Thursday, March 7, 2019
Cities are proud of themselves and rightly so. They have an energy, and crackle with creativity.
But that doesn't mean small towns are without their excellence, their innovation. All is not sleepiness and tradition.
I was in Danville a few weeks back, as you know, reporting on the enormous sign that Watchfire Signs is creating for Las Vegas' Fremont Street.
Before heading to the factory, my hosts took me to a charming eatery inside what was once a private home, Charlotte's Coffee and Tea.
Typically, I avoid salads outside cities—you tend to get iceberg lettuce and half a hard boiled egg. Usually, the cheeseburger is a better bet. But I really felt in the mood for a salad, and theirs was excellent. As was their lemon meringue pie. And their coffee—surprisingly good. Sometimes these small towns have lousy water, therefore lousy coffee.
But the coffee at Charlotte's Coffee and Tea was really good.
I know, it should be, given the name. But city or countryside, an establishment dedicated to coffee and coffee you can drink do not always, or even often, go together.
Draining my cup, I excused myself from my two table mates and returned to the counter, where an array of sandwiches and salads were offered on a chalk board. The young lady behind the counter was on the phone, but eventually accepted my glass mug and tried to fill it from a pump urn that only wheezed emptily. So she headed in the back, to what I hoped wouldn't be too long an adventure, while I gazed back up at the board.
"Cottage cheese," I noticed, thinking of a small white curdly pile I seem to remember eating more often than I wished, as a child, and haven't tasted in years. Then the price: "3.22."
Three dollars and 22 cents? What's that all about? And a sandwich cost $4.08.
I asked the clerk. Her face did that thing that the incurious do when confronted with a question of incomprehensible origin. The price? Of the cottage cheese? Why was it ...? She had no idea. The owner set the price.
Was he around? No.
I returned to the ladies I was lunching with, finished off my pie and second cup, we lingered in conversation, then it was time to get to the factory I had come down here to visit.
"Just a second," I said, as we passed the counter, noting a different young woman now behind the country. "I have to give it another try." I put my question to her. She said that would a matter for the owner, and disappeared to find him. Nope, just stepped out. I set down my business card.
Ask him to call me when he gets back.
He did, not a minute later And explained the mystery like this: Charlotte's gets busy. It slows things down to fumble with change. By pricing the cottage cheese at $3.22, that comes out to be $3.50 with tax. Less fussing with coins.
I've eaten in restaurants from Bangkok to Belize. And I've never seen an off-pricing system like that. Maybe it's common and I'm admitting to an embarrassing ignorance. But I don't think so. It struck me as clever, and worth mentioning. Of course a place trying to make their pricing easier would also have good food—if you worry one detail, you probably worry them all.
I don't imagine I'll be going back to Danville anytime soon—so far, 58 years of living have required a single visit. But if I do ever find myself having to make the 120 mile drive, I'll think, "At least I can stop by Charlotte's for some pie and that good coffee."