Comfort Zone Café in the Village of Hamburg is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Owner Cindy Barrett, who opened it Dec. 1, 1997, said she started simple and expanded over the years with a full menu and retail shopping space.
Now lunch is the busiest time at the café, which features a laid-back atmosphere, but breakfast and evening cappuccinos also keep the staff busy seven days a week, including her daughters Zenia Munger and Lisa Barrett, who also work at the café
While also working the espresso machine, Barrett talked about crafting the perfect hot chocolate, the importance of organic coffee and about a new Valentine’s tea.
Question: What is the secret to your tasty hot chocolate?
Answer: We don’t use a powder mix. We use a sauce - it’s the real deal. First we steam up milk in the espresso machine. We stir in chocolate sauce and top it with real whipped cream. It’s a really rich hot chocolate. We also carry alternative milk like almond milk and soy milk for people who can’t do dairy. We do that with all of our drinks.
Q: What’s the reaction when people taste your hot chocolate?
A: People don’t expect it to be so real. For kids, we don’t steam it as hot – instead of 160 degrees, maybe we would do 100 degrees. A lot of times they’ll come back for more. We have a lot of regulars.
Q: How else do customers warm up on a cold winter day?
A: When we’re talking winter, lattes, coffee, hot chocolate and tea – we have 45 different teas. The Valentine’s blend tea is my new favorite. It’s chocolate rose bud.
We do two soups a day - one is always meat based and one is always vegetarian. One is always cream and one is always clear - so there’s something for everyone. When we make gluten-free soups, we always freeze some so that we have it for people when they ask for it.
Q: Why do you promote organic coffee?
A: We brew six different coffees a day. It’s all Arabica coffee and it’s all the Fair Trade Organic, which isn’t what you find everywhere and that’s a huge difference, it really is if you’re a coffee connoisseur.
When I go to a restaurant I’m always disappointed when you have a nice meal and then you get a lousy cup of coffee. It’s like, "Come on!" A lot of it depends on how you brew it and the temperature of the water and how you grind it fresh and all of that, but the coffee bean is important.
For health benefits you don’t want to be drinking anything that’s full of chemicals. You want to make sure you’re drinking something organic because you drink so much of it. You don’t want to drink pesticides. You have to be careful.
Q: Are most of the customers from the Hamburg area?
A: We get people from all over. We have a lot of regulars from the Southtowns, but people come in off the highway as they’re traveling. We meet people from all over.
Q: You’re open seven days a week and open late as well. How do you draw customers in?
A: We do a lot of breakfast and a lot of to-go orders for people on their way to work. Lunch is our busiest time and also before and after movies at The Palace. A lot of people go out for dinner and come here for cappuccino or dessert – that complements area restaurants.
A lot of businesses come and go, but the village has never been this vibrant. It’s more of a destination than it used to be so we can support more businesses.
*Read Elizabeth Carey's last interview: