Caffe Ladro – We met for coffee, of course.
“We’re on the third wave of the coffee business” says co-owner of Caffe Ladro, Robert Ohly. I met with Ohly and his wife, Heather, who’s partnered with Bob raising children in Edmonds, and in many aspects of his coffee life, at Caffe Ladro’s Edmonds location at Five Corners.
“Third wave,” I said. “What were waves number one and two?”
“Wave number one — coffee as a delivery mechanism for caffeine. Think drip, in air pots and donuts. ”
“And…wave number two?”
Bob went on to describe the latte coffee phase of the roasted bean business. “Caffe Ladro started as a milk-based coffee drink business. Pastries were upgraded from donuts to croissants, and scones.”
I nodded. Ah, the masses discover something beyond the percolator.
Bob sees wave number three as a “retro movement, back to the focus on drip coffees, but featuring single-origin coffee beans.”
Caffe Ladro was started by two friends — Ohly and Jack Kelly — who went to high school together, in Minnesota. The Upper Queen Anne location’s anniversary date is April of 1994. Jack Kelly moved to the Northwest to study marine biology, but was beguiled by those little brown beans. Jack worked with Espresso Express, moved on to Uptown Espresso and eventually opened the first Caffe Ladro on Queen Anne, in Seattle.
Bob came out to Seattle in 1996 to join his friend as a partner at the original Queen Anne location, which houses both the roaster and a bakery/commissary that operates 24 hours a day/7 days a week.
Ohly opened Caffe Ladro’s next eight locations, including Edmonds and also one in Lynnwood, on 196th Street Southwest.
He’s proud of the fact that the last two cafe locations were opened at the behest of the property developer. Number nine will be close to the University area light rail station, and number 10 in the Kirkland Urban complex.
Bob and his family lived in Edmonds for many years before the Five Corners spot opened in 2005. Caffe Ladro supports good causes in their local communities. “Edmonds is our hometown.” says Bob. “We donate to programs at (Edmonds-)Woodway High School Theater… donation requests are almost always accepted, within reason.” He smiles. Word in the office is “if the request comes from an Edmonds ZIP code it’s an automatic yes.”
Founder Jack Kelly travels to visit coffee farmers around the world. They do cupping with growers, suggest improvements and revisit the next season to determine if the changes implemented improve the end result in the cup. Caffe Ladro does purchase Fair Trade coffee beans, but prefers to source coffee beans, especially for single origin roasts, direct from the farms.
“The direct source coffee exceeds Fair Trade standards,” says Bob, who adds that the result is better quality in the cup. They’re spending more dollars on product but it’s producing a better brew, albeit more expensive, at the end of this process. Caffe Ladro still has 100 percent Fair Trade coffee in some of their blends and will always support that program with their purchases.
One reason I visited with the Edmonds coffee folk was to hear more about the Good Food Awards, which has included Caffe Ladro as a finalist. The specifications for this year’s Good Food Award coffee category were stellar. The final selection will be distinguished by exemplary flavor – sweet, clean, well-developed body, balanced acidity and phenomenal aromatics. To qualify for entry, roasters and coffee farmers must emphasize fairness and transparency from seed to cup. One hundred roasters sent entries. Caffe Ladro is included in the group of 27 finalists, which Heather says is” both humbling and validating.” The winner will be announced in January.
“When we first started we purchased fair trade blends and we didn’t roast our own beans,” Bob says. They had a darker roast, but in 2011, opted for lighter roast profile, “and then adjusted back the other way again, just a bit, to meet criteria of long-time customers’ taste buds,” he adds.
Focus is more now on the taste — subtle flavor nuances in their single-origin blends. In the old days, the “roaster’s nose” dictated the time to pull the lever and release the beans into the cooling trays. Nowadays technology helps to keep a taste profile consistent.
“Many things affect the outcome in the cup of coffee,” Bob says. Blend variations from season to season, even the difference of 2 percent in the temperature of the water in the coffee brewing apparatus, all affect the taste in your cup of Joe.
The Five Corners building that houses Edmonds’ Caffe Ladro recently was purchased by Chelsea Tripp, who owns the Bridge Animal Referral Center next door. Ohly attended some town meetings in Edmonds, while the building construction plan was underway. He was pleasantly surprised when several residents stood up to ask a single question.
“Will Caffe Ladro still be in the building?”
After learning that it would, they took their seats.
Bob says Chelsea Trip is a great landlord and the Bridge Animal Referral Center is a great neighbor. “We’re happy with the transition to new ownership,” he said.
When I joined Heather and Bob at the cafe table, Heather shared an interesting combination of biscuit and quiche, their “breakfast sandwich.” I learned they have many items for sale beyond coffee. It’s cool that their menu lists details — gluten-free or not, and calories too, including biscotti, scones, quiche, and a unique little pastry tree called a butter horn.
