My neighbors, the coffee farmers, are opening a cafe in Safety Harbor

Kent and Logan in front of sign

Logan and Kent Runnells outside the soon-to-be Cafe Vino Tinto

Lifelong Safety Harbor resident Logan Runnells and her father Kent are set to open their coffee shop, Cafe Vino Tinto, on Safety Harbor’s quintessential American Main Street at the end of this month. The coffee will come directly from the Runnells’ coffee farm in Costa Rica and will be micro batch roasted onsite at the cafe.

Kent, a former Safety Harbor mayor turned coffee impresario, told me, “We’re not going to be just a local coffee shop; we’re going to be a special coffee shop.” Cafe Vino Tinto joins the ranks of locally owned cafes with brew roasted onsite; it is one of, if not the only, coffee shop in the Tampa Bay area that sells coffee sourced directly from the owner’s coffee farm.

 

13 Spilling the Beans

“Spilling the Beans” – Photo courtesy Kent Runnells

For two years Kent and Logan have seduced coffee drinkers with their fresh-roasted brew at Safety Harbor’s Third Friday festival. Now they are setting up shop for good. Nestled between the Safety Harbor Arts and Music Center (SHAMc) and wine bar On the Vine, Cafe Vino Tinto comprises a small kitchen and a wrought iron-wrapped patio reminiscent of the New Orleans’ Cafe Du Monde.

Logan, who will manage the coffee shop, described a cup from the Runnells’ cafe as a simple yet memorable experience built upon the trademark “Pura Vida,” or “Pure Life” mentality of Costa Rica. At Cafe Vino Tinto the focus is plain and simple: serve quality coffee and offer locally sourced goods like pastries, jams and art.

Kent, a real estate lawyer and former mayor of Safety Harbor, had no intention of selling coffee when he bought his farm, Finca Vino Tinto, eight years ago. The farm owes its name to the waterfall it overlooks, which the town locals say “flows like red wine.” In an email Kent explained, “Occasional Spanish speaking persons think we are nuts, stupid even, because they think we have unwittingly named our coffee the red wine coffee. I wish they would just read the bag, the story is on there!”

King of the hill

Finca Vino Tinto – Photo courtesy Kent Runnells

The story goes something like this:

Kent found the farm on a hike off the beaten path in what he describes as a storybook town in a valley of Costa Rica. After having spotted a majestic waterfall, pouring forth at a proud 80’ upper fall and +100’ lower fall, Kent and his guide Rafa made their way to the bottom of the upper of the two falls. Across the valley Kent saw a silver roof and said, ‘That house has a beautiful view of the waterfall!’ and Rafa (his guide) says, ‘Well it’s not a house, it’s a shack. The people that work the coffee are called ‘collectivos’ and that’s where they stay when they’re working the coffee fields. It’s a coffee farm and it’s for sale.” Three days later Kent tracked down the seller and the rest is history.

 

The Coffee Farmer

Showcasing the beans – Photo courtesy Kent Runnells

He bought the farm because of the remarkable views: a waterfall on one side, the Pacific Ocean on the other. That he loved the coffee was a happy coincidence. He brought bags home at first for the simple pleasure of sharing, but the more he brought the more people asked for it. Finally he decided it was time to give a go at selling it. Kent and Logan set up a stand at the Third Friday festival where, Logan told me, they built a clientele base and learned the business of brewing.

“People have been asking for a shop for about a year and a half, but it’s got to be in the right location,” Kent explained. Cafe Vino Tinto is a few hundred square feet, a couple of sinks and a large outdoor patio. The coffee shop will operate in a space shared with Kent’s friends, Todd Ranquist, Kiralinda, and Heather Richardson who use to area to host artistic events under the auspices of the SHAMc.

Kent and Logan foresee future Friday night events at the cafe, where guests can enjoy live acoustic music, beer and wine, tapas, and, of course, coffee. In our interview they also discussed the possibility of eco-tours on Finca Vino Tinto, and their commitment to conducting a perpetual shoe drive for the children of the indigenous and impoverished Panamanian workers who spend their days in the coffee fields.

