Brands We Love: Tandem Coffee in Portland, Maine
If you’ve been following Clubhaus’s Proust Club series, then you are familiar with the Proust questionnaire and its leading prompt: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
As a new-ish Block Club employee, I will soon be subjected to the famously existential exercise. In anticipation, I gave the question considerable thought, only to realize I didn’t have a good answer.
And then I went to Portland, Maine.
To be more specific, I went to Tandem Coffee + Bakery in Portland, Maine—every morning for four days. And it was there, in its cheery, light-filled space, that my version of perfect happiness started to take shape.
There are many things to love about Tandem Coffee, not the least among them: awesome, house-roasted coffee and gorgeously decadent baked goods. I quickly learned we couldn’t didn’t want to start my day without one of its swoon-worthy, salt-flecked biscuits, split and slathered thick with soft butter and strawberry jam.
But the high caliber of Tandem’s comestibles doesn’t alone explain the coffee shop’s pull on me; I have had great food and drink elsewhere without it leaving such a lasting impression. Something else sets Tandem apart.
That something else is Tandem the brand. At the heart of the coffee shop’s differential is a rock solid, deeply authentic and omnipresent identity. In effect, Tandem the brand turns necessary tasks (getting coffee, eating breakfast) into fully saturated experiences.
Sited in the white-washed shell of a 1960s gas station, Tandem is quirky from the get-go. Inside, the aesthetic is bright and modern with a slight retro bent. Color blocking on the walls, reminiscent of the shop’s retail coffee bean packaging, adds welcome vibrancy. Vinyl records by old-school and contemporary artists spin all day, every day, and friendly staff demonstrate genuine interest in your well-being.
The same warmth and playfulness that permeates the physical space is reflected in its minimalist logo, which depicts stick figure humans on a stick figure tandem bicycle—a peculiar form of transportation that’s eccentric and fun and environmentally conscious and collaborative. All things Tandem the brand seems to be and hold in esteem.
At the register, complimentary logo stickers lie ready for the taking, as does a stack of smartly designed Portland guide maps. Tandem produced the latter as a service to the many tourists who come through its doors and to showcase other local businesses that share its brand values. Guests can pick up a copy to peruse while they linger over a malted cold brew and a slice of maple custard pie, and they can trust that every point of interest on the map is Tandem-approved.
Thoughtful details also permeate food and drink service. To-go coffee cups are printed with the feel-good affirmation “You are a good person” (the wheels of the logo stand in for the o’s in good). And if you order drip coffee to stay, you’ll find a cheerful message (“Spread Joy”) along with the Tandem logo on the inside bottom of your mug. It only becomes visible with your last sip, making for a delightful conclusion to an already quality experience. It’s a small thing, to be sure, but it is the thoughtful, distinctive details that linger in our memories.
And that is precisely the intention of owners Kathleen and Will Pratt. When asked what they’d like customers to take away from a visit (amazing coffee and baked goods excluded), they spoke of the importance of brand experience. Will put it succinctly:
“We want people to really love the place before they’ve even tried anything. So, we really try to set the stage so that as soon as you walk in, you’re like, ‘Oh I like it here.’ We just want it to be a great memory.”
“Our friend Steve said it feels like a very inclusive club. That you’re a part of something when you come in. Like the music that we play, or the way that we set up our shop. It’s about the kind of community we can create…We want you to feel it immediately. And we want everyone to think, ‘Man, those people were nice.’”
Mission accomplished, Tandem. As I write this, I am wearing my beloved super-soft, eco-jersey Tandem t-shirt and sipping coffee made from the beans I purchased on my final visit. More importunately, I left with a more concrete vision of perfect happiness. And while that vision is subject to metamorphosis, I am quite certain it will always involve sharing a butter-laden Tandem biscuit and a steamy mug of West End Blues.
Lead image: travelingappetites.com