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Coffee and Community 

by Leah Sottile

Norm's at the corner stool. Phil's in the seat next to him. Sam's slinging drinks behind the bar - except this time the foam is supposed to be there, and you probably won't get drunk off of these drinks.

The scene would be ideal to Misty and Todd Rothrock, owners of the recently opened Rock Coffee in downtown. They want their full-service espresso joint to host club meetings, play groups and live shows while staying open until all hours of the night. They want it to be the Cheers of local coffee spots.

Misty explains that the entire motivation behind the coffee shop was to provide a community gathering place in the heart of Spokane's up-and-coming downtown. Sure, they'd serve up great quality go-juice, but they have always wanted Rock Coffee to be more of a community center than anything else.

"This spot just opened up, and with everything going on in downtown, we just wanted to be a part of the whole revitalization of Spokane," Misty says. "We're all about the community - we love it. We just wanted it to be comfortable."

That might explain why Rock Coffee has the most comfortable high-backed chairs in the entire downtown center. And the coziest atmosphere. That's how the owners wanted it to be.

Located in the Big Easy building near the West First Avenue entrance to the concert hall, the Rothrocks' modern, unpretentious space is of the sort that Frasier Crane might enjoy. The walls are a neutral brown, with patches of exposed brick peeking through. Seating options fit your mood: there are long counters, two-seater tables, a string of tables with built-in chessboards and living room-style chairs. It's stylish, yet industrial - very derelicte, without being exclusive.

That's how the brains at Rock Coffee want it to be. The Rothrocks want you to order a drink, take a seat, pull out a book and hang out all day long. They are the kind of people who remember your name, your face, your usual drink, the last four digits of your debit card number.

The Rothrocks are slowly starting to see their business pick up and become the community center coffee shop that they'd hoped it to be. Misty says they've got a chess tournament coming up in the next few months, along with a regular rotation of daytime playgroups and live music acts filling up their weekends. But it's that in-between time that they want to see all of the tables full. With their recent addition of a new, local coffee roaster, they're hoping to get an even bigger clientele.

Rock Coffee will be the first coffee joint in downtown Spokane to serve up Doma Coffee - the famed beans served at the hip downtown Coeur d'Alene Cafe Doma, behind the foofy coffee bar at Lindaman's and at the East Trent mega-drive-thru, Grinders. They are geeks about coffee over at Doma - slowly encouraging one Inland Northwest coffee drinker at a time to raise their standards. It's their way of reaching out the community, and it's an attitude the Rothrocks liked when switching roasters.

"The roaster is in their backyard - it's at their house," Misty says. "We met [Rebecca and Terry Patano] and thought, 'That's us.'"

Style and quality - both describe Doma and Rock Coffee. It's a quality of coffee and service that everyone can appreciate, and you won't have to break the bank to afford a latte, either.

Magnets indicating prices are affixed to a shiny, industrial-looking menu board hanging behind the counter at Rock Coffee. You'll shell out between $2.50 and $3.25 here for an espresso drink - with the house specials falling in that price range as well. There are lattes, capps, the usual foamy players. But Rock Coffee also features a Chai-Spresso and the exquisite Cafe Brulee - which I opted for, with a dab of added caramel. The Brulee is a hefty drink, best enjoyed with a spoon at one of Rock's cozy chairs. The coffee is a just a basic latte - in my case, a perfect caramel latte, with thick, fluffy foam. To make a it a Brulee, however, Misty sprinkles brown sugar over the top of the foam and then, like the creme of the same name, burns it to a golden brown with a torch. It's the next dessert novelty of downtown - right along with the Catacombs' Smores and a Ben & amp; Jerry's shake.

The menu continues with a wide selection of loose Rishi organic teas, smoothies, a few pastries and some lunch options. After trying a wide selection of grub, the Rothrocks have narrowed their lunch offerings to panini sandwiches, the Thai P-Nut Wrap and caprese vegetarian sandwiches. We sampled the paninis - the turkey and provolone and the ham and Swiss. Both were excellent - with fresh, thickly sliced ham and powerful cheeses. Paninis are $5.25 ($3.95 for half) and the wraps are $4.25 with a fountain soda.

Rock Coffee also offers free wireless Internet and live musical acts on Friday and Saturday nights. Misty says they're open until 7 pm on weekdays, but are willing to stay later if the tables are full. At Rock Coffee, you're at home. Stay as late and as long as you please. It's the kind of place where Norm would have nursed his hangover, just before popping over to the bar.

Impeccable Service

There are some restaurants that you'll always remember because of the great service. The time the chef came out and asked how your meal was, or that time the waiter gave you a complimentary shot of Limoncello after a large meal. Or those restaurants where you have the same waiter time after time, where they simply ask if you want "the usual."

That's what Will Barron was to many long-time Spokane residents. Barron was a part of the everyday faces of the Spokane Club for 50 years. He retired from the Club in 1997 and died on Saturday, March 5. He was 74. In those 50 years, Barron spent 30 of them serving as the maitre'd of the Cutter Dining Room. And that's the kind of service you just can't find anymore.

Publication date: 03/17/05

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