How Coffee Mania became a staple for coffee fanatics in Cortland

Craig and Michelle Brooks, co-owners of Coffee Mania (photo provided)

Craig and Michelle Brooks, co-owners of Coffee Mania (photo provided)

CORTLAND, N.Y. — Since opening their doors—or windows—in 1999, Coffee Mania has become a staple for early morning risers, college students, and coffee fanatics in the Cortland area and beyond. Serving up a delicious variety of coffee and baked goods from their Cortland drive-thru locations and Origins Café in Homer, Coffee Mania is renowned for establishing a new era of “coffee culture” here in our humble town. But what’s the real story behind the success of this mom-and-pop coffee shop?

What makes their coffee taste so good? And, most importantly, who opens a drive-thru coffee shop in the middle of central New York?

It all started 16 years ago in a region of the Cascade Mountains just outside of Seattle, Washington. After becoming disillusioned with his job in the auto industry—and after no longer being able to fight the urge to move closer to her mother—Craig and Michelle Brooks sold their home, packed up their two young kids and made the 3,000-mile journey eastward to central New York.

“We were scared,” Michelle said. “Excited and scared, because you just don’t know if it’s going to work out or not.”

Despite their reluctance to relocate, Craig and Michelle immediately set their sights on their next big move: opening a drive-thru coffee shop, just like the ones they had become accustomed to in Seattle. Michelle, who had co-owned a café back in Washington and considered herself business-savvy, had visited the area before and was surprised to find an utter lack of drive-thru coffee shops in the area. And so the search for that perfect plot began.

Ithaca was the initial target area for the first Coffee Mania shop, but the rent prices proved to be more costly than anticipated. One day, as Craig was trying to navigate his way through the streets of Cortland, he stumbled upon an old Hess station at the corner of Port Watson and Pomeroy streets. It was love at first sight. Craig and Michelle made an offer on the station the very next day, and work on the first Coffee Mania shop began.

Through the late summer and fall of 1999, the Brooks family spent countless hours painting, cleaning, and overhauling the worn-out station to create their dream drive-thru. People thought they were crazy, that drive-thru coffee would never have a place in Cortland. Finally, on December 7, 1999, Craig and Michelle opened the very first Coffee Mania shop, located at 160 Port Watson Street.

The Coffee Mania drive-thru location at 160 Port Watson Street (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

The Coffee Mania drive-thru location at 160 Port Watson Street (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

Since then, Craig and Michelle haven’t looked back. They opened a second Coffee Mania drive-thru in the Groton Avenue Plaza in December of 2003 and the sit-down Origins Café at 95 Clinton Street in Homer in 2009.

Craig and Michelle have also taken measures to ensure that their products are of the highest quality. In 2006, they began roasting their coffee beans at their Cortland headquarters, and they recently opened a secret “commissary kitchen” in which they produce their baked goods. Coffee Mania also supplies several varieties of their grounds to local Cortland businesses such as Long Island Bagel and BRU 64, and their coffee can even be found in various locations throughout SUNY Cortland.

When asked about their success, Craig and Michelle gave all the credit to the amazing customer service provided by their employees.

“I would venture to say that it has more to do with than anything else,” Craig said. “It sounds crazy to say, but what we do, we do with love. Usually, if you’ve come through a couple times, the barista might get to know you, they might know what you drink, and they might see you coming up in line and have your drink ready before you get there.”

Coffee Mania will be celebrating its seventeenth year of business this December, a tribute to the success of small, family-owned businesses in a world where multinational corporations dominate the food and beverage industry. Yes, Coffee Mania is here to stay, and Cortland’s coffee craze is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.