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Coffee roasters the place to bean Greencastle

April 14, 2006|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Next time you're driving through Greencastle, if you see a guy with a long braid out on the sidewalk working with an old-fashioned metal roaster, park your car and go talk to him. He's roasting either coffee beans or peanuts, and once you smell either one, you're going to want some.

His name is Charles Rake, and even if you don't buy anything from him, you're sure to have an interesting conversation.

Rake, 54, recently celebrated 10 years of owning and operating Greencastle Coffee Roasters, probably the only building in Greencastle with gargoyles on the roof.

Rake opened the store "with a pile of peanuts and five canisters of coffee" in January 1996, a winter that saw "three feet of snow in January and it stayed around 'till April," Rake recalled. "I had no parking then. I almost went out of business. I'm glad the worst is behind me."

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The business has expanded three times since then, and he now carries an extensive line of coffees, Asian foods, teas, gourmet cocoas, teapots, snacks, candy, clothing and decorative items.

His Morghan Rake Coffees are named for his older daughter, who is 21, and his Naomi Rake teas for the younger girl, age 12.

About 30 percent of his customers come from a 10- to 15-mile radius, Rake estimates, and the rest "from all points - northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore. We get a lot of travelers from (Interstate) 81."

The Internet accounts for 10 percent of his business.

While Rake supplies "a few select restaurants," he said that most establishments prefer to deal with large companies "where they'll get a free coffee pot."

A huge sign hanging over the counter describes the coffees and the various blends available.

Coffee beans arrive at the store "green," or unroasted, in 154-pound burlap sacks. Rake roasts and flavors the beans, then grinds them for the customer at the time of purchase. About half of the people buying coffee prefer to grind it at home as they need it, he said.

The beans are roasted in small quantities because the maximum shelf life after roasting is one month. Commercial coffee "sits in a supermarket warehouse for three months before it gets on the shelf," Rake noted.

His eight Victorian-era roasters "found me," Rake said. "People would stop in or call when they saw one for sale." A modern, bright yellow coffee roaster stands in the store, but Rake has yet to use it. "I prefer the antique ones," he said.

And what does the java man himself drink, when he has more than 200 varieties available to him? Coffee from Bali, Indonesia. His wife, Clare Lee, drinks green tea.

When Rake and Clare Lee travel to Asia twice a year, they bring back coffee and sarongs from such places as Bali and Laos, and peppercorns from Sarawak, on the island of Borneo in Malaysia, his wife's home country.

Her knowledge and expertise, along with that of employees from Korea, Japan and the Philippines, make a big difference in his business, he said.

"The people working with me are my greatest asset. Too many salespeople are slow or don't care. I have good ones. They are very knowledgeable."

Masks from Bali and Malaysia, butterfly kites, pottery and figurines adorn the store. Some of the decorations are for sale, others "I can't sell, it wouldn't be the same without them," Rake said.

Asian sauces and oils, mortars and pestles from Bali, unusual seasonings, canned and dried Asian foods, egg roll wrappers, Asian bubble gum and many other items are available.

Beside a can of silkworm pupa, a hand-lettered sign asks, "Looking for something different for the Easter basket this year?"

On one wall is Rake's "progression of heroes" - The Lone Ranger, Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, Frank Zappa and Howard Stern.

Like his heroes, Rake doesn't model himself after anyone. "I have my own tastes. I'm not much of a follower," he said.

Originally from New Hope, Pa., Rake said that when he wanted to move in 1989, he "looked on the back of a seed packet for an area with a more pleasant climate and not too far away." He ran a bookstore locally before getting into the coffee business.

Bill Gour, executive director of the Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce, said that Rake is "one of the coolest people I know. I knew Charlie years ago when he had the bookstore. He likes to do things nobody else is doing.

Coffee Roasters is a real draw for folks from outside of Greencastle."

Gour said he had lunch with some people in Harrisburg, Pa., on Wednesday, and "within five minutes they were talking about Coffee Roasters, saying that every time they're in Greencastle they go in there."

Gour doesn't drink coffee, but he does drink Earl Grey tea, which he purchases from Rake. "We get peanuts there, and when friends come to visit, we take them there. "It's so unique, they have no idea what to expect."

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