All except this butter horn are baked in-house at the Queen Anne commissary, fresh every day. Bob shared that they are wooing the baker of this little gem. When he “retires,” they hope he’ll bequeath Caffe Ladro his butter horn recipe.
The raspberry scone is their number-one seller since 1994, and the vegan oat bar is number two. Bob says he and Jack joke that if they ever split up… “Who will get which recipe?” Molly’s salads are also available at many locations — obviously not made in house but they’re very happy with the partnership.
I purchased two versions of the quiche — bacon and caramelized onion and a spinach feta. A crisp croissant nest held a delicate quiche inside its folds. It was beauty, especially the layering of spinach against the white of the feta inside, and both were delicious.
The commissary even does whole pies, which were sold out a few days before Thanksgiving. Bob indicated with a proud grin that I should place my Christmas pie order without delay.
So, Bob, what is your favorite coffee? His answer: “Kenya Yara- Peaberry Estate.” Roasted in micro lots, these are single origin beans and this was a hit with lots of employees. Heather prefers the Queen Anne roast, but both spoke with enthusiasm about the Sinergia project.
Sinergia means “better than the sum of their parts.” Single origin beans — 50/50 — each being roasted separately and then combined after the roasting is complete. These are now available in most locations.
Standard at Caffe Ladro locations is their flagship espresso. They previewed its new package. Most locations have a second grinder and for those who would like to experience some of the single-origin, drip or espressos — just ask the barista.
On the subject of baristas, I’d like to recommend Edmonds coffee master Max. He made me an excellent cappuccino with the perfect amount of crema. Training for baristas? Oh yes. “They work a full 10 shifts, to observe and learn recipes, before we turn them loose on the customers,” Bob says.
We spoke briefly about labor shortages across the board. Service industry personnel turnover is at its worst now. Caffe Ladro values their staff. Ohly comes from a large family; he is number 13 of 14 children. Heather says “Work, aka Caffe Ladro, is now our family.”
How big is that family?
“We have about 150 employees,” she replies.
Another aspect of the coffee roasting is the wholesale — both at store level and in restaurants. Caffe Ladro coffee is served in kitchens as far-flung as Las Vegas or as close as Tacoma. Mostly drip coffee, Bob says. Retailers who sell Caffe Ladro coffee include PCC Community Markets, QFC and many others. PCC was in fact their very first retail partner, and after PCC began sourcing and roasting their own beans in 2011, they continued their partnership with Caffe Ladro.
Heather Ohly says: “It’s about a local coffee company. Our inclusion as finalists of the Good Food Awards is only part of the story. When Caffe Ladro builds a store, they strive to become part of the neighborhood. They want to know the neighbors, the regulars and offer service when they can.”
Caravan Kebab– tucked into a small building in Firdale Village, it is a treasure of tastes.
Owner Shahzad was the first person we met when entered the restaurant. Chef Shahzad studied cooking all over the world and brings delicious and fresh cuisine to patrons in Edmonds.
“Our specialty is Mediterranean, Indian and European cooking,” he said. “We have vegetarian, gluten-free and low-carb menu items and all of our meat is Halal certified.”
Halal is an Arabic word that means “permissible.” In terms of food, it means food that is permissible according to Islamic law. For a meat to be certified “Halal,” it cannot be a forbidden cut (such as meat from hindquarters) or a forbidden animal (such as pork).
The slaughter of a Halal animal is called “zabihah” and there are certain guidelines to follow. The animal also must have been fed a natural diet that did not contain animal by-products.
This was my husband’s second visit and my first to Caravan Kebab, although I’d helped myself to his cartons of food left in the fridge. He and other friends praised the consistent high quality of food, and the variety of cuisines of the menu.
We shared a Persian salad — lettuce, tomato, cukes, feta, pine nuts, cranberry, and pomegranate molasses dressing. The super fresh greens and the cuts on the veggies, cucumbers especially, invited one to nibble.
We also chose Kashke Bademjan, an eggplant spread with a light smokiness, similar to a Baba Ghanouj, with a kick of mint, garnished with pomegranates and dill. Accompanied by fresh pita, it disappeared quickly.
I adore lamb curry. On this visit I ordered Haandi Curry, a recipe from the chef’s mother… it was delicious. I was secretly glad that hubby doesn’t eat meat … a petite lunch portion perfect for my appetite, but not a spare bite to share.
My husband chose the Vegetable Biryani- a seasonal vegetable casserole with saffron rice that was so light and fluffy it almost levitated to his mouth.
