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TOLEDO — Rachel Phillipps never planned to own a coffee shop — in fact, she had no prior experience with one in any capacity before opening one in June 2016.
Phillipps, who is originally from Texas and has been working in insurance for 29 years, had been operating her Phillipps Insurance Group company in Toledo for about 12 years at that point. It wasn’t until someone approached her about a business venture partnership, when the two came up with an idea to start a coffee shop and hair salon combo called Steamboat Plaza. Not usually an adventurous person, Phillipps decided now was the time to take a chance being that her kids were grown up.
“Let’s just give it a try and see what happens,” Phillipps said.
Phillipps didn’t even know how to make a latte. But she jumped in head first, took a chance and learned the business as she went. She was forced to learn how to be a barista when an employee called in sick for the first time. It took some getting used to but wasn’t that bad, she said.
“Being a barista, you get to meet and talk to different people, learn different things and what they like,” Phillipps said. “It was OK. It’s almost a stress-free kind of job considering insurance is the other job I do.”
In November 2017, Phillipps bought her business partner out and sold the salon shop, then changed the name of the coffee shop to Cafe Aromaz, which is her maiden name — Zamora — spelled backwards. She moved the coffee shop to a building on Silver Street where her insurance agency and another business, GRT Tax & Accounting Services, which had joined Phillipps Insurance seven years prior, were both located.
So now the building houses three businesses in one and customers can get their taxes done and buy insurance while sipping on a caramel mocha latte.
The cafe did see a dip in customers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially toward the beginning in March and now that schools opened back up. A bulk of their customers were Toledo High School students coming in. It’s still slower than usual, Phillipps said.
The cafe doesn’t have the daily group of local ladies coming in to sit down and drink coffee anymore. The seating area did eventually reopen, but there’s only enough room to seat eight people at a time. When the in-store seating was closed, the cafe, which doesn’t have a drive-through, opened its kitchen window for walk-up customers. The cafe also has a big secluded patio area outside with plants and picnic tables with umbrellas for customers to sit in.
“We are a very small coffee shop in a small town,” Phillipps said. “We don’t do mass amounts of coffee. It’s a service we provide. We’re pretty steady but we don’t make a lot of coffee compared to Centralia or Chehalis.”
Cafe Aromaz uses Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters beans, an Olympia-based coffee roaster that began in 1986. The cafe offers daily specials, including Mocha Monday, with $1 off mochas; Two for Tuesday, which is a double punch on a person’s Cafe Aromaz punchcard; White Chocolate Wednesday, with $1 off white chocolate drinks; Thankful Thursday, a free upgrade on drinks; and a Barista’s Special on Fridays.
The cafe also has a little gift shop where it sells homemade local honey from a local across the street, as well as handmade soaps and scrubs that Phillipps creates herself. The soaps, which come in scented and unscented varieties, include blue Hawaii, lemon orange citrus bars and many others, each for $5. There are also assorted drinks and cookies, along with local artwork.
“We have a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” Phillipps said. “I like to support local and hopefully people support local, too.”
Cafe Aromas is located at 408 Silver St. in Toledo and is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.