To pause upon a delicately roasted and finely brewed cup of coffee and to consider its characteristics can be a way of experiencing that coffee’s twists and turns from the soil to the cup. At the flagship retail coffee shop of Lancaster, Penn.’s Passenger Coffee, which just opened last month, the goal is to guide patrons on that ride.
Passenger was founded as a wholesale roastery roughly two years ago, and shortly thereafter the company served its first drinks directly to the public through the window of a sleek converted Airstream trailer pop-up café. The brick-and-mortar Passenger Coffee location in downtown Lancaster represents a solidification of the new concern’s clean, quality-forward brand identity.
“I’ve been working in specialty coffee since 2000,” Passenger Director of Coffee David Stallings told Daily Coffee News. “Passenger’s been the first project I’ve really wanted to put my name on and really do, as opposed to being an employee. The coffee program has never been so much a question for me, but our brand identity has been a little bit of a question. The Airstream was all about figuring that out. The café especially has made us really dial that up and put a laser-beam focus on our aesthetic.”
Passenger’s 27-seat downtown Lancaster café serves a straightforward menu of traditional espresso drinks prepared on a classic two-group La Marzocco Linea, as well as pour-overs and a carefully curated tea program. Bare white walls and an intentional absence of Wi-Fi serve to direct Lancastrians’ attention away from their portable electronics to their coffee and each other.
“I learned a lot about building cafes and opening beautiful spaces from James [Freeman] while I was working under him,” Stallings told Daily Coffee News of his years at Blue Bottle, during which he helped to establish the company’s Brooklyn, N.Y., roastery. “He has this Tokyo aesthetic to him where it isn’t so much about having a place for people to sit and a place for people to engage; it’s more about coming into a beautiful space and interacting with the coffee. And while I think there’s value in that and it’s beautiful and interesting, in the café that Passenger has just opened, there are plenty of places for people to sit and linger.”
For about a decade, Passenger owners Kyle Sollenberger and Crystal Weaver have been partners in ownership of the timeless, sophisticated Prince Street Café in Lancaster, which is still going strong and now serves coffees roasted by Passenger in addition to full food and drink menus. The duo’s third business project is the upcoming urban boutique Surveyor Hotel, currently nearing completion. All told, their collective enterprise verges on a complete hospitality brand. Yet for expertise in the field of top-quality coffee, it’s Stallings that brings a 16-year specialty CV to the table.
Apart from Passenger, Stallings also currently oversees North American operations for the Norwegian green coffee importer Collaborative Coffee Source, a relationship that started back when he was founding yet another noteworthy Brooklyn roasting institution, Parlor Coffee. “I started as a customer of the Collaborative,” said Stallings, who became the importer’s stateside rep as North American demand for its green coffees took off. Said Stallings, “I’ve kind of got my finger in a lot of pies right now, which is fun, actually.”
The green coffees that pass through Passenger’s Loring S15 Falcon and 1.5-kilo Proaster are therefore sourced from the Collaborative, of course. “It just makes sense to do so,” Stallings said. “I’m cupping all the coffees and selecting them for the Collaborative anyway, so it’d be silly for me to go through all that and then end up buying coffee through someone else.”
Looking ahead, as Passenger Coffee’s flagship settles into a predictable pace and the owners’ focus turns to getting the hotel up and running, Stallings intends to shift the energy spent on building their public-facing brand onto doing the same for their business of supplying other restaurants and cafés. “Now we can take that laser-beam focus and point that in the direction of wholesale,” said Stallings, “and really help our wholesale clients be successful.”