A chicken sandwich — grilled pieces of breast meat, wrapped in a soft pita with veggies and creamy cucumber dressing — arrived at the end of the meal. Perfectly timed take home, our son enjoyed the still warm ingredients, as he bit into the wrap.
Dessert — you all know me — I have to try as many options as possible. Well, at lunch there were just two:
Fresh mint ice cream – Homemade ice cream, fresh mint, rosewater, cardamom, chocolate, this dish hails from Pakistan.
Baklava – Filo layered with walnuts, honey and cinnamon, truly a delight from Turkey.
Plate presentations are worthy of the white cloth beneath the dishes, and this was just lunch. “Please come back and join us for dinner.” Shahzad urged us. “You will be amazed as it is a different menu of more exciting choices.”
Who knew that Mountlake Terrace was a hotbed of haute pastries?
My dogs got me in trouble again. Not really their fault, just so many tasty restaurants tucked into corners on the street we pass, as we motor back and forth to dog parks for their daily run.
I’d heard from several regarding a bakery in Mountlake Terrace that had amazing croissants. I thought they spoke of retail spot Crema de La Crema bakery on 66th Avenue West, recently relocated in downtown Edmonds and renamed Ganache Patisserie.
“Oh no” they said. “Check out Grand Pere Bakery at 24007 56th Ave. W.” Right down the street from the off-leash dog park… huh. As a frequent visitor to Mountlake Terrace, how did I miss this?
Cozy neighborhood atmosphere started at the front door. A sign acknowledged being closed on Thanksgiving Day so their employees could be with family The second line expressed thanks to customers for their business.
Brothers Chris and Dennis Lee have created a bakery with products every bit as good as the croissants I tasted in the neighborhood bakery in Brussels on a recent visit. Ditto the offering at the spot under the Eiffel Tower on a previous trip.
The Vietnamese, heavily influenced by French during its occupation, adapted many items like cream puffs, offered at most Pho places. The stunning over-sized pasties in the case at Grand Pere are yet another example: deft duplication of the complicated process that produces the light, multi-layered pastry treats.
I meant to grab a quick croissant and a cup of coffee but I noticed that sandwiches were made fresh on request. Slices of cold cuts from local butcher shop Double D Meats filled the sliced focaccia bread and the menu offered two choices: a turkey sandwich and a club sandwich.
Club has pastrami, honey ham, Genoa salami and slices of Swiss cheese, topped with pesto on herb focaccia. Turkey sandwich also topped with pesto and Swiss cheese on focaccia. I noted the sandwich bread was also sold prepackaged for home use.
Both priced at $9.95 and included a generous salad of fresh greens and veggies. Done!
While I waited for my “to go” orders, I entertained my taste buds with a treat. The chalk board listed specials — that day’s offered 12-oz. mocha and a choice of a cookie or croissant, for $5. The drink was easy to order, my pastry choice not so.
The size of Grand Pere croissants is amazing. In my photo, the cake box is 12 inches by 12 inches, just to give you an idea of scale. Almond croissants, which are twice baked, and a double chocolate croissant, both could be shared with a friend or two… and at $3.50, an absolute bargain. Butter croissants, cinnamon sticks, almonds sticks and a blueberry Danish filled the shelves behind the glass.
My eyes landed on a Tasse de crème, a salted caramel pastry cream with burnt sugar on top, all hugged by crisp layers of croissant. I settled into a cozy spot in front of the fireplace to wait for my lunch order.
I bit into the circle of crisp pastry that surrounded the custard caused the salted cream caramel to oozing out, oh my! In between bites I sipped a perfect Americano. The shop has full-service coffee, Attibassi Italian espresso beans are incorporated into the drinks by a very proficient barista.
An Edmonds mom named Michele and her 2-year-old daughter joined me. She said, “I’ve driven by this place so many times and oh gosh, I’m so glad I stopped. We will be back often.”
Her 2-year-old blonde cherub grinned in agreement. She munched her chocolate chip walnut cookie as she played peek-a-boo from behind the flowers on the table.
Both sandwiches traveled home still warm and melted with the interior bread, and outside a soft tender crust not overgrilled.
More reasons to dine locally
New for lunch- Ganache Patisserie has sandwichea: salmon with cream cheese, a mozzarella basil sandwich, and a chipotle chicken sandwich. Plan ahead, get there early as these disappear quickly from the case.
An early holiday gift from SPUD Fish and Chips in Edmonds: try out their mobile app, get 20 percent off the first order. Go to spudfishandchips.com, download app, then text SPUD2GO to 33733.
— By Kathy Passage
A specialty gourmet food broker for over 30 years, Kathy Passage has in-depth knowledge on food and the special qualities of ingredients used in the exquisite products she helped bring to market. Kathy brings this unique perspective from the “other side of the plate” to writing about the local food and restaurant scene.