It’s nice to know where your coffee is coming from, and it’s even nicer when you know it’s coming from good, hardworking people who happen to be your neighbors. No one can deny that we consumers love the idea of local business. We dedicate festivals and create organizations for it. Politicians blabber about it. Tourists eat it up. The trending love for local isn’t just about economics or novelty. Thanks to Amazon and Facetime, we can execute most every human interaction without ever interacting with a human in person. Could it be that our whirring fingers and LED inundated eyes are finally fatigued? Maybe we want local because we are human and we want to share that with others. Or maybe it’s just me.

Happy NY Primary! (This entry has nothing to do about elections.)

Not much new to report on the Cuba front. The news is repetitive: the U.S. embargo/blockade (depending on the source) poses problems, as do Obama, the Castros, and American tourists. Learning Spanish is slow and somewhat steady. I can blame some of my lapse in my writing on time spent studying.
Presently I’m working on a blog about two of my Safety Harbor neighbors who will soon open a coffee shop on Main Street. I found them on a hunt for coffee with Brenden at our first Third Friday celebration, less than a week after we moved here.
Less than a week after we moved here we were in search of a cafe to sit and use the internet we lacked at our temporary place and indulge in our preferred addictive substance. Less than a week after we moved here we ruminated about how on earth it could be that in this picturesque downhome American’s American town constituting just a handful of blocks transected by central Main Street, home to a majestic willow tree so old, wide and grand that it must now be held in place by wires and protected by a black wrought iron fence (and which has become the face of many Safety Harbor postcards and t-shirts), a library, a fire department, a marina, a chamber of commerce with maybe two employees, and a gamut of almost 100% locally owned businesses, restaurants, and bars, the only coffee shop is a Starbucks. It couldn’t be. I’d accepted that life would have to go on without New York pizza, but life without a mom-and-pop coffeeshop? Fugghedaboudit.
Kent and Logan Runnells are not mom and pop, but father and daughter, and they will soon become my coffee patrons so I am forever in their debt. Meeting them less than a week after our devastating realization, and a little over a week after I decided to start blogging again, was as as energizing as coffee.
As a writer, the only vice that plagues me more than too much coffee is overbearing product anxiety. It took a couple of months for the Runnells and I to orchestrate and interview, which we had almost three weeks ago. In between work, Spanish, other necessary studies, and baby Nola, I’ve been pecking at this thing since the day after posting my last blog. So there you have it: my most recent excuse for a delayed publication.
April 2016.jpg

And that’s Sunday

On Community

January 17, 2016
Sunday
Life in a waterfront community is something special. Today we experienced a sunset at Howard Beach Park.
Howard Sunset

Around 5:40pm

Birdy Sunset

5:50pm-ish

Yesterday we watched the sunrise, sittin’ on the dock of the Bay.

Marina Sunrise

Safety Harbor Marina, sun breaks at 7:23am

We sunned ourselves on the white sand of Clearwater Beach in the afternoon. It was sunny and in the 70s. I got a tan. It’s January. The locals are urging one another to “stay warm” during tomorrow’s 50 degree cold front. It’s snowing in Virginia and rigid in New York. *cue Handel’s Messiah*
Last Sunday I had a most epic thrift store adventure. Gone are the days of $30 thrift shop tees. Hello, $5 Banana Republic! Living room set for $75? Yes please.
On Tuesday I enjoyed clam chowder for under $3. Two lovely men in tropical shirts gave Brenden and me all kinds of information on the area. (See my review of Mid Peninsula Seafood here.)
We’ve taken an apartment in Safety Harbor, an intimate water town atop the St. Pete peninsula. Every Friday they have an ordeal called Third Friday, wherein all 200 people who live here gather on Main Street. The street is blocked off so vendors can peddle their wares. I’ve been to many a generic street fair where fried corn, street meat, cell phones, karate lessons, knicknacks, handmade jewelry and just plain junk are peddled. This is not that.
Third Friday Sign

Welcome!

