Skip to main content

Cecil County Life

Coffee and conversation flow in Rising Sun

Oct 31, 2018 08:37AM ● By J. Chambless

The interior of the café is warm and inviting, providing patrons a place to meet for coffee and conversation.

By Drewe Phinny 
Staff Writer

Coffee has always had a special significance for Angelina (Angie) Izzo Vanderhoef.

“To me, coffee is not just a cup of coffee,” she said. “It’s more the way the Italians do it. They sit and they enjoy the time together in a space where they gather, and that’s what we wanted to provide. Coffee can be a date, or a gift, it can be a moment, an experience – so many things you can do. It brings people together.”

As a child, Angie took great pains to prepare her father’s coffee exactly the way he wanted it. That family tradition has a lot to do with the way she treats customers. Angie and Jeremy Vanderhoef are the proprietors of Rise ‘N Grind Café, the first startup business in Rising Sun in 12 years. It's at 8 E. Main St.

The couple also owns the adjacent building. They initially considered that place for their new venture, and planned on tearing down the other property to use the land for a parking lot. “Then I just fell in love with this building,” Angie said, “even though it had red carpet wall to wall, and things were falling down and it was a mess, there was just something about it.”

Jeremy, who also leads a small construction crew, handled most of the remodeling. “We redid the floors, but the building (which previously housed Verizon) was solid,” he said. “It had great structure. We tore down some walls, put up some new ones.”

He pulled out some photos that showed how things looked previously. “You can tell this was easily the worst building on Main Street. So we’ve taken it from the worst to the best,” he said.

Angie reaffirmed her belief in the place, despite its challenges. “It was a disaster, but there was something about it. I fell in love with it,” she said. “I actually had a premonition. This is just my coffee shop. It felt like a cottage to me, and that’s what I liked about it. There was shape to the building. It had character. I just thought it was the perfect coffee shop.”

As the process took shape, Angie was pretty particular about the colors. “At one point, we had nine different shades of gray on the ceiling. And I would be like, 'That’s too blue, that’s too purple, that’s too gray,'” she said. “Jeremy painted the whole thing, and I said, 'I don’t like it,' and he had to redo it. I’m not usually that picky, but I wanted it to be perfect.”

As important as the aesthetic aspects of the coffee shop are to Angie and Jeremy, the product is vital to their success.

“Everyone has been so supportive,” Angie said. “It’s been incredible. People said this is the best latte they’ve ever had – the best coffee.”

It all starts with the provider that roasts the coffee beans. “Square One is the roaster,” Angie explained. “We want to use as much local as we can. Even though we went from New York to Annapolis looking for a roaster that we really like, we decided on Square One.” The company is based in Lancaster, Pa.

The two varieties of beans grown commercially are Arabica and Robusta. “There’s a difference between the two and these are all Arabica,” Angie said. “They’re specialty for sure, which means they are not mixed with anything else. The elevation figures into it, the different beans and where they’re from. It’s a great specialty coffee.”

Coffee is the top priority, but Angie takes similar pride in the other offerings. “We get our ice cream from Keyes Creamery, in the Aberdeen-Churchville area,” she said. “They’re a small, local dairy farmer and a wonderful family. They produce it when I call, so it’s fast-order. They don’t have it sitting around; they wait for me to call. We visited six or seven creameries and got chocolate samples. We really did our research. I wanted our customers to be wowed by it.”

In fact, Angie got her large Italian family to sit down for a blindfold taste test. “And Keyes Creamery was a huge favorite,” she said. “It’s really super creamy. They actually use Jersey cows.” And, of course, the most butter-fat. “We have cones, we do sundaes, we do milkshakes. We do it all,” she said. “Some people actually come in for the ice cream.” Other food features include bagels and pastries.

At Rise ‘N Grind, customer service is more than just words. “When we hire our employees, we can train them how to make the drinks, but there’s more to it,” Angie said. “Part of the uniform is going to be a smile. You always have to have a smile on your face. Because if this is a gift to the community, I want them to feel welcome when they’re here. I want them to enjoy their time here.”

One of groups that has found its way into a late-morning routine is mothers who are raising families. “I thought people were starving for something to do with their families. I know we wanted a nice place to go with our kids, a nice, safe place for them to go and hang out,” Angie said. “I was a stay-at-home mom for a couple years and I remember it was so hard to do that. So we wanted a place for those moms to bring their kids.”

As it turns out, Jeremy said, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. is the busiest time at Rise n’ Grind, and many folks are those mothers and their children, visiting with others who share similar interests. There’s a great sense of community and warmth.

Another priority for Angie is to accommodate as many customer needs as possible, with a concern for inclusiveness. “I wanted something for everyone – people with gluten allergies, so we have those items, and people who couldn’t have milk, we have soy and all the different milk options. We have sugar-free, and that includes ice cream. We wanted something for everyone, something for the town.”

The Rise ‘N Grind logo was created by Shepherd Design. “Joe Shepherd came up with that,” Angie said. “He’s a great guy,” Jeremy added. “We got introduced to him through this process. He’s a great find. He’s fantastic.”

Jeremy added that all the subcontractors are from Rising Sun. “We take pride in staying local,” he said.

During this interview, many residents stopped in to congratulate Angie and Jeremy on their successful start, and some asked what they have in mind for “the other building.”

In a town of approximately 2,000 people, one or two new businesses can make a real difference and even give rise to other start-ups. So there is a lot of interest in what might be the next step on East Main.

“I’ll start the renovations real soon and we’ll see what ends up popping up there,” Jeremy said. He is anxious to speak with interested parties about ideas for an appropriate business there.

Angie’s Italian heritage is the emotional component that plays a role in how she and Jeremy approach all aspects of operating Rise ‘N Grind Café, from the actual coffee preparation (as she did for her father), to the extra care Angie takes to make sure every person leaves with a smile.

“I give hugs to my customers I’ve never met before,” she said. “We tell family stories, and by the end of it, they’ll get tissues for people because they get so emotional. I want to let them know that they’re taken care of. I want my kids to see that.

“I wanted to win this town over,” Angie said. “I really poured my heart and soul into this and I’m hoping that it shows. I’m hoping that they feel it.”

Of course, new businesses are filled with many challenges. “There are two people that told me it wouldn’t work out. And I said, 'Come hell or high water, I’m going to show those people.'”

For its tea and beverage products, Rise ‘N Grind uses HumanKind. For every bottle of iced tea that is sold at the coffee shop, the organization promises 50 gallons of clean drinking water to places in Africa and Kenya.

In the future, Angie is working on a special night for Cecil College. “I think it would be really nice to have an open mic night, or maybe karaoke or poetry readings once a month,” she said. “Something they would enjoy.”

Facebook is filled with glowing reviews, and Angie is more than happy to print those positive comments and show them to her young employees, the baristas who work hard making the different coffee drinks. “I want them to know they are the reason for these compliments. Look what you did! You were part of this person’s day and he or she was so happy because of you. You give them something to be proud of. I think that really goes a long way.”

The following post is indicative of the overwhelmingly positive response to Rise ‘N Grind:

“This coffee shop is just a happy place. The atmosphere is so bright and positive. Adorably decorated! The staff is super friendly and show you that they appreciate your business. The coffee was sooo good and the bagels are to die for. This will be my new go-to place!”

Rise ‘N Grind Café is open from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On Wednesday, the hours are 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturday, the hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Cecil County's free newsletter to catch every headline