By LOU WILIN
It started as the germ of an idea: a place for people to gather and enjoy music without alcohol and in greater safety.
Coffee Amici owners John and Lynne Calvelage say it was “God-inspired.”
“The idea was to eliminate some of the barriers that you might see in a typical gathering place,” John said. “I think we were successful at that.”
In its 15 years in downtown Findlay serving espresso, lattes, cappuccinos, smoothies, coffees and teas, with live music a couple nights a week, Coffee Amici has transcended generations and social classes.
It’s become a place for young and old, for informal business meetings where deals are made, a hangout for members of Alcoholics Anonymous and other people in recovery, for local judges, business professionals and regular folks wanting a break.
Friday night is open mic night, when those accomplished enough to play in front of an audience get to perform three songs or 10 minutes.
“We created a place where young people could perform music, because typically you have to be of age to perform in a bar,” John said.
“And the opposite side of that is that moms and dads can perform like they would when they had their own gig, but young people — their own children — can come see them play for a change because there’s no alcohol served here,” Lynne said. “So it goes both ways.”
Coffee Amici is the place where grandmothers and great-grandmothers in walkers saw their sons perform for the first time because, for the first time, the show was somewhere other than a bar, Lynne said. Babies are soothed to sleep in their parents’ arms while the sounds of jazz, folk, country, classic rock or blues wash over them.
Live music also is performed on Saturdays and sometimes Thursdays. Occasionally piano and guitar recitals are held.
John Calvelage, a former accountant for Marathon, said the idea of a coffee house with entertainment first came to him while he took his frequent walks on North Main Street. He passed a building with something “like a vacant ballroom” on its second story.
“This thought kept coming in my head: ‘What if there was a club there. But it would have to be a place where you didn’t have alcohol, with people falling down the stairs,'” John recalls.
“We talked about juice bars, spritzers,” Lynne said. “Couldn’t really figure it out at the time.”
The idea brewed for perhaps six months, and the Calvelages grew more serious about it, settling on the idea of a coffee house with entertainment. With former business partners Craig and Jayne Allen, they found a vacant storefront at 328 S. Main St., just south of the Hancock County Courthouse, steeped in downtown Findlay milieu.
“The one thing we didn’t foresee at all was the number of business meetings that happen here,” John said. “I mean, there’s been lots of deals made at these tables.”
Lynne: “Unbeknownst to us. We find out later.”
John: “That have brought business to Findlay.”
“We didn’t really foresee that the Italian engineers from Whirlpool would come here to drink espresso, you know,” he said. “The business connections, I think, are things we never foresaw.”
Another surprise: Coffee Amici has become “a home away from home” for the recovery community, Lynne said.
“When we turn the lights down on Friday and Saturday night and the music up, it’s more like being in a bar than you realize,” she said. “AA groups, they can’t go to a bar anymore, so where do you go? … You want to go somewhere and socialize.”
Coffee Amici has other visitors. People coming to town for a funeral. Those on a court break, talking to their lawyer or family member.
People staying overnight at the City Mission have to leave the homeless shelter at 8 a.m. each day, John said. “They’ll come in and get a cup of coffee and sit down and gather themselves before they go about their day,” John said.
Those who just got out of jail come in and ask to use the phone.
“They don’t have anything, because they’ve been in jail all night. Their phone’s out of battery or they don’t have their phone with them,” Lynne said. “They just need a safe place to land, to go to the bathroom, to call somebody, to wash their hands, get some water.”
To be sure, Coffee Amici’s success was not happenstance. John Calvelage has brought his financial expertise as a former Marathon accountant.
Both of Lynne Calvelage’s parents were entrepreneurs from Putnam County. She grew up handling record keeping and accounts receivable and payable for both of her parents’ businesses.
She gained experience in finding vendors, negotiating, planning. Her father did a lot of construction, which helped Lynne in retrofitting the formerly vacant downtown space.
“To get ideas for colors, my Mom was a florist, I know what goes together,” she said.
She also brought her musical talents to bear, playing bass and singing in a house band at Coffee Amici until eight years ago.
“We’re really grateful that we were able to make it the safe place that God directed us to make,” Lynne Calvelage said. “You can have all the best intent. You can make a mistake. You can stumble. You can let your ego get in the way. You can do all the right things, but if the customers don’t appreciate it or don’t feel it, it’s still a flop. It’s a two-way street here.”
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