BRUNSWICK — Twenty years ago, Peter Robbins made a phone call that changed his life.
It was 1998, and Robbins was ordering wholesale Bohemian Coffee for a store where he worked when he found himself on the phone with Bohemian’s owner, Paul Hitz.
On a whim, Robbins asked Hitz if he’ d be interested in selling his retail shop.
It may sound like a standard exchange, but in hindsight, Robbins said Hitz answering the call was pretty out of the ordinary.
“The phone was in the room with the roasters, (and) with the roasters running you can’t hear anything,” he said. “So it was the first of three times in 15 years he ever answered the phone.”
Soon after buying the coffee shop, Robbins moved into an apartment above the store to begin his new career. He also found confirmation for the decision in an unlikely place.
“Not believing in such things, but finding humor in it, I looked at the horoscope and it said ‘new opportunities arise, jump with both feet,'” he said. “So we did.”
As he gears up to celebrate the 25th year Bohemian Coffee has been in business, Robbins, who now lives in South Portland, said he’s felt “every single emotion” throughout his years as its owner.
“It was a good business when I bought it, and just paying attention made it grow,” he said. “(We) had a good staff, a good product, and then there were things that happened – 9/11, the economic crash that followed, the (U.S. Navy) base closure – lots of businesses failed.”
In the beginning, he said, Bohemian was one of only two businesses on Maine Street that had an espresso machine. As the trend grew, the shop became one of 13 other stores with the equipment.
Many of those businesses have since closed, and Robbins said he’s been fortunate to have good people on his team, including his banker and certain suppliers who have given him a break when times got tough.
“We’ve been blessed with really good people working with us – really good people on both sides of the counter,” he said.
To commemorate the milestone anniversary, the store will be holding prize drawings for customers on July 6, 7, and 8 for T-shirts, mugs, towels, and gift certificates.
The store will also be running a promotion for customers who come in wearing Bohemian Coffee Shop apparel, and those who ask for their drinks to be served in Bohemian Coffee cups: If the patrons allow him to take their photo and post it on the store’s Facebook page, Robbins said, their beverage will be half price.
“I thought that would be kind of fun to do,” he said. “Some people have sent in photos from years past, including (of) some people who aren’t with us anymore, which is kind of cool, so we’ll be sharing some of that.”
In 2003, the shop moved from Maine Street to its current location at 4 Railroad Ave. – one of the biggest changes the store has undergone in the past two decades.
The menu, however, which features traditional coffee drinks and an assortment of bagels and breakfast pastries, hasn’t changed much.
Robbins said the store does not subscribe to what he called “trends” in coffee, like serving cold brew, partially because it takes too long to prepare.
He did admit, however, the store has tried “a lot of dumb things” over the years, including hemp milk (Robbins said it was “really gross”) and yerba mate tea (it “smelled like feet,” he said).
Every once in a while something new is added to the menu – such as Red Bull infusions, which are currently available.
“(It’s) a Red Bull and a shot of flavor,” Robbins said. “But that doesn’t involve thousands of dollars of equipment that you’re not going to be able to give away when the fad is gone.”
Another mainstay of Bohemian is its customers, who Robbins said have been especially loyal over the years.
Some have even gone above and beyond with random acts of kindness.
“I had one customer ask me how much it was to plow the parking lot one fall, and I said ‘Oh it’s like $68.’ I asked why, and she said ‘Oh I’m just curious,'” Robbins said. “When I went out back to do something, she gave my employee $68 to put in the drawer because she wanted to pay for the first (plow).”
The diversity of his customers, he added, has also been a constant, and was illustrated on one of his first days on the job. It’s a scene he still remembers well.
A police officer, a mother and her child, an elderly couple, and a young man were all sitting together at a table outside.
“(They were) all talking with each other, carrying on conversations,” he said. “So the typical Bohemian Coffee House customer is everyone.”
Peter Robbins, owner of Bohemian Coffee House in Brunswick, stands behind the counter at the store, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary the week of July 4.
Peter Robbins, owner of Bohemian Coffee House in Brunswick, helps customers at the store, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary July 4.
Bohemian Coffee House, located at 4 Railroad Ave. in Brunswick, will celebrate its 25th anniversary July 4.