By PATRICK McARDLE
It would be a rough life without coffee. Fortunately, downtown Rutland now has the Ruff Life Café, which has coffee.
Ruff Life opened last Wednesday at the Center Street site that many locals call the old Army-Navy store.
Owner Beth Fleck called her café, which serves food, pastries and coffee, “extremely unique.”
“We offer unique pastries and just a unique space to hang out. We love meeting new people. We love becoming our own family,” she said.
Fleck said she’s also moving toward the business roasting its own coffee.
Fleck was the manager of the Coffee Exchange, which closed at the beginning of 2017 and was owned by her parents. She said Friday she doesn’t want to conflate the two, but since Ruff Life opened on Wednesday, she felt like she was at a “reunion” with old customers and friends coming to see what the new business was like.
What customers will find is some black walls and some exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, a raised platform where customers can sit in the window, and a bowl of dog biscuits at the counter.
Fleck is n animal lover who is proud that all her pets are rescue dogs. The name reflects her love of canines, but health code regulations will not allow people to come in with their dogs, unless they’re service animals.
“I found a way to combine my two passions, dogs and coffee,” Fleck said.
The treats are a reminder for people to love their dogs, and Fleck said she’s planning to develop outdoor seating that will allow customers to visit Ruff Life in the future with their dogs.
A steady stream of customers came through the café Friday afternoon. Jasmine Goetz, of Proctor, was at Ruff Life on Friday to visit her best friend, Kristina Kipouropoulos, a barista and one of the cafe’s six employees.
“I heard they had a great menu. I heard they were doing specialty coffees and, like, techniques on brewing coffee, which really I was curious about,” she said.
Another visitor, Noah “Meltdown” Bernays, of Boston, was in Rutland on Friday because he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
“I really like the coffee. I had a cappuccino. It was very tasty. A lot of places, it comes out a little cold. This was a good temperature. And I really like the area with the beanbag chairs (which looks out on Center Street.) Very comfy, you get to watch the outdoors,” he said.
Brent Hatley, of Rutland Town, said he was very familiar with the Coffee Exchange.
“That’s actually a lot of the reason why I’m here,” he said, as his coffee order was being brought to his table. “But really, just looking for a place to sit in the middle of the day.”
According to Fleck, the interior was designed to serve people like Hatley, customers who weren’t looking for a fancy coffeehouse, but a low-key café suitable for hanging out with friends.
Some people might come around, too, just to see the Army-Navy site coming back to life.
Fleck said she and her partner and boyfriend, Ryan Fuller, were approached by her current landlord, Erica Balestra, about opening a café at the site. Fleck said Balestra told them someone else had worked on opening a coffee house but didn’t seem to be making progress.
“I wasn’t planning on doing this,” Fleck said. “It took about a month to decide if we really wanted to do it. We went ahead and bit the bullet and signed the lease.”
Fleck said she was persuaded to go back to running a café, but she also wanted to continue to serve her passion for coffee. She’s a member of the Specialty Coffee Association and several coffee-related guilds, and certified in coffee-roasting.
Fleck and Fuller agreed to open a café in October, but it took several months to get the space ready to join other downtown businesses.
“There’s always going to be negativity, but I’ve seen downtown be able to thrive if people have the right attitudes,” she said.
Ruff Life is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. but Fleck expects they will stay open for special events or Paramount events.