By Michele Bourdieu
Baristas Lisa Erickson and Luke Palosaari welcome customers to the new 5th and Elm Coffee House location at 326 Shelden Ave., Houghton, on opening day, Jan. 15, 2011. Erickson's special chocolate-caramel bars are hard to resist -- on the counter in the foreground. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)
HOUGHTON -- Coffee lovers in Houghton welcomed the 5th and Elm Coffee House to its new location at 326 Shelden Avenue in downtown Houghton last Saturday, Jan. 15. The coffee aroma is easily detected from the street, even on a snowy day.
Frank Fiala, 5th and Elm Coffee House co-owner, chats with Mary Wright of Hancock, center, and Carol Ekstrom of Houghton on Saturday, Jan. 15, opening day for the 5th and Elm in its new Houghton location.
Co-owners Frank and Emily Fiala recently moved the business from east Hancock and celebrated a "soft opening" last weekend to accommodate patrons coming in to warm up from the Jibba Jabba Rail Jam snowboarding competition downtown, skiers from Mont Ripley and participants in other outdoor events scheduled for the weekend.*
While the full menu was not yet available, the coffee was hot and flowing and sandwich makers were busy in the kitchen preparing lunches.
Rachel Niemeyer, left, and Heather Palosaari prepare sandwiches in the new 5th and Elm kitchen.
Update: The new Houghton location, inside the Hellman Building, is easily accessible from the upper parking deck via the covered pass-through walkway between Swift Hardware and 5th and Elm, from Houghton's lower parking lot via the stairway up to Shelden Avenue right next door or from street parking on Shelden. It is about three times as big as the Hancock store (which was located in Hancock's former Spice of Life bakery), according to Boone Fiala, who manages the original 5th and Elm Coffee House in Calumet. Boone was helping his parents put finishing touches on the new store earlier last week.
Frank Fiala said one reason for the move was to achieve goals they weren't able to achieve in the old (Hancock) location. He is especially looking forward to the possibility of outdoor tables and activities in warm weather because of the terrace adjacent to the Hellman Building.
"To grow our business we just needed more visibility," Frank noted. "One of the goals was to create an outdoor gathering area. We had no potential for that in the old location, but this one gives us the opportunity not only for outdoor seating but for a variety of outdoor activities -- music, receptions, a garden atmosphere. People enjoying our coffee, our food and each other on a summer's night is my primary goal."
The new 5th and Elm will probably be open seven days a week and as late as 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. eventually, Frank added.
"Our hours will vary depending on activities going on and what the demand is," he said. "Today we didn't know what to expect. We just wanted to be open to provide a warm place for the people outside."
Emily Fiala confirmed the new 5th and Elm also has wireless Internet for customers who bring their laptops. In addition to outside seating in warm weather, plans are to have bike delivery for customers, Emily noted.
Emily Fiala, co-owner, washes dishes on opening day at the 5th and Elm. The new location in Houghton is in a building with lots of windows. Even the kitchen has a great view -- of Mont Ripley and the Portage.
Lisa Erickson and Rachel Niemeyer took a break after making sandwiches and coffee for customers. Both of them had worked at the Hancock store and were enthusiastic about the opening day in the new Houghton location.
Lisa Erickson, right, takes a coffee and sandwich break with fellow 5th and Elm food prep-barista Rachel Niemeyer. Erickson noted the Coffee House will continue to offer, in addition to the traditional deli sandwiches, gluten-free bread in sandwiches for customers with special needs.
"I was cleaning the windows outside, and a UPS driver friend said he thought we'd be open two weeks ago," Erickson said. "He said, 'Hurry up!' so we must comply. It's just full of life here!"
Regular 5th and Elm customers Mary Wright, artist, of Hancock and Carol Ekstrom, retired professor, of Houghton said they would continue to meet at the 5th and Elm every Monday to talk about Wright's current storyline project -- a community arts project in conjunction with the Pine Mountain Music Festival's opera Rockland, coming next summer.
"This atmosphere is really conducive to the brain cells clicking -- a good meeting place," Wright noted.
Artist Mary Wright of Hancock, a regular 5th and Elm customer, prepares to leave a generous tip as barista Lisa Erickson smiles in appreciation.
"I just like the coffee," Ekstrom said. "And I really like the soups. The soups are wonderful!"
"Carol and her husband, Peter, are supporters of arts and culture," Wright added, "and Carol is an artist in her own right."
The Ekstroms are both retired professors from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn.
"We came here on our honeymoon, and we've had a cabin here since '81," Carol Ekstrom said. "We just love it up here."
Wright said her favorite coffee drink is a "red eye" -- a shot of espresso in a cup of coffee.
"In case your eyes are bloodshot from a little-rough night, this'll get you going," she explained.
Photographer Adam Johnson of Brockit.com came in from the cold with his daughter Kora, age 7.
Photographer Adam Johnson stopped in for a 5th and Elm coffee with his daughter Kora, 7, at the new location in Houghton on opening day, Jan. 15.
"I have a tab here," Johnson joked. "Since I'm a coffee snob, this place and I work well together."
Lori Geshel of Painesdale, whose son Wyatt was competing in the Jibba Jabba snowboard competition, said she was a first-time customer at 5th and Elm. With her were daughter Aliina, age 9, and her brother, musician Randy Wakeham.
Lori Geshel, left, of Painesdale, her daughter Aliina and her brother, musician Randy Wakeham came in from the cold for hot drinks at the 5th and Elm on Jan. 15. In the background Luke Palosaari, barista, prepares coffee drinks.
Larry Sutter and Patti Lins of Houghton came in for a quick take-out coffee on their way to watch the Jibba Jabba.
"This is a good location," Lins said. "Hope it works out."
Luke Palosaari, barista, serves take-out coffee to Larry Sutter and Patti Lins of Houghton, who were on their way to the Jibba Jabba snowboard competition in downtown Houghton Jan. 15.
Luke Palosaari, barista, served their coffee with his usual efficiency. His wife, Heather, was busy helping make sandwiches in the kitchen.
The 5th and Elm is a family operation with a warm, family-friendly ambiance. At the same time, it's like a French café -- where you can have breakfast, lunch or a snack (like Lisa Erickson's yummy chocolate caramel bars!) or sit with your coffee or espresso (the real thing!) -- as long as you like. Check it out!
*Editor's Note: Click here to see our photos and video clips of the Jibba Jabba Rail Jam.