New coffee shop in Houston has hometown flavor

John Rohrbacher

John Rohrbacher, owner of East Coast Coffee

When John Rohrbacher was working construction in San Diego, I’m not sure if this local Trinity graduate from Washington County envisioned owning his own hometown coffee shop. It’s not that coffee hasn’t been a family tradition in the Rohrbacher bloodline for the past 80 years. His Uncle Dominic supplied Western Pennsylvania in the wholesale coffee biz and even his father helped out. When Uncle Dominic decided to call it a career, John’s Uncle Bob bought the business with his Aunt Sherri handling the food side, working for US Foods.

“I always knew I would own my own business, even from my second year as a Management Major at IUP. With Uncle Bob having the coffee side and Aunt Sherry having the food side, it seemed like a fit with things in place,” says owner John Rohrbacher.

East Coast Coffee isn’t your typical coffee shop however, not by a long shot, half shot or whatever your shot preference may be.

“I really want people to know, East Coast Coffee is something better than the big coffee chains that have agendas and seem to have multiple personalities.” Rohrbacher adds, “We want to be a coffee shop for the community. There aren’t any of those anymore and we want to fill that void.”

Talking with John, I reminisced about a time as a wee lad on patrol with my Uncle Mike, way before the days of when having a 10 year old in a squad car would have landed him on the evening news entertainment networks. There was a neighborhood coffee shop that he would take me to for lunch. There all the local news one needed to know was shared at the counter over a cup of fresh joe and a piece of apple pie.

This is the goal of East Coast Coffee. At 37, John Rohrbacher is there every day from open to close. His partner, Rachel Ghelarducci is also there when not working her full-time job at Advanced Ophthalmology in Pittsburgh. It’s all about their customers, who they love, and re-establishing that neighborhood place for people to gather.

“Communication has hit so hard and fast online and there seems to be this void where people crave face to face hangouts again. We’re constantly brainstorming ideas from having an acoustic night to card night, there are so many different things that people are looking to do,” John commented when asked about where he sees the shop heading.

As for the future, it is now. East Coast Coffee doesn’t have shareholders, corporate types or investors at its core. Rohrbacher and Ghelarducci financed the business out of pocket. They also put the extra attention into it that you may not get in a huge chain.

“We work hard, really hard. There’s a lot of extra effort in what I make for the customers and want every experience to be perfect, since it’s your name on the business. It’s more personal.”

Take the coffee for example, which is locally roasted in Pittsburgh. Their brand and their house roast is theirs and theirs alone. Their sandwiches and salads are made fresh on the premises. Menu items range from healthy to hearty, including protein smoothies for any of the area’s athletes to grab before practice. Clientele ranges from entrepreneurs, to students to shift workers.

“One thing that always bothered me when I worked shifts is that when my job finished at 4:00 pm, I wanted a breakfast sandwich and a fresh cup of coffee. Without hitting a convenience store, that option wasn’t there. We’re here all day,” said John.

Opening in June of 2015, John, Rachael and their extremely small staff have a great start with an absolutely gorgeous little shop that will be soon add a book swap and they plan to constantly augment their menu. The coffee is superb, I sampled the the “Italiano,” which was an expresso and straight coffee mix. It was extraordinary.

A hometown company that has a hip ambiance should indeed be drawing in customers that are looking for great coffee, food, a little peace, and a throwback to days when conversation was face-to-face.

East Coast Coffee is at 737 West Pike Street in Houston. Their number is 724-514-7431.

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Story by Fred Terling for Pennsylvania Bridges