Monday, August 11, 2008

Conservative Coffeehouse Serves Up Right Blend

I've never been all that bothered by the left-wing environment at Starbucks-style coffeehouses. I see a lot of diversity, new-age hippy types, and techno-sophisticates plugging away on Wi-Fi, and I sit happily in my buttoned-down attire (on weekday afternoons, at least), reading the Wall Street Journal or grading papers. A lot of the kids sitting nearby might as well be my students.

I like to think I'm hip while I sip my double-latte.

But a conservative coffee proprietor in Crown Point, Indiana, is having none of it:

From the moment customers enter the front door, A Conservative Cafe is serving up caffeinated doctrine.

Ann Coulter books sit stacked by the fireplace and a picture of President Reagan hangs on the wall. Fox News plays on all the televisions and stock market quotes scroll along an electronic ticker above the cash register.

Behind the counter, owner Dave Beckham smiled proudly in a T-shirt with the face of Uncle Sam on it that read "Zip It Hippie."

The T-shirt is for sale at the cafe. So are others, including one with a peace sign that says "Peace Through Superior Firepower."

"It's a change from the traditional liberal bastion coffeehouses," Beckham said. "No one is going to bad-mouth America in here."

Friends warned Beckham to stay away from the conservative theme before the cafe opened in October 2007. The former art teacher came up with the idea about five years ago, he said, after souring on Starbucks and other high-end coffee chains.

He didn't like piped-in folk music, specialty drinks with faux-Italian names or patrons who frittered the hours away on laptops or listening to iPods. The atmosphere, he said, seemed an affront to Midwestern values he learned growing up in northwest Indiana.

"Coffee shouldn't be about sitting in a cafe for 12 hours," Beckham said. "Coffee gets us through our workday. It's what we drink before we make steel for the rest of the country or head out into the fields."

His disdain for the coffee chains coincided with his fear of an erosion in national pride, so Beckham made plans to build an old-fashioned java joint near the Crown Point town square.

There were two Starbucks within three miles of the shop's location, but Beckham and his wife, Jill, were convinced his pro-U.S. decor and Indiana-roasted coffee would strike a chord with the community.

About six months after Beckham opened for business, Starbucks announced plans to close one of its Crown Point locations. Since then, Beckham has begun pondering franchise opportunities for his cafe.

He acknowledged that Starbucks' downturn stemmed from a sagging economy and the company's massive growth, but he thought his success proved that some people were turned off by traditional coffeehouse culture.

Crown Point resident Matthew McPhee is one of them.

McPhee doesn't feel comfortable in trendier coffeehouses, where he often doesn't agree with the political conversations. He prefers Beckham's cafe, where red, white and blue bunting hangs outside the brick building and patrons can buy T-shirts emblazoned with the face of Reagan that read, "Silly liberal . . . Paychecks are for Workers."

"I like it here," he said. "I don't have to worry about listening to beatnik poetry or some political ideology that makes me want to vomit."

McPhee usually orders a radical right blend, the cafe's strongest roast. The other blends are conservative, moderate and liberal -- the latter of which Beckham described as a "Colombian decaf with no substance."
That's too cool!