STL Jewish-owned Coma Coffee awakens customers to the taste of something special

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Coma Coffee (Facebook)

Cheryl Baehr, Special to the Jewish Light

It’s not uncommon for customers to ask Macy Holtzman how Coma Coffee Roasters got its name. She understands it’s quizzical – after all, coffee tends to jolt people awake, not lull them into slumber as the name might imply. However, once she explains the origins, it all makes sense.

“People think it’s a weird name at first, but it’s the first two letters of my name and my brother, Corbin’s name,” explains Holtzman, who is Jewish. “We’d been thinking of names forever, and finally came up with Coma. This was a family business right from day one, so the name just made complete sense.”

A family business through and through, Coma opened five years ago on the ground floor of the Brentwood Tower Building, one of the many properties owned by the Holtzman family through their property management company, STLCRE. Though the hospitality industry was never something they necessarily fancied themselves getting into, the Holtzmans decided to take the leap after recognizing a void in Brentwood Tower. A bustling office complex, the family felt it needed a coffeeshop that would serve as an amenity for the building’s tenants and surrounding neighbors; instead of outsourcing the project, they decided to take it on themselves, tapping Corbin, 29, and Macy, 31, to lead the project – and Macy Holtzman was not enthused.

“I think I tried talking everyone out of it,” Holtzman laughs. “I’d gone to school in Denver, then moved to Chicago and came home with plans on moving to San Diego, when my parents said, ‘Hey, before you leave, we’re going to open a coffeeshop. Will you help us?’ I thought they had to be kidding. None of us drank coffee, and we had no hospitality background other than my work for a year at a coffeeshop when I was in high school. I said I’d help, but I was constantly reminding them that I was leaving. But then, I ended up falling in love with the business.”

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Macy Holtzman, who runs the day-to-day operations of Coma, credits her change of heart to the world of coffee that revealed itself to her as she prepared to open the shop. Prior to that shift, she had always viewed coffee as a means to get through the day – a mindset that started during her youth in her family’s kitchen. Doctored with cream and sugar to make up for the bitter taste of pre-ground, store brand products, coffee at the Holtzman household was never really enjoyed for its own sake, and that approach stuck with her as she went on to college, and then an office job in Chicago. There she drank K-cups from the workplace coffeemaker to power through her day, aware that people enjoyed coffee drinks in their own right, though she never understood the allure.

That all changed with Coma. Once she began researching the coffee supply chain and production processes, experiencing quality beans, and diving into the roasting process for the shop’s opening, she realized there was an entirely new way of experiencing coffee – one she wanted to be a part of. She describes this awakening as utterly revelatory.

via @comacoffee on Instagram

“I began to think of coffee as so much like wine – how you roast it and where it comes from really translates into its tasting profiles,” Holtzman explains. “If you have a really good cup of coffee, you don’t have to put cream and sugar in it. You can enjoy it without those things, and I never would have done that before. I got really excited about opening Coma and showcasing coffee to customers that I had never been educated on before this. I was really excited to translate what I’d learned to the customers.”

Holtzman’s enthusiasm was infectious, and she was confident that she and her brother were providing a great service to those in and around Brentwood Tower. Still, she describes Coma’s first year of business as a roller coaster. Though the shop had a good product and rave reviews, it took some time for prospective customers outside of the building to realize that Coma was more than an office building coffee kiosk. Holtzman admits to second-guessing herself, and she was exhausted by the demanding schedule her role necessitated. However, that hard work paid off.

After about a year in business, word of Coma’s quality beans got out, and Holtzman was contacted by other restaurants and cafes about carrying the shop’s coffee. As that wholesale business grew, so did Holtzman’s sales, business acumen and confidence that she and her brother were onto something special.

Their vision for Coma also grew. Though they were successful in their original location, the Holtzmans decided to move the shop across the hallway and into a much larger space when the prior tenant, Blue Tower Grill, closed. The new spot not only afforded the operation more seating and a larger kitchen; it also presented an opportunity to expand the concept and cater to the happy hour and nighttime business that used to animate Blue Tower Grill. Macy Holtzman hired a chef, brought on a beverage director, expanded hours and crafted a new vision of what Coma could be, without sacrificing the essence of what put it on the map. Though she’s had to scale back hours because of the staffing issues that every restaurant is currently enduring, she is confident that the shop will soon again offer its extended hours so she can fully realize all that she knows Coma can be.

“We have students who come in for coffee and business professionals who meet for happy hour,” Holtzman says. “We are happy to appeal to all those groups, because I really feel that we are one of the very few places that executes both coffee and cocktails really well – where you can get a killer cappuccino and a killer Old Fashioned. It’s such a great spot, and being able to provide joy in people’s lives – even if it is just for 10 minutes – makes this all worth it for us.”