It’s important where we live, and why. For the past year and a half, the Crozet Gazette has been highlighting the people and places that make Crozet and its surroundings appealing to those who live here. Most of our suggestions come from you, and Green House Coffee was suggested by many, for its fresh, wholesome food, casual atmosphere and friendly owner and staff. This is the 17th in a series.
In the blazing heat of a pandemic mid-summer, Sue Chase and Chris Walters ate breakfast or lunch once a week on the patio of Green House Coffee. Then winter came, and they continued. Fifty degrees, 40 degrees, 30 degrees: no temperature was too frigid to deter them from the weekly meals that followed their walks around Crozet. They wore layers, they sat on thick cushions, they wrapped themselves in blankets. “I don’t think we missed a week,” Walters said.
Besides the blankets and the layers, their strategy was simple. In the summer, they’d walk early to avoid the heat and then have breakfast. In the winter, it was lunch. “We’d pick the warmest day of the week ahead when we planned our walks,” Chase said. The two had met at a Kripalu yoga class at PT Plus in Crozet and, after the lockdown, realized the need to continue to do something for exercise.
The exercise was only part of their pandemic plan. Another part was to continue to enjoy the breakfast sandwiches, salads and chocolate chip cookies that followed their walks. “All the food is good,” Chase said, but there was yet another reason the two women kept coming back to Green House Coffee every week. They were both impressed at how quickly and how well the business was transformed to keep customers and staff safe, and at the atmosphere that made each visit a positive experience.
“We’re always treated with friendliness and respect,” Walters said. “Good service and kindness are so universal here. I think it must be something that Camille infuses into all the staff.”
Camille is Camille Phillips, the owner of Green House Coffee. Phillips renovated the charming cottage more than a decade ago and named it, not only for its color, but to signal her intention to use fresh, healthy ingredients, local if possible. Her vision has endured and her sandwiches, homemade pastries and cool-season soups, as well as her coffee, have nourished the Crozet area ever since.
She looks forward to the day the beloved cafe can open inside, but that won’t happen until all the staff is vaccinated, she said. Phillips, a nurse, responded to the pandemic with characteristic thoughtfulness. “It was important to me to protect our staff and customers, but also to make sure the medical centers didn’t get overwhelmed.”
As the country responded to the first news of the pandemic in March of 2020, Phillips took a couple of weeks to teach herself online marketing. She stayed in touch with her staff: “I kept track of their health, and made sure there were jobs for the ones I knew were most in need,” she said. She took advantage of a Small Business Administration grant and the Paycheck Protection Program to retain a reduced staff and keep the business afloat, carefully screening employees for any sign of illness.
Meanwhile she was mindful that there were some clients with needs she couldn’t fill. “For some people, this was kind of a second home,” she said. “I felt bad that they couldn’t come inside to meet their friends or just talk to the staff.” She encouraged the staff to send out a kind word along with the lattes and pumpkin squares so there would be a semblance of normalcy and hospitality for those patrons.
She was determined to learn from every experience. “Some items just didn’t travel well for carryout,” she said. “We eliminated them and kept the favorites.” She identified the coffee drinks, breakfast sandwiches, and fruit-and-nut salad as perennial crowd pleasers, but “really, everything now on the menu does well,” she said. Customers called in orders, pulled into designated parking areas, announced their arrival and were handed their orders. Later, folks ventured out to the patio tables and called orders in from there. Soon Green House Coffee was rebounding, doing a brisk carryout business, no matter what the weather.
Phillips also kept a stock of a few local products for people having a difficult time finding what they needed in stores during the initial pandemic shortages. Local bread, coffee and sliced meat were added to orders for those finding it hard to shop for essentials.
Like everyone who’s made it through the pandemic, Phillips said she’s had some time to consider what’s really important. After 15 years of working from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., she’s finding her current shorter hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) to be a relief, and hopes to keep the shorter hours when she reopens inside, perhaps with small adjustments. She expects the “grab and go” and take-out business to remain popular, as people continue to avoid unnecessary crowds. “I think this year has given us all a chance to re-think and re-imagine our lives, both personal and business,” she said, “and many businesses are better for it.”