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Mocha Maya’s

Shelburne Falls coffeehouse brewing up business

SHELBURNE FALLS — On Columbus Day, two flamenco musicians and a dancer were entertaining the foliage crowd at Mocha Maya’s Coffeehouse.

“There were so many people in town that we had Spanish-speaking visitors, talking back and forth with the musicians,” says Chris King, co-owner of Mocha Maya’s. “There was even a woman here from Ecuador, who got up and danced with them.”

But the town isn’t always filled with tourists, and Mocha Maya’s is looking for ways to keep the neighborhood coffeehouse perking, even when business slows down by half, during winter.

Last winter, after King posted a message on Facebook that the 8-year-old business may have to close “due to financial hardship,” the tide seems to have turned for Mocha Maya’s.

First, that posting brought in customers who had been staying home more during winter. Then patrons nominated Mocha Maya’s for a “cash mob,” an organized crowd that descends on an establishment to support a local business. After the cash mob, there was also a benefit concert in February.

The making of the Warner Bros. movie “The Judge” in June brought more customers — film crew members, film extras and crowds of spectators who came to watch the movie-making.

And on summer Tuesday nights, the coffeehouse hosted “Fancy Trash Tuesdays,” which drew in an audience of coffee-, wine- and beer-drinkers who came to hear Fancy Trash, a popular indie rock band.

The coffeehouse, which employs 10 part-time workers, has made some basic bookkeeping changes, is expanding its menu and planning more mid-week evening events.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned was awareness,” King says of last winter’s doldrums. “You lose your tourists, you lose about half your regular customers who don’t come out during winter.” King said he budgets for the winter slowdown but last winter was worse than in past years.

Mocha Maya’s is now open for Monday Night Football, which is projected on a large screen set up in the stage area. King is also planning to start a monthly “documentary night.”

“We have Monday Night Football, we have the collective poets series once a month, and we want to get back into doing play readings here,” he said.

“I’m optimistic about the winter,” King added. King said he wants to add more choices to the menu. Breakfast egg sandwiches, along with bagels, seem to sell well, and the store may add more varieties. Mocha Maya’s plans to expand sales of bulk coffee beans, with a self-serve area where there is now a CD display shelf of local music.

To better accommodate larger audiences when there is live music, King will be installing taller bar tables and stools in the back area, so people sitting there will have a good view of the musicians on stage. For the most part, audiences drop money into the musicians’ tip jar. Yet several New York and Boston-area musicians regularly return to Mocha Maya’s to try out sets and to interact with the audience.

When asked if he plans to ask for a cover charge for some musicians, King said, “We’ve struggled with that; some people want us to. I’ve heard the argument that you might get more people if we charged a cover fee, because they wonder how good the musicians are, if it’s free. “We’ve had Grammy-nominated musicians play here.” He said they have included Sean Ashby, Tokyo Rosenthal, Seth Glier and Kristin Diable.

The live music and wi-fi are still free, but King says he would also like to produce some larger shows in nearby Memorial Hall.

Peaks and valleys

In 2005, brothers Chris and Bruce King converted a closed Subway Sandwich shop into Mocha Maya’s, with the idea of providing a small music venue, sustained by the food and beverage business. “We hoped it would be an outlet for our creative selves,” he said.

The Kings also obtained a full liquor license, but sell mostly craft beers and wines. Chris King said business peaked in about 2008, but has fallen off with the worsening economy.

“We’re always learning something. We’re trying to be better, business wise,” said King.

“It’s a constant balance between money going in and money going out. One thing we’ve started to get really good at is just setting money aside for certain places ahead of time. We basically started out with a tenth of what consultants told us we should have started with,” he said.

King said he is very grateful for the support given the business this year, and hopes customers will continue supporting the business this winter.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:

dbroncaccio@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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