If you’ve lived in Easton for more than a few years, you’ve been through enough reincarnations of coffee houses on 1 Goldsborough Street to wonder why this little town can’t get it right: dingy walls, curtains hiding the big storybook windows, coffee orders sitting on the counter getting cold, and lunch offerings dwindling. Over the past few years, Coffee East became Coffee Cat without many outward updates or fanfare; in January, Coffee Cat became Red Hen Coffee House and Café, with hopes of bringing back Easton’s central meeting place.
“When we saw the coffee shop for sale we immediately knew it was a perfect fit for what we wanted to do,” Sara Ewing, one of Red Hen’s new owners, along with her husband Justin, explains.
The newly remodeled Red Hen Coffee House and Café boasts new, warm wooden floors, a golden marshmallow color on the walls, deep red accents on the pillars and woodwork, and the vibrant canvases of local artist Theresa Schram adorning the space. It is more than superficial sophistication—finally, like a neglected stepchild freshly bathed and clothed in new duds, the space feels cared about.
On Saturday, February 11, despite the falling snow and whipping wind, Red Hen hosted its grand opening, complete with coffee tastings, food samples, and a performance by Kentavius Jones. Regulars who have used the coffee joint as an office space, as well as curious Eastonians and fellow downtown business owners, ventured in to catch a glimpse of the new java incarnation.
Sara and Justin Ewing, who greeted people at the event, were long ago destined to open a cafe. Their paths crossed when Sara worked at Annie’s on Kent Island and Justin, who was the general manager of Holly’s on Kent Island at the time, became a regular. Ten years later, the couple is “cultivating a long-held dream,” according to Sara.
Sara remembers with nostalgia Alice’s Café, a casual diner on Harrison Street that used to cater to the casual customer with its mismatched chairs and silverware. “We have missed having a great casual place to eat in Easton and we want to bring that back.”
As both Ewings see it, they bought a great business with a well-established live music component and a coffee following. Their focus is now on bringing the food up to par. They have turned the larger dining space into a bright eating area, dressed up with white tablecloths, bringing a café ambiance to the former day-after-a-rough-night cruddiness. Patrons will order food at a different counter than drinks, expediting the service and delineating the space. The kitchen is still under renovation and the full menu will be on display in the coming weeks.
“We want to take standard food, like soups and sandwiches, and make them really special,” Sara explains. Red Hen will feature fresh, homemade offerings with seasonal ingredients. Sara raves about Justin’s rosemary foccacia bread and says that one day, Red Hen may sell fresh bread.
Justin, a graduate of the Baltimore International Culinary College, is in the kitchen while Sara, who holds an MBA from Salisbury, is the marketing director. Justin plans on spending five days a week at Red Hen, while Sara can be found there many evenings and weekends. “I was a little worried about partnering with my husband because I feared it would have a negative impact on our relationship,” Sara states. “It has definitely brought us closer together, and that has been an unexpected joy.”
The café's nighttime concert venue will remain, continuing to bring live bands and comedy shows to downtown. For now, the promotion and selling tickets will operate under the name "Night Cat," but eventually Sara sees it coming under Red Hen's brand.
What will make Red Hen different this time, the Ewings explain, is their connection to customers. “We want feedback. We aren’t above busing the tables.” Sara is working on partnerships with other downtown businesses and hopes to one day be able to offer later weeknight hours.
Named for the children’s story about making bread and the commitment to see it through, Red Hen may have found the recipe for 1 Goldsborough's success.