More Than A Coffee Shop

Pam George

In just six years, Greg Vogeley has established Drip Café as one of Hockessin’s favorite gathering places

 

If you decide to just drop by Drip Café in Hockessin on a Saturday morning, you’ll need to practice patience. The wait for a seat at the Lantana Square restaurant is often 30 minutes on weekends.

But, as loyal customers will tell you, persistence pays off. “I find the food fresh and inventive—not just eggs and bacon, although, who doesn’t like eggs and bacon?” says Hockessin-area resident Steve Rapposelli.

Consider dishes such as breakfast carbonara, which adds a sunny-side-up egg to gnocchi and a roasted garlic cream sauce, and  “The Cali,” sourdough toast topped with a fried egg, mozzarella, avocado, and arugula-and-basil aioli.

Then there are the bacon-flecked pancakes, crowned by tender, roasted apples, smoked bacon, and a house-made salted caramel sauce, a dish that made People magazine’s list of the 50 best breakfasts in the United States. The story caught the eye of Fox 29 News, which filmed a segment at the restaurant.

The aromatic coffee is hot, the brunch dishes are fresh, and the community spirit—punctuated by the sputtering hiss of espresso machines—is strong. “They have earned all their success by a simple formula—good food and great service,” Rapposelli says.

But the real secret to the Drip Café’s popularity is its bespectacled owner, Greg Vogeley, who last year cut the ribbon on a smaller Drip Café in Newark. “It’s his work ethic and the way he treats his staff,” Rapposelli says. “He started small as an upstart and consistently delivered.”

Setting Goals, Following Through

Vogeley entered the industry at a young age. He’d just turned 14 when he went to the local pizza parlor in his hometown, Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, and applied for the dishwasher position.  “You did what?” his incredulous mother asked when he returned.

Vogeley’s older brother had just bought a car, and Vogeley wanted to start saving right away for his own vehicle, he told her. Few employers would hire a 14-year-old. But his mother cut one of the owner’s hair, and she put in a good word. “At 14, I learned that it helps to know someone to get a job—anywhere,” he says.

In high school, Vogeley played low-pitched instruments, such as the tuba. A Grateful Dead fan, he was also interested in the music business. When he matriculated to Clarion University in western Pennsylvania, he decided to study the finance and marketing end of the industry. For a class in entrepreneurship, he wrote a business plan for a music club. “I think I always had that itch” to own a business, he says.

A job in the music industry, however, is hard to find in the Greater Philadelphia region. Back home in Glen Mills, he sold shank-proof pencils and bulletproof vests to correctional institutions. “I wasn’t very good at it,” he says. “It didn’t last long.” Neither did a few other sales jobs. His mother suggested that he work at Starbucks for the benefits.

He landed the job, and it turned out that Vogeley and the espresso machine were a match made in heaven. He appreciated the art of making the perfect cappuccino, the craftsmanship needed to create an excellent Americano, and the connection with the customers.

“I realized that you didn’t have to sit at a desk to have a good job,” he says. “It’s OK to be in customer service—it’s a real field—and the restaurant industry is a real industry that you can make a career out of.”

Odyssey From Barista to Business Owner

At Starbucks, Vogeley only rose as high as a shift supervisor. He wanted more of a java-centric job, and when a management job opened at Brew HaHa!’s original Greenville location, he jumped at it.

At the time, there were Brew HaHa! locations in Delaware and Pennsylvania. Seeking to reinforce old school methods, owner Alisa Morkides made Vogeley a barista trainer. For nearly two years, he traveled from site to site, teaching more than 150 people the art of making coffee. For a 25-year-old, it was a lot of responsibility, and it wasn’t always easy. He says he learned from his experiences—good and bad—and he considers Morkides a mentor.

Seeking to get “back to basics,” he left Brew HaHa! to work at the Panera Bread location on Kirkwood Highway. “My goal was to focus on four-wall management again—building a team, building a staff,” he says. “I was a training manager, so they’d shuffle new hires and assistant managers through my store. It was one of the busiest stores in the Philadelphia franchise.”

