Small World forges community around coffee

By Ronell Austin Jr.

Detroit, MI

On the outside of Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Street in Princeton, mint green paint creates a safe haven for customers. Inside, between walls of red brick and shiny wood, calming music plays while patrons sip coffee, eat cookies, and type away on their computers. Despite its status as one of Princeton’s most popular coffee shops, Small World feels like less of a business and more like a community. 

That’s exactly what founders Brant Cosaboom and Jessica Durrie intended when they started the cafe, which has two locations in Princeton, general manager Vincent Jule said. On a bulletin board inside the shop, employees post photos of people wearing Small World Coffee merchandise at places around the world, like the Eiffel Tower. 

That sense of community is cultivated by Small World’s employees. Jule, 39, started working at Small World in early 2001 when his friends helped him get a job. He has worked at the coffee shop because he feels welcome, and he likes how the business runs. Jule, who even met his wife at Small World, appreciates how Princeton embraces its local coffee shop. “The pride of feeling like you’re a part of something is something that has been a part of Small World from the beginning,” he said. 

Another employee, 34-year-old Alexis Lucena, feels a sense of belonging at Small World. “[It’s] really fun because it’s fast-paced,” she said. “It’s about team and family, and being a part of tradition.”

Though there is a Starbucks nearby, Jule believes people choose his cafe because of the community’s support for smaller businesses. “There’s a loyalty there,” he said. “They’re welcomed and appreciated.”  

Even the ordering process at Small World is done in a more traditional way. At big chain coffee shops, employees often type orders into a computer. But at Small World, employees still talk directly to each other. When customers order at the register, the cashier calls it out to a barista nearby. 

But Small World also stands out for its signature product: coffee. The cafe uses Arabica and Robusta beans sourced from all over the world. Small World also offers a variety of food options, including sandwiches, vegan cookies, and gluten-free desserts. Management tries to avoid copying the competition. “We don’t necessarily respond to trends because the philosophy of the coffee is what’s important,” Jule said. “It’s better to perfect what works instead of expanding on new trends.”

Customers appreciate the sense of connectedness they feel at Small World. Rick Flagg, 56, from Princeton, said the cafe offers a “great environment.” The shop’s charm also draws customers from beyond Princeton. Visiting from Washington, D.C., Patrick Caldwell, 32, chose to have his coffee at Small World over other options. The atmosphere at a place like Starbucks, he believes, is generic—especially compared to the “positive energy” of a safe haven like Small World.

“People are mirrors,” Jule said. “What you put out to people are what you are going to get back.” 

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