The baristas brew blends with caffeine and community at Sheri’s Coffee House in Norwalk.
The shop at 27 Whittlesey Ave. started as a family business, and remains one with another couple at the helm.
It was named for Sheri Thomas, who founded the business in 2004, said Jamie Simpson, now co-owner with partner Morgan Tucker.
Sheri Thomas and her husband, Bill, hoped to restore one of downtown Norwalk’s historic buildings that had become dilapidated.
It also would be home for them and their six children.
“They wanted to create a space that they could raise these kids in to give them a sense of community and ownership, and teach them lessons that only a small business can,” Simpson said. “They were really just unbelievable.”
Simpson first learned about the shop when he arrived from Charleston, S.C., to become executive chef at the Culinary Vegetable Institute, a gourmet test kitchen and event center outside Milan.
In the South, Simpson said he had a downtown apartment and loved the environment.
He inquired about space above Sheri’s Coffee House, but the Thomases already lived there.
Five years later, Simpson met the Thomas family at a chef-for-a-day program at Culinary Vegetable Institute.
That relationship developed and when the Thomas family children were grown, they began a new chapter in Simpson’s old chapter — South Carolina.
Before leaving, Sheri Thomas approached the couple about taking over the building and the business.
“Now, we get to live upstairs,” Simpson said.
Simpson and Tucker took over in June 2018 — and Norwalk noticed.
“It was a big deal in town; the town was nervous,” Simpson said. “We promised the town, we’re not going to mess with it too much.
“It will still be Sheri’s.”
“And we’ve slowly made changes that we hope and believe the community has embraced, but there has been a lot of continuity as well,” Tucker said.
Change happens more through evolution than overhaul, and is aligned with the principles and interests of Tucker, Simpson and managers Shayanna Bleile and Collin Bedard.
Tucker and Simpson said they wanted to build professional and personal connections to the Norwalk community.
That happens cup-by-cup in two locations.
The shop across from Norwalk City Hall has a dozen workers and is open seven days a week.
Sheri’s Coffee House also operates weekday mornings at Fisher-Titus Medical Center, 272 Benedict Ave. in Norwalk.
Bleile and Bedard “have incredible knowledge around the coffee business,” so they handle most daily operations, Tucker said.
Staff members are encouraged to mix ingredients and two of the last three specials were generated by the team.
“We have all these options, just play with them,” Bedard said.
The novel coronavirus pandemic prompted shelter-in-place orders and social distancing rules that slammed restaurants and bars.
Sheri’s Coffee House was no different — but the shop never closed a single day, even in the worst of the pandemic, Tucker said.
Daily coffee became a glimpse of normalcy, even as staff and customers dealt with with touchless pay, social distancing and walking coffee orders through a building not designed for carside service, Bleile said.
Sheri’s Coffee House developed a custom smartphone app and still uses it for remote orders.
One good thing to emerge from the pandemic, is reinvigorated interest in local businesses, Tucker said.
Sheri’s Coffee House supports local businesses — Toft’s Dairy of Sandusky, Chop Drop salads of Huron, flowers from Petal Pushers by Mandy of Norwalk, and more.
“By us projecting the message of supporting local, but actually walking the walk, it means a lot to our customers,” Tucker said. “I think they see that as well.”
Sheri’s Coffee House is nowhere near the size of another ubiquitous coffee retailer whose name also starts with S.
The owners and managers don’t seem to mind.
Small size is a competitive advantage because of the quality control over ingredients down to coffee beans and milk, Simpson said.
And the shop, its owners, managers and workers are part of “this consistent thread of community,” Tucker said.
She worked in Manhattan and Simpson in Charleston, cities that Tucker described as two hospitality capitals of the world.
Bleile and Bedard grew up around Norwalk, first met in grade school and knew each other through their high school years.
They agreed rural or smaller communities can offer quicker trajectories for management and leadership.
“There’s so much you can learn in a big city, but there’s so much you can give in a small town,” Tucker said.
“Work in your hometown,” Bleile said. “You’re going to make relationships that you never thought you would.”
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