They’ll be makin’ whoopie, coffee on Cottage Road in South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A coffee shop born from the collaboration of three area businesses plans to open this spring at 185 Cottage Road.

The business, in a 5,300-square-foot space that for many years housed the Cherished Possessions consignment shop, plans to include a coffee bar for hot and cold-brew coffee, and commercial kitchen space for gourmet dessert maker Cape Whoopies. Future plans may include roasting beans on the premises.

No name has been decided on yet, but Marcia Wiggins, of Cape Whoopies, said she has been lobbying for “Coffee Guys and Whoopie Pies,” to encompass all aspects of the business and those involved — Ben Graffius and Tom Marlow of White Cap Coffee, and Mike Mwenedata and Nick Mazuroski of Rwanda Bean Coffee.

The businesses are all relatively young, and less than five years into operation, and the owners said they are pleased with the growth that has allowed them to lease the space on Cottage Road at the foot of Meetinghouse Hill.

It’s a neighborhood Wiggins said she is excited to join, with an expanding food scene along Cottage Road to Shore Road that includes Otto Pizza, Red’s Dairy Freeze, Ruby Thailand, Enio’s, Omi’s, DiPietro’s, David’s 388, South Portland House of Pizza, Pom’s Thai Taste, Elsmere BBQ, Terra Cotta Pasta, Rosemont Market and The Cookie Jar.

Wiggins, of Cape Elizabeth, started making gourmet whoopie pies in her home kitchen and upgraded to a commercial space in her basement before outgrowing that space and moving to Portland.

Graffius said they hope to move into the new location in mid-March.

Graffius and Mwenedata met about two years ago when White Cap Coffee bought coffee beans from Rwanda Bean. Both businesses were based in Portland, and the idea of collaborating came up early in their business relationship, with both companies looking for the opportunity to expand into both manufacturing and retail.

Rwanda Bean is now roasted at Arabica in Portland, and both Cape Whoopies and White Cap Coffee rent spaces at Fork Food Lab on Parris Street in Portland.

Mwenedata emigrated from Rwanda to Portland eight years ago, seeking a better life, he said. He said his native country produces the most delicious coffee in the world, but said he recognized a disconnect in getting the beans from the farmers to the market. He sought to close the gap between the markets and the consumer.

He said the cooperative he buys beans from represents more than 600 small farmers. Most families in Rwanda –  about 85 percent – work in agriculture, he noted, with tea and coffee the main exports.

Mwenedata said he reinvests half of all the profits in Rwanda through sustainability projects that help farmers and allow them to grow and produce more beans. The funds also support education, clean energy, and operational needs of the farmers and their communities.

“I like to work with people, and to help, and they are so happy with the investment,” he said. “I have a responsibility to help.”

Graffius and Mwenedata will travel to Rwanda together in March, which will be Graffius’ first time in the country. Their mission, to produce a good cup of coffee with a connection to the grower, is important, they said.

Marlowe and Graffius started White Cap Coffee, which specializes in cold-brew coffee, two years ago after a friend complained of a sensitivity to acidic coffee. They started experimenting in in their own kitchens, and the business was born.

Cold-brew coffee is 70 percent less acidic because the cold temperature doesn’t release the acidic property of the bean, resulting in a smooth, low-acid drink, Graffius explained. They brew kegs of coffee, and offer it on draft, and sell their product to local businesses.

Graffius’ professional background is working on the water. He is a Maine Maritime Academy graduate who worked as a captain of an oil drilling ship in the Gulf of Mexico before going into the coffee business.

“I sort of fell into coffee,” he said, adding it was not an expected turn of events. He continues to operate a second business, Portland Harbor Water Taxi, which keeps him on the ocean.

The group will be launching a Kickstarter campaign in mid-February to help with miscellaneous costs of starting the businesses, projected to be about $30,000. The entire renovation of the building will cost about $100,000.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106., or at

Mike Mwenedata, left, and Ben Graffius stand in front of the door of their soon-to-be coffee shop at 185 Cottage Road in South Portland. The pair will join Marcia Wiggins of Cape Whoopies to offer a coffee bar and commercial kitchen space for gourmet desserts. They hope to open in May.