Sue Pera lives by the motto, “Strong women drink strong coffee.”
The co-owner of Camp Hill’s Cornerstone Coffeehouse even offers T-shirts for sale bearing that sentiment.
This holiday season, thanks to an all-female coffee collaboration, Cornerstone customers can also enjoy a limited-edition cup of 25th anniversary blend coffee crafted by another strong woman in the business, Andrea Grove of Harrisburg’s Elementary Coffee Co.
It was Cornerstone manager Nicole Miller’s idea.
“Nicole came to me and said, ‘We’re women-owned, Elementary is women-owned, and wouldn’t it be great to collaborate with Andrea?’” Pera said. “I thought it was a great idea.”
With independent coffee shops sprinkled throughout central Pennsylvania, it’s a much different scene today compared to 1994 when Cornerstone opened its doors.
Sue and Al Pera believe that Cornerstone was the first, and, therefore, the oldest dedicated coffeehouse in the capital region. They purchased the business from its original female founders and have operated it for more than 20 years. That’s more than half of their 37 married years.
The couple has “tweaked” everything over the years, adding a lunch menu, cooking school, catering and private dinner parties. A full breakfast and lunch menu features everything from biscotti to tuna melts, teas and smoothies, vegan treats, salads, plus Jack and Jill Ice Cream.
There are two items that have never changed, which Sue calls “retro recipes”—oat bars with a fruit filling and “peanut butter dreams,” a low-fat brownie with no refined sugar.
But the cornerstone of the menu, pun intended, is the coffee.
Cornerstone’s famous breakfast blend has always hailed from Lancaster’s College Coffee Roasters, espresso comes from Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters of West Chester, Sumatran is roasted by Tally Ho Coffee of West Chester, and flavored coffees come from Kaffé Magnum Opus of New Jersey. The one thing it all has in common? All coffee products are organic and fair trade.
And they go through a ton of it—well maybe not exactly a ton—but 200 pounds of coffee and 40 pounds of espresso weekly. In a typical month, that calculates to 11,500 steaming hot beverages.
“Every town needs a coffeehouse—it’s essential to living, a great place to communicate,” said Mary Beth Brath, director of the Downtown Camp Hill Association. “It’s so important now, in our age of technology, that people get out and have person-to-person conversations.”
There are about 100 businesses in Camp Hill’s downtown district, Brath said, and Cornerstone “is a vital asset, a meeting place and downtown hub, for all those businesses, especially as a walkable community.”
Throughout the day, people of all ages gather, from retirees in coffee klatches to moms with toddlers enjoying ice cream treats. The parking lot, like a good cup of coffee, is almost always filled to the brim.
“So many people tell us, ‘I had my first date here,’ sweet stories, as well as stories about businesses that started with their first meetings here,” Miller said. “It’s been a cornerstone for a lot of people.”
Anniversary celebrations kick off with a community launch party on Nov. 30, Small Business Saturday, with many former baristas returning. Commemorative merchandise, which coincides with the holiday season, includes a T-shirt bearing an ink sketch of the coffeehouse created by local artist Jonathan Frazier and bagged 25th anniversary blend coffee.
The collaboration with Elementary Coffee will be a major part of the anniversary celebration.
Pera likes the fact that, right across the river, great coffee is being produced—and by a woman-owned and run business.
Much like area brewery collabs, “the coffee industry is becoming more collaborative rather than competitive,” Grove said. “Taking this step was huge for both of us, and it proves what similar industries can do together.”
On what proved to be one of the hottest days of the summer, with temperatures soaring to 105 degrees, the collaborators gathered for a “cupping,” or tasting, at the Broad Street Market, where Elementary’s roasting operations were located.
Grove prepared several unique blends, and surprisingly, both Sue and her co-owner husband Al agreed on the same coffee—perhaps because it’s the perfect union of their tastes in coffee.
“It’s a cute homage to their relationship,” Grove said, “Because it blends Ethiopian, which is Sue’s favorite, and Sumatran, which is Al’s favorite.”
Grove describes the banner blend as a combination of warm, fruity Ethiopian coffee notes and Sumatra’s mellow, chocolatey and earthy tones.
“When we met, I immediately liked Andrea,” said Sue. “I have such respect for her. She’s an all-around great person, so smart.”
That abides well with the coffeehouse’s own recipe for success, said Miller, who has managed Cornerstone for nine years.
“People say they need coffee to survive, but they choose to come here,” she said. “It might sound cheesy to say, but everyone here is kind-hearted, and coffee served with kindness tastes better.”
Cornerstone Coffeehouse is located at 2133 Market St., Camp Hill. For more information, visit www.thecornerstonecoffeehouse.com.