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Michele Marchetti: Callao Cafe and Market Has Old Town Feel

by on February 08, 2012 6:00 AM

My first visit to Callao Cafe and Market almost didn’t happen.

I drove into the parking lot on West Aaron Drive and parked in front of the coffee shop once owned by Webster’s. With my antsy 3 year old in the car and no sign on the door, I nearly steered my car back home. 

But the new cafe beckoned like a just-purchased book, compelling me to drag my daughter out of the car and investigate.

As I walked to the door, the overwhelming coffee smell assured me I wouldn’t be disappointed. With a quick glance at the menu, I headed to the counter where a smiling employee managed to ask for my name and compliment me on my scarf before I even had a chance to order.

The Dale Carnegie -modeled service was by design, as was the absence of a sign. (There’s currently a temporary one on the door).

According to owner David Price, Callao Cafe and Market is a show — he included that exact line in the employee handbook — and he is the “ringmaster.” If customers are standing around waiting to order, they aren’t being entertained, which means they might decide to leave.

And that scenario is more damaging than the customer who never shows up in the first place.

“I figure you only have one-and-a-half chances to make a first impression,” he said.

The other distinguishing quality of Callao, which opened in mid-November, is exceptional, gourmet coffee. The day I stopped in I was awake until way past midnight, buzzing from the drinks I couldn’t stop sampling.

I started with a cup of the top-selling Bodacious, then moved onto an exceptionally smooth shot of espresso and finished with the “showstopper”: gourmet hot chocolate, made with Ghiradelli and steamed milk.

I balanced the caffeine binge with “The Soon-to-be-Nearly-Famous Breakfast Bar” from my favorite local baker, Clare Traynor.

Made with cashews, sunflower seeds, whole organic oats, golden flax meal, almond butter, organic agave nectar and semi-sweet chocolate, the nutrient-dense bar is far superior to the insipid morning muffin. (My daughter thought it was a brownie).

Also on the menu: delicious Harrison’s soup, your basic lunch sandwiches and a few other dessert options, including gluten-free items that even gluten eaters love from local baker Liz Spielvogel. 

Callao isn’t trying to be Webster’s, and the appearance of Boar’s Head products on the menu has already rankled at least one customer. But Price isn’t fazed. He realizes he can’t appeal to everyone.

“In my world, vegan cookies and roast beef sandwiches can peacefully coexist. But some people can’t handle that,” he said.

While Callao was envisioned as a local’s spot, the look is more neighborhood deli than cozy coffee shop. Price sent his designer pictures of old general stores for inspiration. The bar is made with wood from the hay barn where Price and his wife were married. The benches are actually repurposed church pews.

Like the town general store, the café is a place to quickly refuel while discussing the latest scuttlebutt or greeting a neighbor.

On a recent weekend, Price spotted a college student chatting with an older couple. Before the college student walked out the door, she turned to the couple and said, "Make sure you send me an email."

It’s the kind of interaction that Price believes will bring his customers back — even if there isn’t a sign on the door when they arrive.

Michele Marchetti is a freelance writer and the former managing editor of Prior to moving to State College, she spent more than 10 years writing for national magazines. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Fortune, Fortune Small Business, Glamour, U.S. News & World Report, Runner's World, Good Housekeeping, Working Mother, Yoga Life and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow her on Twitter at or contact her at [email protected]
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