlington.
The cafe was full for a Wednesday at mid-morning (March 28), and two baristas scrambled to fill orders quickly while chatting with an ARLnow reporter. On a normal day, the shop sees about 50 customers.
Most customers who walked up to the counter had something positive to say about Sense of Place Café, even if they hadn’t yet tried the shop’s specialty coffee.
“You’re getting a lot of great press on the Mothers of North Arlington listserv,” one woman said to a barista as she ordered coffee, adding that she hadn’t heard of the place until recently but was happy to have more options in the area.
The coffee shop is located at the Arlington Forest Shopping Center, at 4807 1st Street N., and difficult to get to if one doesn’t live in the neighborhood or have a car.
“The size of this mall, it’s not a really busy mall,” explained the coffee shop’s co-owner, Kim Seo, pointing out the next door Brick’s Pizza as the shopping center’s main attraction. “It’s kind of frustrating, not many people come here.”
It’s about 1.2 miles away from the Ballston Metro station, which, according to Google Maps, is a 24 minute walk away. A lot of customers are within walking distance, Seo explained, but many Arlingtonians aren’t aware of the shop or how to get there.
But Seo has found ways to stand out, even if the shop faces geographical challenges. She focuses on the store’s own unique Enzymo Coffee brand, which ferments for two weeks before in-house roasting, and a mushroom tea with “high levels of antioxidants.” She also posts frequently on the shop’s social media channels.
Seo added serving a variety of flavors has helped her and her sister, Kay, the shop’s licensed barista, grow the business.
Listening to customers’ needs, like expanded weekend hours, has also helped. Previously, the coffee shop was open Monday-Saturday, but now has dropped the Monday hours and is open Tuesdays-Fridays from 7 a.m.-3 p.m., and Saturdays-Sundays from 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Kim did this to capture the weekend crowd, which she says is easily her busiest time, and now she sees more people come and enjoy a cup instead of rushing to work.