Thursday, March 31, 2011

“The American Dream”

            The wind has a way of defining Annapolis as a city for sailing. In June, this is a refreshing reminder, but in January, when locals cut through the wind like knives through ice, that air can feel a bit uncomfortable. So when a lawyer is finished with his trial and he walks back to his office on West Street, he passes by an almost invisible coffee shop, whose lingering scent can allure anyone in search of a warm place to stay. Inside Café Ole, one can greet the owner, a cheerful woman named Claudia Hassan: an entrepreneur whose ethics were never learned in a classroom, but always perfected in her business.
            Upon initial entry her voice can be heard toward the direction of the door to greet her most recent arrival, but her shocking blue eyes will most likely be fixed on the soul of one of her regulars. She sparkles behind her cash register, including everyone in her conversation through her contagious laugh. If enough time is spent there, a customer can learn about her history before she offers another refill of a sixteen-ounce drink. Her Brazilian accent complements her story well. When it’s combined with her jovial tone her happiness seems immeasurable.
            When she first moved to the United States, Café Ole was known as The Pony Espresso. Claudia was a barista there for eight years working hard to support herself and her family. “Everyone here knows everything about everyone. They always ask me about my boys, my house and my family in Brazil,” she told me on the first day I worked for her, “and soon they’ll know everything about you!” Her laughter turns into ecstasy when two elementary-aged boys skip into the store squealing for their mother’s attention. She showers them with love as they play with the register, count money and sip chocolate milk like they own the place (because of their ancestral right, they do). “Don’t forget to say hello to everyone who walks in the door,” she teaches the boys, “also say thank you very much for coming Miss Nancy, because we want her to come back! We love her!”
Over half of her customers are regulars, which is typical of businesses downtown. When regulars bring co-workers or a passerby stumbles upon the open doorway, they seem to make a connection with the 10-foot wide building. The familiar faces become a family, but even the out-of-towner can feel at home at either a barstool by the window or a table between the door and the register. Claudia’s shop is an oasis for her customers, whose spare time she values for it is spent drinking her coffee.  Her presence distracts busy Annapolitans from the stressors of daily life, providing them with service so pure it doesn’t feel like service. It’s a small abode, humble at its’ worst, that generates gallons of coffee per day, filling West Street’s atmosphere with the seductive smell of a fresh brew.
A Brazilian smile, Seattle’s Best coffee and an American currency keep her business running. For nine hours of the day, every day (apart from weekends, which are reserved for her heirs), Claudia is like the best friend you never had. She intently listens to her customers, always giving advice and receiving favors in return. One of the first things she taught me upon my employment was not simply serve coffee, but to build a relationship. It’s a beautiful thing to see your customers as friends. She understands the exchange of service, not simply of money, and that is what makes Claudia Hassan a notable entrepreneur.
Submitted by: Sigrun Kalatschan


  1. I will have to bring my daughter and her friends in for a cup of coffee. She has a good friend that is an exchange student from Brazil and I know they will be excited. Thank you for a great story.

  2. Ms. Hassan has certainly built a welcoming establishment, by your account! Café Ole sounds like a reflection of her personality and business acumen. It is good business to make people feel welcome, especially in the hospitality and food service businesses. Ms. Hasaan sounds like a worthy and able entrepreneur. I enjoyed your blog entry!