Behind the clear window-front of Songbird Coffee and Tea House on Roosevelt Row, the noise is soft, except for the music playing low in the background. The retro furniture lends itself to long stays and future conversations. Handmade long, wooden tables, stools and window bars bring personality to the shop. The bookshelf spanning almost an entire wall is donned with books, decorative birdcages and emblems paying homage to the owners’ alma maters, ASU and Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. The light showing through the windows is the only thing keeping time. The most noticeable object is the menu that is painted bright green and listing the menu choices in Scrabble tiles.
Marisa Vargas, a Gateway Community College psychology student who lives within walking distance, often stops by Songbird after she finishes up with her work at the Arizona Science Center.
“I bring everybody here,” Vargas says. “I’ve tried mochas and things that my other friends get, and I like everything, but I like my vanilla latte.”
Vargas’s favorite thing about Songbird is that they know what she likes to order, or “the usual,” a first for her at any business.
The environment and the attitude of the owners and baristas contribute to Vargas’s draw to Songbird as she sips her favorite drink.
“It’s just welcoming and calm, I’ve never experienced any rudeness, and they even ask ‘How’s your day going?’, and not a lot of people ask that. It’s the little things,” she says.
Jonathan Carroll, a 2002 ASU graduate with a degree in psychology, and his wife Erin, are co-owners of of the quaint cafe.
“My wife is the face of Songbird,” Carroll, said of his wife. “She is the head barista. She is what makes Songbird Coffee & Tea House sing a pretty tune everyday with her uncanny ability to socialize with each and every customer we get, especially our regulars.”
Carroll’s experience in business show in his responsibilities, that allow him to work behind the scenes performing duties such as marketing, posting to social media and writing press releases that advertise the business.
Despite the ebb and flow of everyday happenings with the shop, finding the right location to establish themselves initially was a search that ended after visiting a space on Roosevelt Row in Phoenix. The couple felt the area had potential for them to grow, thanks in part to the huge front windows of the shop, visibility and daily traffic would help them get potential customers to begin building a client base.
“We realized the natural light that came through would help us shine,” he says. “I feel because of our early success, other small business owners have taken a chance to thrive here as well — which is amazing to see and we’re lucky to be part of it.”
Since the Carrolls opened their shop in July of 2012, they have created a close relationship with their two part-time baristas. They work with local vendors such as Cortez Coffee Roasters out of Tempe, Maya Tea out of Tucson, Treehouse Bakery on Roosevelt, and Grand Patty and Al Diamant from SweetArt Bakery in Phoenix. Their friendliness has also helped them develop respect and rapport with the patrons.
“(The baristas) work extremely hard for us and have just as much passion as we do and believe in our products,” Carroll explains. “But I can’t stress the importance that without all of these factors in play, we would simply be mediocre and that’s not close to good enough for us.”
One of the baristas, Elizabeth Kennedy Bayer, has worked at Songbird for a year. Bayer’s experience working in other coffee shops in the past makes her aware of the difference in efficiency, especially in the beginning stages of a business.
“Jonathan and Erin were here six months before they actually brought in another person,” Bayer says. “They had all of their systems in place, so our consistency was very good and there was a clear definition of what we were supposed to be doing.”
Bayer’s favorite parts about working as a barista at Songbird are interacting with the customers and having bosses who are constantly making improvements to ensure the shop’s continued success.
Carroll’s experience as an entrepreneur has taught him that the steps to create and maintain a business never truly end.
“Starting up a business isn’t easy as A-B-C, 1-2-3,” he says. “If someone wants to open their own business, they have to plan and research how they are going to establish it … I will say that if an individual has the passion, stamina and ability to work extremely hard, there’s no telling how successful they can be.”
Songbird has made an impact on the community by staying true to their vision and taking the time to establish a client base that appreciates the calm and quirky atmosphere to study, read or relax after a long day. The coffee and tea house perches on the brink of cool and classy with vintage touches to make it unlike any other shop around.
“We strive to be the best in the entire state of Arizona and we don’t care that there’s only 673 square feet of us,” Carroll says. “Giant things come in small packages.”
Reach the writer at Alyssa.Tufts@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @Alyssa_Tufts.