It’s a Small World Celebration

Coffee lovers can help Princeton’s beloved coffee shop celebrate its 20th anniversary

By Anthony Stoeckert
When I was a kid growing up on Long Island in the 1970s and ‘80s, the term "coffee shop" meant a small diner where people, mostly men, sat a counter, drinking joe out of standard cups, usually red and white, and eating pie as they read “The Racing Form.”
   But a different kind of coffee shop existed in California – hip places where young people sipped java that was artfully roasted and brewed, and talked about school, relationships and life in general.
   Then in the early 1990s, Jessica Durrie and Brant Cosaboom had the idea of opening a West Coast-style coffee place on the East Coast. The result was Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Street, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Dec. 22.
   To mark the occasion, the Princeton institution will offer live music, with the Princeton High School String Quartet playing from 8-10 a.m. for morning coffee and Sunday paper reading. From 7-9 p.m., the store will host a party with live music from Chris Harford and the Band of Changes. Food and birthday cake will be served during the evening as well. There also will be a raffle, with the winner receiving a free Small World drink every day for a year.
   ”It’s a big thank you to our customers and our staff,” Ms. Durrie says.
   Despite the big anniversary, this is actually a smaller celebration than Small World has hosted on prior 5-year milestones. Previous occasions have been marked with a party for employees and customers at Small World’s roasting facility in Rocky Hill (the coffee served at store is roasted the day it’s served. The scaled-down party is the result of Ms. Durrie getting married this year.
   ”I couldn’t imagine throwing another big party,” she says.
   On a mid-December day, Small World’s location at 14 Witherspoon St. (a second store is at 254 Nassau St.), is active with people lined up for drinks. It’s about the only place in town I didn’t hear Christmas music playing in for weeks. Instead of “Merry Christmas Baby,” Otis Redding’s version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” played.
   The owners met in Michigan, when they both worked in the coffee business. It was then they had the idea of opening a coffee shop. Neither was from Princeton or New Jersey, and the selection of the town was well thought-out.
   ”We were looking for a college town with a vibrant community,” Mr. Cosaboom says, adding that they would have gone to whatever town they thought best-suited their needs: A successful business was the goal.
   They also wanted a town with a population of more than 50,000, a requirement Princeton didn’t meet at the time. But, Mr. Cosaboom adds, nearby places like West Windsor, Kingston and Rocky Hill made Princeton a “surrogate home town.”
   They spent a year figuring out the right town for their shop. Working out the lease took another six months.
   And Small World is now one of the places that define Princeton. If you show people from out of town Princeton, there’s an excellent chance that the visit will include a stop at Small World.
   There was little competition in town then. Starbucks opened a few years after Small World, and there are now specialty food spots all over town. Some coffee shops have come and gone, and Ms. Durrie and Mr. Cosaboom can’t help but chuckle over a called Princeton’s Original Coffee House, which opened after they did.
   Princeton has its share of notables, and well-known actors performing at McCarter Theatre have enjoyed Small World’s offerings of coffees, teas, hot chocolates, and pastries. Chevy Chase once showed up and hammed it up — pretending to steal the tip jar. But it’s the non-famous folk that make Small World what it is, according to the owners.
   ”It’s really about our regular customers that we know by name and that come in daily,” Ms. Durrie says.
   When asked what they would recommend to a first-time visitor to Small World, both owners are quick to say the cappuccino. Standards are high at Small World and it can take nine months, and 20 to 30 hours of training, before a barrister is qualified to make cappuccinos that are customer-worthy. Barristers learn under the guidance of head trainer Tuc Sargentini, who’s worked for Small World since 1994.Anyone can make a good cappuccino now and then at home, the owners say, but being able to make a great one each and every time at a high level of excellence is something else.
   As Ms. Durrie says, “it’s really easy to make it bad.”
For more information, go to www.smallworldcoffee.com or call 609-924-4377.