Every vendor is local and unique. Two guys behind a hot fryer deliver Disco Donuts topped with cinnamon, powdered or rainbow sugar. A lady who hates the heat and goes north every summer sells jewelry made from spoons. Two young people give information to prospective Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers.
As you’ve noticed, the tone and purpose of this blog has taken a different direction. Dear nieces and nephews, you are the primary reason I write this blog. I want it to be interesting to you. Listening to me list off stuff I’ve done probably gets old, which is part of the reason I stopped writing. The other reason was of course Cody’s death. It is time to move forward.
I’m making some changes. Instead of just telling you what I’ve done and where I’ve been, I want to show you by sharing stories of the communities I explore. Soon I will be adding profiles of people who, in my opinion, make their community special. Make what you will of that word, community. Whether I’m writing you from VA or NY or FL or ZZ, I am always in a community.
What a packed word, community…
Everyone has a different definition of community. I’ve enjoyed living in a community, but to be a part of community is to belong. To me community means interconnectivity. Cohabitation. Contribution. To belong to a community is to add to its richness. To support it’s success. Here on a Friday night, between the coffee makers and dog treat bakers on a ten-block Main Street that terminates at a Marina on a Third Friday evening, I feel confident that I am closer to the dream of belonging to a community than ever before.
But don’t you even think my adventures are over. Honey, I’ve only just begun…
Noosa

Making friends with the Noosa lady. Noosa is the best yogurt, by the way.

#theadventurecontinues

A lot of life has happened in my almost one year hiatus. On Tuesday, January 5, Brenden and I arrived in Florida, marking the start of a new chapter in our book of shenanigans. Since leaving our home in New York I was terrified we’d made a big mistake. My dad’s goodwilled attempt to prepare me for life in the Tampa Bay area, when he advised me that the diversity of Astoria I’d grown accustomed to would surely not be a part of life in Tampa, only stoked my anxiety. Last year Brenden and I decided to leave the city we worked so hard to live and breathe in, the city we loved. We knew there would be no match for the explosive interculturality we loved in NYC, but our shared love of the beach and outdoor life carried us to buy a car, stuff it with as much as we could, and relocate to Tampa.

We have never been under any impression that the two cities are comparable. We both loved the ironic intimacy of city life and we’re pretty liberal. When we passed a Trump bumper sticker on the way into Tampa yesterday, along with all the earmarks of standard suburbia, ranch houses with ample distance between, scattered two story buildings, sprawling office complexes, low hanging billboards, the wave of fear that culture shock carries ripped through the front seat of our stuff-stuffed mini Honda.

But today we went to the beach. We touched white sand with our toes and we dipped our feet into the turquoise-tinted crystal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We watched the water while we ate seafood on a deck in the sun. (Check out my review of Frenchy’s here.) It’s a new year and I’m still coasting on the loving energy I felt from seeing so many dear ones in such a short time on the way here. In the course of a week I saw parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and dear friends. Many of these people I’ve not seen since before I left VA for NY. These encounters were markers of time. With some time had stood still. Our last visit was seamless to this one. With others it was a meeting of strangers. While living in New York City I learned that time is like a minnow: it’s slippery, incredibly hard to catch, and it has a very short lifecycle. Every moment counts.

My Aunt Jim The Wise once told me that the greatest gift I could give was my time. That’s really stuck with me. I hope this year I will adjust to my new surroundings by spending more time communicating with my far away loved ones and finding ways to make new loved ones. I hope to godabove that I have really learned what I know I learned and that I apply that as I go forward. It’s a game changer. I don’t think I would’ve realized it so soon had it not been for New York.

It’s hard for me to meet new people and put myself out there. It’s hard for a lot of people. As I write going forward I might record my endeavors on this blog. It’s not easy being human, but it’s a lot easier when you have meaningful connections with other humans. If not now, then when?

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