For the past four years, The Old Factory Coffee Shop has been a meeting place for Northwestern students and community members looking for good conversation, a comfortable atmosphere and the shop’s signature pour-over coffee that many would consider to be the best in town. None of these qualities will be disappearing anytime soon, but big change is brewing for the business.
This weekend marks the end of NW English Professor Richard and Rola Soweinski’s ownership of The Old Factory. The shop was recently purchased by four Orange City residents and Old Factory regulars: Steve and Emily Mahr and Eric and Mary Arteche.
The Soweinski’s moved to Orange City in 2009 when Richard was offered a position teaching English at NW, and they opened the shop during Tulip Festival of 2010. Their business mantra was simple: “Community. Conversation. Coffee.”
“I was coming from the University of Iowa, where the coffee-shop culture was where writers went to write, students went to study and people met up to talk,” Richard said. “And I wanted there to be a place in town that made the kind of coffee I liked.”
Thankfully, the couple was able to see those dreams come to fruition.
“The best part has truly been forming relationships and friendships with great employees and meeting people that come in,” Rola said.
Richard said he has especially enjoyed the different performers who have hosted concerts in the space. A particularly memorable night happened last fall when The Usual Suspects, NW’s very own professor-formed folk group, and Canadian artists Le Vent Du Nord used the Factory for a “jam session.”
“Just seeing the crowd enjoying it made me feel like what we were doing was worthwhile,” Richard said.
After several years of running the shop, the Soweinskis decided to pass on their project to someone else. Rola said she is excited about the prospect of traveling more and visiting the couple’s grandchildren, and Richard plans to spend more time focusing on teaching and his own writing.
They put the building up for sale, and after almost two years of waiting for a buyer, the Soweinski’s decided to take matters into their own hands by personally soliciting potential buyers.
“Everyone wanted to buy it, but no one had the money,” said Steve Mahr, future chief operating officer of The Old Factory. “Richard and Rola approached me and said that if we were interested, they’d work with us money-wise.”
Although the new owners will keep a similar goal of integrating community and business, many changes are in store for the shop. These changes will be put into affect throughout the rest of this school year and summer, and the shop will officially debut its renovations in the fall.
First, the shop will have new hours, including time in the evenings. Soups, salads and sandwiches will be available during lunchtime, and weekly breakfast specials will be offered. Craft beers and wines will be stocked. The upstairs will be closed during regular store hours, but will be open for special events. The lower level of the shop will be renovated, including the addition of cement bars, booth-style seating, interactive chalkboard-paint walls, soft seating and small crawl spaces for children.
“People might like to be alone, but they come to a coffee shop to be alone together,” Mahr said. “This way, there’s a variety of spaces all in one.”
In addition, the shop will begin holding a wider variety of special events. Though Mahr said the owners are open to “anything and everything,” some ideas for the near future include wedding rehearsal dinners and receptions, quiz nights, writing workshops and film screenings.
“In April, we’re making a big deal out of NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month),” Mahr said. “We want people to come in and write haikus on the wall, and I’ll have a typewriter set up on the counter selling poems. And we’ll have a (Poetry) Slam on the 27th.”
In addition to the Sowienski’s vision of community, the Mahr’s and Arteche’s will carry on another legacy from the couple: their signature pour-over coffee.
Those interested in experiencing the changes themselves can visit The Old Factory during their new hours: 7 a.m.-5 p.m. and 7 p.m.-10 p.m. on weekdays, and until midnight on weekends.