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Community Connection in a Cup

These coffee houses aim to satisfy a robust craving for community connection. Between sips, they serve as venues for entertainment, an atmosphere for creativity, and a hub for social gatherings.

Open Mic night at Ventnor Coffee on Dorset Avenue in Ventnor Heights

Whether you take yours iced or hot, with cream or a plant-based alternative, you are one of many – 62% of Americans according to the National Coffee Association – who look forward to drinking coffee every day. You could brew it at home, but almost half of all coffee drinkers (48%) would rather visit their preferred coffee shop. And while some of us want to dash in and out, brew in hand on our way to some other place, others want more. And that demand goes beyond the variety of bean selection or the ability of the barista to craft your complicated order. In an age where more social interaction happens online instead of in person, these coffee houses at the Shore aim to satisfy a robust craving for community connection. Between sips, they serve as venues for entertainment, an atmosphere for creativity, and a hub for social gatherings.

Ventnor Coffee 

At Ventnor Coffee, proprietor Christine Pagano greets everyone warmly as if she has known you for years—and that includes your dog, who is handed a biscuit on the spot, no matter how long the line is. So, if you’re in a big hurry, you may want to ask yourself why, and settle in on one of the vintage chairs and take in the décor that exudes cutesy Vermont town. 

 “I hear Vermont, I hear Southern California,” Pagano says. “We wanted to create a relaxed environment where people feel comfortable coming in, hanging out and connecting.”

Pagano and her business partner opened Ventnor Coffee in 2013 in a building that was originally an auto repair shop, while she was downsizing her home, which explains where much of the furniture came from.  The old Sands Casino sign behind the counter once hung in her living room. She conceived the idea after the old Wawa on Dorset Avenue closed. Struggling to find the perfect cup of coffee, she was inspired to hone her barista skills. When she decided to open a business, she wanted to create a homey environment that was “eclectic and weird,” she says.

It didn’t take long for a loyal following of customers to catch on to the vibe. One customer brought in an old taboggan Pagano could hang, another brought in an old oar, another brought in an old pair of skis, and someone else regularly brings in the old license plates that hang on the walls and front door. “Not one of my customers is boring.” she quips.

 The red-curtained stage is a venue for open mic nights every Thursday, live music events and poetry readings. In addition, there are "Paint & Sip" nights, with coffee drinks and paint supplies provided. Most of the coffee blends served here are locally sourced from a variety of suppliers, such as Deez Nuts in a Cup, an organic coffee roasted in Ventnor (Try the Og blend.), Bucks County Coffee (Try the Jamaican blend.) and The Zombie Cure out of Princeton. For your sweet tooth, the names of seasonal latte options crafted with Lavazza expresso sounds like desserts- the recipes developed by her employees including her daughter Laura – who dreamed up the dirty banana, which has become the best seller.

Ventnor Coffee | 108 N Dorset Ave, Ventnor City, NJ 08406

Hayday Coffee

Situated on the beach block of New York Avenue in Atlantic City’s Orange Loop district, Hayday coffee is the first and only independent coffee house in Atlantic City and there is much more brewing here besides signature drip coffee and expresso drinks. Owner Evan Sanchez, who grew up in Atlantic City, is one of several entrepreneurs who are reviving this part of AC, once considered “a dead zone,” with a vision of creating a thriving, safe, walkable neighborhood, with restaurants, stores and refurbished buildings, where people can live and work or stay for a visit. 

Sanchez states that the intention of Hayday is to be a meeting point for the local neighborhood, the artist community and the community at large to share ideas. It’s also a place to go to learn about another side of Atlantic City, outside of the casino world.

 “We see ourselves as concierges and megaphones for the city,” says Sanchez. “People come to places like Hayday to figure out what’s going on, learn about the area, the art scene, local events. We want to be that hub for information. That is the spirit of the Loop and that is the spirit of Hayday.”

 As I sipped slowly on a dreamy latte perfectly steamed with oat milk this past December, barista Katie Weightman chatted with me about an upcoming 1920s themed “Speakeasy event” that she would be attending at The James, the former home of the original James Candy Company—you know, that place where a certain salty colorful candy that sticks to your teeth was born. For the event, over 25 artists transformed the space into an immersive pop-up art installation. It’s part of the Atlantic City Arts Foundation’s ARTerios project, transforming properties “in transition” that represent the city’s legacy of innovation. The Bywater building that houses Hayday Coffee, and other buildings lining the streets of the Orange Loop, feature giant colorful murals. This is part of the foundation’s public art program, 48 blocs AC, which features 70 murals. These and other initiatives, including creation of the Orange Loop district named for the famed Monopoly game are meant to beautify and shift perceptions of the city.

Hayday Coffee | 155 S. New York Ave , Atlantic City NJ 08401

Ocean City Coffee Company

 If you’ve ever thought you were smelling coffee brewing as you strolled along the Ocean City boardwalk, it may well have been coffee beans roasting. Ocean City Coffee Company roasts its coffee in house “on the beach,” as it says in its tagline, near its flagship location on 9th street. The store offers more than 110 different types of fresh roasted gourmet packaged coffees, sourced from around the world and sold in house and online, as well as 18 varieties of tea. With another location at 10th street, visitors can conveniently indulge their need for a caffeine boost to accompany their sugar fix from their favorite boardwalk food as they head to the beach, play mini golf or hit the rides.


But off the boardwalk, at OCCC’s Asbury Avenue location, there is a more relaxed come in and sit feel, and in the off-season, this location is a hub for locals. According to an Instagram post, Marty Smith, an ESPN reporter and New York Times bestselling author wrote half his book sitting in the Asbury Ave. shop and later hosted his podcast there. Back in December, as I sampled the top selling Ocean City blend, a light roast, (best if you need a good jolt I’m told) and the second best-selling Pirate blend, a medium roast, Director Bob Alexander chatted with a few regular customers, letting them know that the Latin group at Ocean City High School would be performing Christmas carols at the shop….in Latin. In addition to offering itself up as a venue for the school district, OCCC has also hosted open mic nights and Alexander is a musician who is known to perform in the store with one of the baristas who is a singer.

Ocean City Coffee Company
Welcome to the Ocean City Coffee Company online store. We constantly seek the finest coffees available from around the world and roast them at our boardwalk location throughout the week. We roast in small batches and ship our orders within 24 hours to give you the freshest, most deeply flavorful cup of coffee possible.

These independent coffee houses are a sampling of many in the area serving as hubs for social interaction and community involvement. We encourage you to become acquainted with your local establishment. You may find much more there than your morning beverage. Here are a few more suggestions of places we know and love:

Coffee Talk | 299 97th St. Stone Harbor


Coffee Tyme | 414 Washington Ave. and 315 Beach Ave. Cape May

Coffee Trivia

Question: Does a dark roast blend, such as a French roast, have more or less caffeine than a light roast?

Most people get this answer wrong, according to OCCC's Bob Alexander.

“Ninety-nine out of 100 people would say that dark roast has more caffeine, but what they don’t know is that the longer we roast the beans, the darker they are getting in color, and in that process you are essentially burning the caffeine out of the beans,” he said.

 That means the “light” roasts that are roasted for the shortest amount of time, such as the Ocean City blend @ OCCC, have the most caffeine. Although dark roasts, such as a French roast, tend to have a bolder, more full bodied flavor, they have less caffeine.