Crazy Mocha is changing the idea of a chain
For a man who's never had a cup of coffee, Ken Zeff has good taste in coffeehouses.
His first Crazy Mocha opened in Shadyside on Feb. 29, 2000, and draws customers with its aesthetics as much as its locally roasted coffee. The store's glass windows stretch from the floor to two stories high, there are exposed-metal ceilings, walls are covered with a bold palette of primary colors, and an unobtrusive mix of neutral-colored chairs and tables fade into the carpet.
"The atmosphere's very important to us. The folks that hang out, hang out for a while," said Zeff, 39, of Greenfield. "Our goal is to invite you in and have you stay as long as you want."
Zeff's mission seems to be working, despite competition from Starbucks, Panera Bread and Bruegger's -- to name a few -- and reports that Dunkin' Donuts plans to open 105 stores in the region.
"We generally don't look at national retailers. It doesn't really matter where they exist," Zeff said. "I think our customers come here as an alternative. Some come here as an alternative to a bar or library, to hang out and study."
In seven years, Zeff has transformed Crazy Mocha from a quirky coffeehouse in an art-conscious corner of Pittsburgh to a vibrant regional chain with 50 staffers that prides itself on keeping each location different than the last. Crazy Mocha plans to open its 12th, 13th and 14th shops in Downtown locations, and has secured two spots in PPG Place and one in the Cultural District.
The unique details of each Crazy Mocha seem to be part of its charm. Every coffeehouse tries to reflect its neighborhood and aims at a slightly different clientele, Zeff said.
The Crazy Mocha in Lawrenceville, for example, feels more like a living room than the art gallery evoked by the Shadyside store. Cushioned chairs are scattered throughout the dimly lit shop, which offers patrons a variety of board games to pass the time.
At SouthSide Works, Crazy Mocha mimics a trendy Brooklyn cafe. A garage-door entrance fills the cavernous shop with natural light as customers navigate the Internet on shop-owned computers or catch the news on a massive flat-screen TV. The shop also hints at South Side's industrial past; a faux-iron canopy hangs over tables, and Crazy Mocha's wall-mounted menu is lined with metal arms.
Customers tend to identify with certain stores. Douglas Hanneman, 27, of Lawrenceville, goes to his neighborhood Crazy Mocha because it's a comfortable place to get some work done. Plus, there's that free wireless Internet.
Kara Andersen, a University of Pittsburgh graduate student, likes the feel of the Shadyside shop.
"Starbucks is too corporate, and everything looks the same, even when they try to make stores look different," said Andersen, 33, of Friendship.
Zeff also fiddles with menus at each location. Some shops offer a variety of sweets, such as biscotti or cakes with names like New York Colossal Cheesecake and Mango Eruption. In Lawrenceville, where coffee accounts for 95 percent of sales, fewer nibbling items are on display.
The strange Crazy Mocha logo might be one of the only details found at each shop.
Zeff, a former JC Penney buyer, said he has no target number of stores he's looking to reach. He recently flirted with expanding to Columbus, Ohio, but didn't think it was the right move.
"There's still so much opportunity here in the city," Zeff said. "It still doesn't make any sense to pick up and leave."
WHERE TO GET CRAZY
5830 Ellsworth Ave.
Opened: February 2000
4525 Liberty Ave.
Opened: June 2001
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
4400 Forbes Ave.
Opened: September 2004
4032 Butler St.
Opened: June 2005
207 Oakland Ave.
Opened: June 2005
2809 E. Carson St.
Opened: June 2005
531 Beaver St.
Opened: July 2006
Downtown: Allegheny Building
429 Forbes Ave.
Opened: December 2006
Downtown: One Gateway Center
420 Fort Duquesne Blvd.
Opened: January 2007
Downtown: Steel Plaza T Station
500 Grant St.
Opened: May 2007
95 W. Beau St.
Opened June 2007