Coffeehouses brew success; Cafes: The local Riverside Roastery and Espresso shops have attracted customers with an appealing blend of java, light fare and ambience; Restaurant Profile


Riverside Roastery and Espresso, one of Howard County's favorite local coffee shops, will probably never be the caffeinated behemoth that is Starbucks, but that's OK by owner Michael Lentz.

Lentz and his wife, Jill, opened the first Riverside Roastery on historic Ellicott City's Main Street in 1993.

Since then, they've slowly expanded their mini-java empire. Two Columbia locations -- one in Hickory Plaza near Hickory Ridge Village Center and another near the auto park off Dobbin Road -- have brought the national coffee obsession to a strip mall near you.

The Hickory Ridge shop, which the Lentzes co-own with Bill Martin, opened this summer.

With no free-standing Starbucks shops in Howard County, Riverside Roastery and Espresso has no real competition. The Lentzes like it that way.

"The Dobbin Road location has been really successful so far," Michael Lentz said. "That area is growing fast, and we came in at a really good time."

The morning rush hour is a good time for the Columbia shops.

Corporate coffee chains such as Starbucks "have a real problem with the infrastructure of Columbia," Michael Lentz said recently while munching a midday snack of apple strudel in the flagship Ellicott City shop.

"You see Starbucks up and down the main thoroughfares of Baltimore and other cities, but Columbia doesn't have anything like that. If there was a shopping center right off Route 175, they'd be there in a heartbeat," he added.

The two Riverside shops in Columbia have managed to flourish despite being out of sight of many morning commuters.

"People seem to know we're here," said Michael Lentz, who estimates that the three coffeehouses bring in about $30,000 each month.

Espresso, cappuccino and other specialty coffees pull in regular customers who pay from $1.25 for a regular cup of coffee to $3 for a super-sized cup of cappuccino. Five types of coffee (caffeinated and decaffeinated) are always brewing each day, including regular and flavored coffees.

Fresh-roasted coffee (from such coffee-mad countries as Guatemala, Zimbabwe, Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica) also is sold by the pound, ranging from $9.95 to $36.75 for the Jamaican Blue Mountain.

Dominating each Riverside Roastery and Espresso shop are large, shiny roasting machines that seem to attract as many stares as the plentiful pastry selection.

Roasting takes about 15 to 20 minutes at temperatures ranging from 380 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. After the beans cool for about 10 to 20 minutes, they are ground into a variety of textures. To ensure that the coffee is as fresh as possible, the beans are ground immediately before brewing.

The shops also offer light lunch fare such as quiche, sandwiches and pasta salad.

Bill Helfrich, a self-described "coffee addict" and local artist, is a regular at the Main Street coffeehouse.

The shop's atmosphere brings him in again and again, Helfrich said. The scent of the coffee and the ambience "makes you want to come back," he added.

"I honestly believe that a good, fresh product and a nice atmosphere set us apart," Michael Lentz said. "Everything molds together well."

Riverside Roastery and Espresso

Where: 8059 Main St., Ellicott City, 410-465-0233; 8865 Stanford Blvd., off Dobbin Road, 410-312-0004; and 10801 Hickory Ridge Road, 410-964-8671. Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to midnight Friday; 8 a.m. to midnight Saturday; and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Quiche with a side of pasta or potato salad, $6.95; New York cheesecake, $3.75; muffins, scones and other pastries from $1.95.

Credit cards: Not accepted; cash only.

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