Vogeley’s work history includes Starbucks, Panera Bread, Brew HaHa! and Redfire Grill. Photo by Lindsay duPhily

In 2008, when Vogeley started at Panera, there was a coffee shop in Lantana Square called Over Coffee Café, owned by Ben Cordova. When Vogeley visited the café, Cordova recognized him from his Brew HaHa! days. They struck up a friendship. “I loved it there,” Vogeley says. “I loved the way it looked. It felt like a place that I belonged in.” He had no idea that he would one day own a restaurant in the same space.

Over Coffee Café did not last long. Cordova leased the equipment to Café Reve, which also failed to thrive. Meanwhile, Vogeley was unhappy at Panera. In 2012, he met a friend at LOMA Coffee, where Cordova was working. “You seem angry,” the friend noted. “What do you want to do?” Vogeley pointed at Cordova and said: “I want to run my own coffee shop.”

Three weeks later, he’d left Panera to become a server at Redfire Grill & Steakhouse in Lantana Square. Waiting tables gave him time to develop a plan for a food truck. Called Drip, the truck would serve specialty coffees on the West Chester University campus.

Vogeley had gathered the necessary financing needed to purchase a truck when Cordova asked him to consider buying the equipment at Café Reve. Although two coffee shops had failed in the same storefront, Vogeley decided to buy the restaurant instead of the food truck. It didn’t bother him that a Starbucks was scheduled to open in the area. He knew his competitor well, and he vowed to be different.

Double Drips

Thanks to his job at Redfire, Vogeley also knew the shopping center and clientele. He told his customers that Drip Café was coming. “I don’t know if we would have had the great start that we did if people didn’t’ recognize my face,” he says.

Admittedly, it’s an easy face to remember. Even his beard can’t hide a youthful, cherubic visage, and his spectacles have become a signature. “I’ve had customers remember me and visit me from Brew HaHa!, Panera and Redfire,” he says. “It’s an amazing compliment that they continue to support the little guy.”

The “little guy” is big on flavor. “So often at a coffee shop, the food is just OK at best, and you go into a breakfast spot, and the coffee is [crap],” he says. “I was always in love with the breakfast idea, and I wanted to offer something unique.”

Hockessin, which had long embraced a natural foods store, was the perfect place for a coffee shop whose food focused on fresh ingredients. Even better, Drip Café already had a full kitchen, which he has expanded twice. Vogeley was the chef when the café opened in 2013, and he kept his finger on the pulse of customer likes and dislikes. To keep the menu seasonal, he changes about 70 percent of the items every three months.

Smoked Salmon BLT. Photo by Lindsay duPhily

After opening in 2013, Drip Café quickly gained a following. “It’s cozy and has good comfort food and beverages,” says frequent customer Gaby O’Brien, who lives nearby. “They never rush you to leave after you’ve paid your bill. It’s a favorite spot.”

Still enamored of the food truck idea, Vogeley followed up with The Brunch Box, a food truck specializing in breakfast sandwiches and other brunch items. He also expanded the restaurant to handle the growing customer base. In the end, the food truck was a pet passion that was consuming too much time with too little return. “The juice wasn’t worth the squeeze,” he quips. He sold the truck.

A location in Newark? Well, that might just be worth the effort. When he was approached by a developer to open on North College Avenue within walking distance of the campus, he seized the opportunity.

The smaller Newark site has a more limited menu. “It’s a takeout version of ourselves,” says Vogeley. He and his team went through the Hockessin menu to select dishes that would work in the new format. And he didn’t compromise on quality. “Food has always been a big part of what we do,” he says.

Vogeley would like to open a third location in the future, particularly if he could find a site near Delaware County, where he grew up. Perhaps one day he’ll serve coffee with a splash of music. “I tell people that I got a music degree, and like any good musician, I’m working in a restaurant,” he quips.

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