On a Monday morning around 10 o’clock, there are plenty of cups of cappuccino and plates with breakfast sandwiches atop the tables at CremCaffe in the Rockville Town Center. A woman at a corner table is writing on a legal pad with an actual pen. Nary a laptop is found. And this is all by design.
“If you’re coming to my shop,” explained owner Shmulik Almany, an Israeli transplant to the DC area, “be social with your [dining] partner.”
Almany insists on no televisions and no wireless internet access in his shop. Radio is piped in on speakers and the occupants of each table are engrossed in conversation with one another. As patrons enter and exit CremCaffe, many of them give Almany a squeeze on the shoulder, a shake of the hand, a kiss on the cheek.
“You see? You see what’s happening?” he implores. His excitement at the community he’s building through CremCaffe is palpable. “For me, the most important thing is to make customers feel like they are part of the business.”
Though the espresso bar is not yet a year old—it opened February 16, 2011—there’s a reliable stream of clientele. Some drop in for their morning coffee, many hang around to drink their espresso while enjoying a book and it’s a popular spot at lunchtime. During nice weather, patrons enjoy the tables and colorful chairs outside on the wide sidewalk.
The initial success of the business is not beginner’s luck. Almany has done this before. Twice.
Almany’s first espresso bar, called Photography and Coffee from a Different Angle, opened in 1990 in Haifa. He and his wife of more than 35 years moved to the US in November 2005 to be closer to one of their three daughters after he sold the Italian espresso bar, Agenda, he owned in Caesarea, a town on Israel’s Mediterranean coast.
A professional event and commercial photographer by trade, Almany’s love affair with coffee began at the age of 19 when he was in the Israel Defense Forces. “Coffee is like wine to me,” he said. After explaining different sipping techniques he noted, “It makes a difference. The flavor is like heaven.” Almany follows the Italian tradition of offering a glass of soda with the coffee to cleanse and make wet the drinker’s palate following the espresso, which can have a drying effect.
Fresh tomatoes are prepped for the shakshooka ($9.95) in the kitchen every morning and then each dish is baked to order with two eggs. It’s served in the warm iron skillet and topped with herbs and feta cheese. It’s a light-yet-filling and flavorful dish.
The labane—imported from Lebanon—is a tart and smooth yogurt spread served as an appetizer. It’s topped with a good drizzle of olive oil and za’atar, a seasoning blend made of ground dried olives, sesame seeds and pepper. It is served with pillowy slices of pita bread. As I chatted with Almany, a curious diner at the table next to us inquired about the labane. Almany instructed him to dip the pita through the thick yogurt and all the toppings to get the most flavor.
Though the dish was meant for our table, Almany later whispered to me about sharing our plate of labane with the stranger at the next table, “I break the rules. I don’t care.” But it’s precisely because he cares that Almany fosters an attitude of “chutzpah v’sahvlahnoot,” he said in Hebrew, or “nerve and patience” in English. And that attitude contributes to CremCaffe’s success.
CremCaffe is about living in the moment. Slow down. Sit down. Enjoy the company. Enjoy a nosh. Heck, share it with a stranger at the next table. Perhaps you’ll make a new chaver…that’s “friend” in English.
CremCaffe Espresso Bar, 301-309-0956, 199 E. Montgomery Avenue, Rockville, MD. Monday- Thursday 7:00 am-9:00 pm, Friday 7:00 am-10:30 pm, Saturday 9:00 am-10:00 pm, Sunday 9:00 am – 8:00 pm. CremCaffe Facebook