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Art of Business: The Grounds Keepers

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Last Updated: 08/13/2013 4:18 pm
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In the past three years, Muddy Cup coffeehouses have opened in Hudson, Albany, Beacon, Catskill, and Kingston. By summer, there will be locations in Poughkeepsie, Schenectady, and New Paltz. To keep costs down, Svetz and Woodward do most of the gutting and renovating themselves, and they often hire Muddy Cup staff members to help out. Says Svetz, “When we opened the first Muddy Cup, we had no money, so we had to do everything ourselves. We had to improvise. That frugal mentality helped develop the theme of who we are. We don’t want to lose that.”
Doing everything themselves also keeps things fun. At the Kingston store, in addition to helping out with the renovation, Woodward stenciled the painted concrete floors. Svetz hunted down the “cool used furniture”—the booths, the mismatched chairs, the funky tables, and the geometric lamps from the middle of the last century.
As for his 30 or so employees, Svetz declines to call them baristas. He refers to them as staff, or staffers. Svetz and Woodward do not have offices, although they have a bookkeeper “who sits in a little office in Hudson,” according to Svetz. One staff member purchases the coffee for all of the stores. Svetz says, “We didn’t want to use special language for customers to use when ordering. We wanted to keep everything simple. If you look at our menu, everything is completely spelled out. There’s no weird stuff. We have basically one size of really good, house-blend coffee.”
Besides basic coffee choices (house, dark roast, double espresso, cafe au lait, Americano, macchiato, latte, and cappuccino), the Muddy Cup offers a wide selection of flavorings, from apple to toasted walnut. Other beverages include tea (more than a dozen kinds), various hot chocolates (regular, white, and flavored), and “special” drinks, such as the Oreo cappuccino and enhanced lattes (white chocolate and caramel, mint chocolate, chocolate coconut, apple cinnamon, eggnog, and Almond Joy). Nine kinds of fruit smoothies are offered, along with over a dozen flavors of Italian soda.
Each store also carries baked goods, some of which are prepared by local companies. Taste Budd’s of Red Hook has created a special “Mud Bar” confection for the Kingston location.
On weekends, each Muddy Cup location features live music, and on Mondays, open mikes. “Open mikes have always been the cornerstone of our entertainment,” says Svetz. “The open mike in Staten Island has been going on for six years. The open mike in Albany is probably the number one open mike in the city.” Musicians who have played at Muddy Cup coffeehouses include Marshall Crenshaw, B.J. Thomas, and Graham Parker.
Svetz calls the growth of his enterprise “organic.” He says, “People ask us to grow. I still have cities calling us. I still have economic development agencies and building owners who have requested us, who want to give me tours of their town, and who would like us to open up and be a part of their economic renaissance. We are looking at places like that. So if the right city or town, the right building, the right space, and the right person come along, we may open another one.”
The only controversy, so far, has been the opening of a Muddy Cup in New Paltz. The college town is home to a number of caffeine retailers, including The Bakery, the village’s longstanding pastry shop, a Starbucks, and 60 Main, a small coffeehouse that helps support the New Paltz Community Collective, a nonprofit events space and art gallery. Supporters of 60 Main have objected to Svetz opening a Muddy Cup next door. However, when Tobias Devor, the proprietor of 60 Main, was contacted for this article, he said, “We’d like to welcome Jim and the Muddy Cup to the neighborhood, and we look forward to working with him.”
Take a virtual tour of all the Muddy Cup locations at www.muddycup.com.

Muddy Cup Owners Jim Svetz (left) and Brian Woodward in their Broadway location in Kingston. - JENNIFER MAY
  • Jennifer May
  • Muddy Cup Owners Jim Svetz (left) and Brian Woodward in their Broadway location in Kingston.
Exposed, partially painted red brick walls, worn rugs, and eclectic, comfortably worn chairs and tables fill the Muddy Cup in Beacon. Each Muddy Cup location also has an antique glass-and-wood pastry display case. Renovations are extensive, and often involve blasting through walls and lifting ceilings. - JENNIFER MAY
  • Jennifer May
  • Exposed, partially painted red brick walls, worn rugs, and eclectic, comfortably worn chairs and tables fill the Muddy Cup in Beacon. Each Muddy Cup location also has an antique glass-and-wood pastry display case. Renovations are extensive, and often involve blasting through walls and lifting ceilings.

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