Anytime you see people riding a tandem it makes you smile,” says Kathleen Pratt, referring to the two-person cycle, the namesake for her and husband Will’s Portland, Maine, roastery. The couple—who met as baristas at Espresso Royale (now Pavement Coffeehouse) and both put time in at Blue Bottle—migrated to Maine after working in coffee in San Francisco, New York, and Martha’s Vineyard. They settled on opening Tandem Coffee Roasters in Portland after a tandem cycle around the coastal city charmed their socks off.
That was in 2012. Now the Pratts own two cafés, one a pocket roastery at a refurbished scrap metal yard, the other, co-owned with Vien Dobui, a scratch bakery housed in an old gas station. Fitting snugly with Portland’s fine-dining scene and small-town warmth, Tandem has style in spades, from two artfully refurbished cafés, to a minimalist tandem bicycle logo, and a host of photo-worthy pies.
At Tandem’s snug first location, Will and roaster Emily Pappo craft coffees for both cafés and a long list of wholesale accounts on a new Loring S15 Falcon roaster. The roastery and shop fits into what was once the office of a Portland metal yard. Out back, in the former scrapyard, is Bunker Brewing Company. Since moving Tandem into the yard in 2012, Kathleen says the two businesses have been close, with beers from Bunker fueling much of the remodeling.
Tandem’s flagship café is small, a mere 1,000 square feet, but the clean simplicity of the shop’s design matches the industrial nature of the site, and the effect is comforting. “You walk in and you feel like you’re walking into our kitchen or something,” says Kathleen. She describes the lot as more of a “neighborhood campus.”
At that café’s small U-shaped bar, a La Marzocco GB-5 (the original machine from Blue Bottle’s Hayes Valley kiosk which Kathleen says came with “good karma,”) brews a blend and a single-origin daily, with V60s prepared to order. Pour-over service and an off-the-beaten-path locale keep the pace calm and steady. At Tandem’s second, West End location, opened in August 2014, the vibe is much different.
Due in part to a write-up in Bon Appetite and pastry photographs that caused foodies across the world to swoon, business at Tandem’s café and bakery is booming. It doesn’t hurt that Portland is blossoming, its arts, food, and coastal culture attracting tourists in droves, or that the shop immediately draws the eye. Its 1960s architecture remains an ode to the building’s years as a fill-up station, with sweeping awnings and old-timey signage. Inside, the shop’s semi-famous baked goods, crafted by head baker Briana Holt, are full-bore: gorgeous to look at and skimping on nothing. “She doesn’t hold back at all. Tons of butter,” says Kathleen of Holt, who got her baking chops at Pies ‘n’ Thighs in Brooklyn.
Customers can enjoy single-origin espresso drinks made on a La Marzocco Linea PB that perfectly matches the renovated station’s diner-meets-modern-art-museum interior. There’s also a Fetco to handle the shops’ higher volume (Tandem’s second shop is twice as big), single-origin and malted cold-brews, popular outdoor seating, floor-to-ceiling windows, and the aforementioned, eye-catching pastries, ranging from cheddar-jalapeño biscuits to house-made focaccia sandwiches, and sweet and savory scones. And then there are the pies: peach-lime-tequila with salted crust, black pepper-plum with cornmeal crust, blueberry with almond crumb crust, and a coconut-almond cream pie that Kathleen likens to an Almond Joy.
Visitors to Portland come in part for the city’s homespun, culinary treasures. The fact that Tandem’s businesses were created from a love of the local lifestyle and of coffee, “organically,” as Kathleen says, has helped fit the roastery into the folds of Portland life, and also put it on the map. Tandem’s coffees are in demand across the country, served in dozens of locales, including some with a surplus of great coffee—like Brooklyn—and unexpected places like Exeter, New Hampshire, and New Orleans.
Kathleen says the company’s growth will continue to happen naturally. “We’re just waiting for the opportunity to present itself like it did with our bakery location and our good friend, Briana moving here . . . we’re not out pounding the pavement looking for another location, but if a rad building appears or an exciting collaboration presents itself, then we could be all about it.”
—Story by Regan Crisp. Photos by Christopher Berkley.