When Sydney natives Anthea White and Mark Palmer used to take their soul/jazz/pop outfit The Hipstones on the road, it was always a tour goal to find the best coffee in every town and city. “It was always in the most random spot,” says Palmer, which perhaps explains their enchantment with the out-of-the way location they eventually picked to house Village Coffee & Goods.
When the couple bought a house in Midtown Kingston in 2017, they subsisted off trips uptown to Outdated Cafe for their caffeine fix. Before moving upstate full time, Palmer had worked at Partners Coffee in the city and got his barista training at the ripe age of 15. Unlike Brooklyn, which they had just left, the coffee shop scene in Kingston was not over-saturdated. “We thought maybe we could do a little cafe or something,” he says.
Set off-Broadway on the backside of a block that overlooks the railroad, which divides it from Kingston’s otherwise pretty reliable grid, the Village Coffee location is a bit of a trick to find it if you don’t know where you’re going. “The rent was cheap, there was no risk,” White says. They were (very) cautiously optimistic—their first business plan only banked on 15 customers a day. But those 15 customers did come, as did many, many more. On May 21, Village Coffee will celebrate its third birthday, going strong at the Railroad Avenue location. “We like being off the beaten track,” White says. “You’ve kind of have to find it. But once you do, you keep coming.”
Getting into the Grocery Biz
“Off the beaten track” would also be an apt descriptor for the couple’s newest business, Village Grocery & Refillery, which just opened. The location shares a parking lot with Kingston Standard Brewing Co. on Jansen Avenue, a block off Broadway, behind Burger King. Longtime locals will know the spot in its former incarnation as Sunshine Market. Together with the next-door brewery and the whole-animal butchery around the corner, this little .2 square miles is turning into quite the unlikely epicurean hotspot.
White and Palmer are keeping with the grocery concept of Sunshine (much needed in this food-desert end of town), while bringing the farmer-focused, artisanal attitude they cultivated at Village Coffee to the fore. And, of course, coffee. The first thing on your right when you walk in are shelves of bagged Partners Coffee beans and bread from Sparrowbush Farm, Kingston Bread + Bar, and Jon’s Bread. Along the wall, a row of fridges carry grass-fed milk and yogurt, local cheeses, kombucha, organic meat, stock, and ice cream. Straight ahead, the produce case glints with the first local veggies of the season—asparagus, mustard greens, turnips, and foraged ramps, plus a selection of non-local essentials like avocados, citrus, and cilantro.
All the produce is foraged or organic—either certified or practicing—and, with choice exceptions, local. “We want to support our local businesses,” White says. “And we want our community to be healthy and not put chemicals into their bodies. We want people to visualize the farmers when they buy the food. This is someone that is spending all of their time working on the soil, regenerating their land.” While the cost of sustainably grown produce and value-added products is significantly higher than their conventional counterparts, White and Palmer are committed to their principles. They hope to apply for EBT/SNAP soon, to make their grocery store more accessible to all members of the community.
“After the pandemic hit, we straight away started selling groceries at Village Coffee,” White says. “We thought, ‘oh this is kind of cool.’ We’d developed strong relationships with some local farms. We always sold seasonal things like cherry tomatoes, grapes, stone fruit. People trusted us on where our produce comes from. Then we started stocking more root veggies. And people kept saying, ‘Oh can you sell us flour?’ This and that. We’ve always wanted to do the refillery thing, but Village Coffee was just too small.”
Not that the grocery location is much bigger. Don’t be fooled by the full length of the building—Village Grocery & Refillery is only as big as the colorful exterior mural by Jenny Bowskill. The building is owned by the Kingston Standard proprietors, who are aging beer in the other half. With a small retail footprint, curation is the name of the game. “I could never understand why there is a whole aisle dedicated to chips,” Palmer says. “I just want to have one. You don’t need three brands of chickpeas. So we’re making that choice for our customers.”
The refillery part of the name refers to the L-shaped row of bulk goods dispensers that double as a boundary for the kitchen—red lentils, split peas, black beans, chickpeas, dried pasta, nuts, oats, flour, and Village’s famous housemade granola. “We are constantly getting more stuff,” White says. The shelves will change. We’ll have to modify. But the refillery is a really big part that we want to get people to use. We want people to tell us what they want."
Shelves beneath the dispensers stock local goods like honey and maple syrup, as well as pantry staples ranging from sriracha to canned imported San Marzano tomatoes and coconut milk. Another refilling station carries house cleaning products like laundry detergent and dish soap, alongside 100 percent recycled toilet paper, toothbrushes, and cleaning solutions. The bulk weighing system is tied into the POS for a smooth checkout/ordering experience. Create a ticket, weigh your containers, fill ‘em up, and your itemized ticket will be waiting at the checkout counter, where you can also order hot food and a coffee beverage of your choice.
Something to (re)Fill Up On
The fare at Village Grocery diverges from the quinoa bowls of their coffee shop. At the deli counter, you can order a selection of lunch sandwiches. And under newly promoted head chef Jessica Tibbetts, the menu features options like cold peanut noodles ($12), a sushi rice bowl ($12), and Singaporean kaya toast (think sweet and savory: coconut jam and an egg your way, $9), inspired by the CIA grad’s travels through Asia. “We’d like to get roasted pork belly on the menu,” Palmer says. “And we’d love to do Sunday roast, maybe some slow-cooked meats. We’ll be slowly adding things.” Soon, Troutbeck sous chef Daniel Meissner will be heading up a weekly fresh pasta program.
Don’t worry though, you can still find select brekkie sandwiches like the egg-and-cheese on a croissant to pair with your morning latte. Speaking of croissants, another longtime employee, Gabrielle Fuoco, is heading up the baking program at both Village locations, knocking it out of the park with pastries like lemon-cardamom buns, chocolate eclairs, avocado brownies, and danishes, many of which are vegan and/or gluten-free.
“Pretty much everyone that started with us at Village Coffee is still working with us,” White says. “It’s really nice to see that development of our staff. This has not been ‘this other job’ for them, it’s actually been a career move. We didn’t know that would happen. We didn’t know what to expect. So that’s been a really nice surprise. We just hired 10 new staff, and we have another two coming on. Just to have 20 people on your payroll and to see that they are thriving is great.”
Construction is currently underway on an outdoor patio in the back, which will have table service this summer, plus wine and beer as soon as they get their liquor license. Playing off the colorful mural, which is all color blocks and curvy lines, the aesthetic throughout is flirty and light-hearted. The rounded-edge, custom plywood shelving was made at Ian von Miller’s furniture workshop nearby. Oiled soapstone countertops came from Caliber Granite. And atop it all, a cursive neon Grocery sign from Kingston art fabricators Lite Brite Neon beckons.
Village Grocery & Refillery is open daily 8am-8pm.