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Something's brewin': Coffee shop perks up old home

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Thursday, November 5, 1998
Author: CINDY CREBBIN, Special to the Journal Sentinel

The most frequent comment Chris Carrillo gets about his coffee shop at N64-W23798 Main St. is: "It's about time Sussex got a coffee shop."

Actually, Carrillo, 31, operated his coffee shop for a year at the Sussex Plaza, also on Main St., but out of the main downtown area.

"The location wasn't very good there. Nobody knew we were there," he said.

Now, his store, A Taste of Gourmet, operates out of a green and ivory Victorian home, surrounded by maple trees and shrubs. It has a gazebo, tables with umbrellas and picnic tables outside.

Inside, the shop occupies 1,300 square feet of the first floor of this former home. With original maple floors and forest green trim around the windows accented by lace valances, the main seating area has six tables with chairs where one can sip a cup of coffee and enjoy a homemade muffin or bagel.

A small, comfortable space to the rear, which Carrillo calls the "quiet room," provides a sofa to sink into with a fireplace nearby, which will be lighted in chillier weather, as well as a computer with Internet access for visitors.

In the center of the shop is the counter, offering coffees of the day such as Autumn Spice or Chocolate Cherry, plus sandwiches, custard and bulk coffees.

According to Carrillo of Neosho, at his first location, "We started out mainly with coffee. Then, we expanded to bagel sandwiches."

Since moving to the heart of Sussex in May, near the Civic Center, he has added custard and numerous other sandwiches on croissants and French rolls, as well as subs.

"We also added hot dogs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for kids," he said. "And we make soup and chili in the winter."

Carrillo and his staff of six have started doing deliveries to businesses and schools over the lunch hour.

"It's taken off pretty well," Carrillo said. "People are surprised to know everything we have."

On a recent Monday morning, a group of five women from Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church gathered for their weekly coffee and muffins or bagels at the shop. Margaret Kraatz of Lisbon said they enjoy "the quaint" ambience of the former Victorian home.

"Sometimes there's two of us. Sometimes there's seven to eight," said Karin Pratt of Merton. "They (employees) bend over backwards for us."

Carrillo said he hired someone to remodel the home into a coffee shop, which took about five months. He said the building once was the home and office of family doctor E. Van Valin, who made house calls. Carrillo bought the home from Van Valin's wife, Alvina, who is in her 80s and still lives in Sussex .

When Carrillo discovered the home, it was surrounded by thick brush and trees. Carrillo had the undergrowth cleared out and the garage and chicken coop to the rear of the home were torn down to provide parking spaces.

"We wanted to keep the Victorian theme," noted Carrillo, who eventually hopes to expand the second and third levels of the home into Sussex 's first bed and breakfast.

Carrillo said he's doing what he's always wanted to do, "being an entrepreneur."

After graduating from Messmer High School in Milwaukee, Carrillo worked numerous jobs, including one at a tavern .

Then, two years ago, when he was looking for a new challenge, he bought a business called The Gift Depot, located in the old train depot off Main St.

Among the merchandise he sold in the store was packaged coffee.

"The women running the shop for me said people would often come in asking for a cup of gourmet coffee. That's kind of how I got started," said Carrillo, who in 1997 changed the name of The Gift Depot to A Taste of Gourmet.

A Taste of Gourmet is open seven days a week, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. In winter, evening hours probably will be shortened, said Carrillo.

To check on winter hours, call 246-0750.
Caption: Photo BENNY SIEU STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Chris Carrillo operated a coffee shop in Sussex for a year before he recently moved his business to a Victorian home closer to downtown.

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