The saying, “out of the mouths of babes,” resonates with Rick Hawtrey, owner of Capital Joe Coffee, right across the street from the Capitol Complex.
It was Hawtrey’s young son who urged him to move from Wisconsin in the mid-2000s, when his job as an information technology consultant had him traveling on a weekly basis to places like Washington, D.C., New York and Harrisburg. So, Hawtrey followed the boy’s advice and moved his family to central Pennsylvania in 2009, putting him closer to work and allowing him more time with his family.
It also set him down a new and unexpected path.
Hawtrey, a native of Milwaukee, purchased the Forster Street building that houses the coffee shop two years ago, using it then as the office for his IT business. But when the state, one of his biggest clients, couldn’t make timely payments for services because of a prolonged budget impasse, it got Hawtrey wondering what to do next. That’s when he realized he was in a prime location, not just for an IT shop, but for a coffee shop as well.
“We love coffee, coffee loves us,” he said. “We weren’t experts, but we put in the time and did the research.”
He approached Square One Coffee in Lancaster. Even though Capital Joe could have roasted its own coffee, Square One brought another dimension as a highly regarded roaster of small-batch coffees. Capital Joe, then, could tap into this established reputation and brand recognition.
Whatever We Can
Capital Joe’s charming 19th-century building sits across from the Keystone Building.
Visitors who walk through the door are hit immediately by the aroma of brewing coffee and treated to an invitingly quaint space with small table and chairs, old photos from around the Harrisburg area, and even a flat-screen TV mounted on the original brick walls. An indoor lounge anchors the back side of the building.
There’s a mission with each cup. Next to the tip jar are jars to support the Bethesda Mission and Morning Star Pregnancy Services. Anyone in uniform—police, firefighters, paramedics—is treated to a discount.
“We do whatever we can for the community,” Hawtrey said.
Mathias Cabell is usually the first face customers see. Cabell, Capital Joe’s general manager, had worked at Hawtrey’s IT company and previously sold cars at Red Lion Chevrolet in York County. Like Hawtrey before him, Cabell also relocated to the area to be closer to work, and his personable style and bright smile attract customers immediately, Hawtrey said.
“I knew nothing about coffee, and it has been a learning experience,” Cabell said. “But I went through the Square One training program, and I’m learning something new every day. I feel comfortable, and Rick believes in me, so that is why I do this.”
In addition to roasted coffees, Capital Joe offers 10 varieties of loose-leaf teas and a small selection of baked goods that are made by Hawtrey’s wife at their second location in the old police station on Main Street in Mechanicsburg. They offer three types of muffins, three kinds of biscotti and two types of cookies. In the fall, many of the treats are infused with pumpkin and seasonal spices. But the pumpkin spiced coffee is always available. Hawtrey and his team also are planning hot caramel apple cider, shoofly pie latte and lavender lemonade and lavender lattes, and soon will introduce a baked oatmeal cake.
“Our staff is always coming up with new ideas for drinks, and we are always looking to expand our menu,” Hawtrey said.
He hopes to open more shops, beyond the Harrisburg and Mechanicsburg locations. His first priority, however, is making sure his staff feels as though they are part of the family, especially as the business grows. For now, the Capital Joe philosophy is simple, Hawtrey said.
“Good drinks to make people happy.”
Capital Joe Coffee is located at 418 Forster St., Harrisburg, and 36 W. Main St., Mechanicsburg. For more information, visit www.capitaljoe.com.