by Susan Hamilton & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & 'd heard the buzz about a four-month-old coffeehouse on the North Side. People were crowing about the coffee -- and not just the taste. The Service Station serves fair-trade coffee from Ethiopia, which means the proceeds go back to the farmers in that east African country. Owners Scot and Debi Robinson even made a video about the Ethiopian coffee farmers for distribution.

The caf & eacute; is also an example of a new business trend called business missions. Such business ministries utilize business expertise and resources to help other people and provide a means of outreach. Robinson, a former assistant pastor at the First Church of the Open Bible, seeks to share his Christian faith by serving people and building relationships with them. The Robinsons say they opened the Service Station to serve others and be an example of Christ to the world. As a nonprofit, the business shares its earnings with various Spokane youth organizations, like CrossWalk and Excelsior.

The Service Station also provides on-site event services to the community. The 500-seat auditorium hosts concerts and a "Service to the City" worship every Sunday night led by a band. Live jazz bands play in the caf & eacute; on weekends. An executive boardroom, conference room and a multi-media studio are available for rent.

And then there's the heart of the Service Station -- the caf & eacute;. On an early Saturday afternoon, there was hardly a seat in the spacious room. Students, couples and families occupied the comfy couches, oversized leather chairs and intimate tables grouped around area rugs and low tables, a flagstone fireplace and grand piano. Persimmon and gold-colored walls and d & eacute;cor suitable for a living room complement large windows on the east side of the great room.

Ordering is deli-style at the oversized counter, where salads, sandwiches and pastries are displayed. My companion and I decided soup was necessary to take the chill out of the cold winter's day. Soups of the day were Ivar's clam chowder and Baja chicken enchilada. We opted for a bowl of each ($4). The award-winning chowder was as good as always, rich with clams, potatoes and a hint of bacon. The Baja chicken's tomato base held a treasure trove of chunks of chicken, corn, black beans and spices.

We needed more sustenance, though, so we split a chicken chipotle sandwich ($6) and a Greek salad ($6). The sandwich was served panini-style, so the chicken, cheese, chipotle sauce and peppers were nicely warmed. The herb bread was tasty but messy, with bits of herbs clinging to any surface they could find. All it all, it's a savory blend of spices and cheese with the chicken. The Greek salad is from Fery's Catering, with al dente pasta, chunks of cucumber and tomato, and bits of purple onion, kalamata olives and Feta cheese. No complaints here. Chicken-Swiss and three-meat sandwiches, small pizzas and various Fery's gourmet salads are also on the menu.

The Service Station's pastries and beverages, though, are what really shine. Gold Blend espressos and baked goods from Sweetwater Bakery and the Cheesecake Factory will keep you going for hours. My companion's vanilla bean latte ($1.70) was full-bodied and smooth and "definitely beat Starbucks," she said. My licorice-mint Choice tea ($1.35) was just the thing to accompany our dessert choices.

With a case full of pastries, it was hard to leave without trying more than two. The Rockslide Brownie is like a small mountain of decadent chocolate. Dark chocolate is the foundation for rich chunks of chocolate and caramel drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauce ($2.25). The raspberry oat bar is dense and flavorful, with a granola-like oat crust and a thick layer of raspberry ($1.90). The pumpkin square cake has a perfect crumb, although the icing is too sweet ($1.90). Scones, biscotti, cheesecake, mini-bundt cakes and bagels offer many more sweets to choose from.

We were pleased to see that the owners made the rounds of the caf & eacute;, checking on customers. The staff was very friendly and helpful, as well. It's no wonder, then, that people come and stay for eight hours at a time, as one of the staff told me. With a comfortable atmosphere, good food, gourmet coffee and smiles all around, the Service Station is a great hangout.

The Service Station & r & 9315 N. Nevada St. (just south of Holland Rd.) & r & Open Mon-Sat 6 am-11pm, Sun 6 am-10 pm Call: 466-1696

Golden Harvest: Flour Sacks from the Permanent Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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