Mrinal Gokhale
City Business

Rochambo Coffee & Tea House

The Brady Street cafe has become a favorite for organic coffee, unique teas and Irish Whiskey.

By - May 14th, 2014 02:22 pm
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Rochambo Coffee & Tea House. Photo by Mrinal Gokhale.

Rochambo Coffee & Tea House. Photo by Mrinal Gokhale.

Rochambo Coffee & Tea House, 1317 E. Brady St., has been known as the little yellow coffee shop building on Brady Street for more than 18 years. Back when it  opened, in 1995, there were no other coffee shops on Brady St., and very few in town.

Owner Melissa Honkamp pursued the opportunity after her husband Michael earned an MBA during an economic downturn.  The Honkamps were college students at the time. Little did they know, Rochambo would become one of Milwaukee’s longest-running coffee houses.

“My husband always enjoyed the coffee shop culture and wanted to bring it to Milwaukee. I loved how eclectic Brady Street is and thought it was a great location because it was transitioning,” she says.

Despite not having any prior work experience and having just gotten married, the couple teamed up with friends to design a “European style” café.

“We had a lot on our plate at the time but jumped into Rochambo full force,” Honkamp explains. “Michael’s friends helped us get the physical location opened and create our vision of a European café.”

As for the name, it suggests a French noble, the rock-paper-scissors game (spelled roshambo) or another more painful game, among other things.

Rochambo’s products include a four-page organic tea menu, a Valentine Coffee Company house coffee, hot and cold drinks, seasonal specials, wine, liquor coffee and beer on tap. Their logo contains the slogan, “the best Irish coffee in town.” Their Irish coffee is made with house coffee, three cubes of sugar, and a shot of Jameson whiskey topped with hand-whipped cream.

But most of Rochambo’s sales come from organic teas and snacks. The tea leaves come from Rishi Tea, Frontier and Nuwati which are all organic brands. Honkamp was Rishi Tea’s first coffee shop customer and was drawn to its fair trade organic products.

The snacks and natural juices contain no GMO’s or high fructose corn syrup. The company recently switched to Sassy Cow organic milk and creamer and is one of the only local coffee shops to do so. The to-go coffee cups are recyclable and break down into human compost.

Seating area. Photo by Mrinal Gokhale.

Seating area. Photo by Mrinal Gokhale.

Honkamp is a huge advocate of environmentally friendly products and feels it’s the key to her success. She feels it’s unethical to settle for commercial cups which have to be disposed or opt for unhealthy products even if they’re cheaper.

“We want to carry products that help the body, not ones that potentially harm you,” Honkamp says. “If a sales person offers us a hotselling product that is not whole-bean based and filled with ingredients me or my grandma don’t recognize, I don’t care how hot a seller it is; it’s not coming in the house.”

On a typical day, barista Brian Nusslock, 31, makes multiple drink orders while casually chatting with customers at the bar. The bright-yellow walls are decorated with colorful framed vintage art, local artwork, and paper fliers. Holiday decorations are hung from the walls at the entrance. The dim lighting combines multi-colored Christmas tree shaped lights on the glass windows and hanging ceiling bulbs.

One of the Buddha statues. Photo by Mrinal Gokhale

One of the Buddha statues. Photo by Mrinal Gokhale

The shop has a second floor which features two Buddha statues, orange and green walls, and a dimly lit chandelier. There are about 15 tables for two scattered throughout. The glass windows offer a view of Brady Street.

Online reviews praise the shop for its laid-back atmosphere, unique teas, board games and late hours. Open from early morning to midnight every day, tables are occupied by UW-Milwaukee and Marquette students, musicians, working professionals, and other cafe aficionados. Nusslock has been a barista for five years, longer than the rest of the staff, and knows many customers by name.

“I come here after work because I love the Irish coffee, the atmosphere and the fact that they’re open so late. I usually take a seat up at the bar and chat with Brian about comics,” says regular customer Adam Krueger.

Dakota Sky Bowen, who’s been a barista for a year and half, describes Rochambo as a watering hole. “People come to visit others like at a bar. Everyone is friendly and even when you don’t come in with the intention to meet people, you do anyways,” she laughs.

Customers having coffee at Rochambo. Photo by Mrinal Gokhale.

Customers having coffee at Rochambo. Photo by Mrinal Gokhale.

Nancy Catanni is a student who enjoys late night study sessions and hanging out with friends at Rochambo. “I like the atmosphere of this place and will come here for finals. It doesn’t have a corporate feel like Starbucks or other coffee shops — the chairs have a worn look and the tables are of different designs. It makes me feel more at home,” she chuckles.

Honkamp takes pride in her staff, believing they help sustain Rochambo’s success.  “We work on creating a harmonious atmosphere to recharge your battery, so to speak,” she explains. “We don’t want you to come in order a coffee and leave. We want people to share a beverage and their lives.”

Rochambo Coffee & Tea Shop, 1317 East Brady Street, is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 12. a.m., Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m., and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m.

Categories: City Business

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