Friday, Jan 19, 2018
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Spitzer building's Bleak House anything but

Special blend of customers, coffees defines newest shop

  • Bleak-House-Coffee-on-Madison-Avenue

    Bleak House Coffee on Madison Avenue in the Spitzer Building is drawing a mix of lawyers, business people, and arts people.

    The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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  • Bleak-House-co-owner-Stephanie-Wandtke

    Bleak House co-owner Stephanie Wandtke chats with customer Mike Griffin on Thursday. The shop takes its name from Charles Dickens' novel about the complications of the English legal system.

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Bleak-House-co-owner-Stephanie-Wandtke

Bleak House co-owner Stephanie Wandtke chats with customer Mike Griffin on Thursday. The shop takes its name from Charles Dickens' novel about the complications of the English legal system.

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Your eyes inevitably are drawn to the mural of animals donning suits painted on Bleak House Coffee's back wall when you walk into the shop.

It's an odd sight -- more Bedknobs and Broomsticks than downtown coffee -- but it perfectly captures the mix of customers who frequent the quaint shop, said Stephanie Wandtke, part owner and head barista of Bleak House.

"We kind of want to be businessy but trendy at the same time so we have a more well-rounded customer base," said Ms. Wandtke, a lifelong Toledo resident.

The mural, which features an elephant, donkey, lion, and a lamb, symbolizes Republicans, Democrats, people who represent large interests, and those who stand up for smaller ones.

Ms. Wandtke said it originally was inspired by the law offices located throughout the Spitzer Building, 520 Madison Ave., where Bleak House is located. Bleak House itself was named after the iconic Charles Dickens novel about the complications of the English legal system. A weathered copy of the book sits near the cash register.

The shop held its grand opening in May and is finding its niche among the lawyers, business people, and arts crowd in the downtown, Ms. Wandtke said.

The coffee that's brewed each day comes from one of two local roasters, and the espresso is brought in from Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago.

It's a high-end approach to coffee and is one of the shop's main draws, Ms. Wandtke said.

Bleak-House-Coffee-on-Madison-Avenue

Bleak House Coffee on Madison Avenue in the Spitzer Building is drawing a mix of lawyers, business people, and arts people.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Lance Roper, owner of Toledo-based Actual Coffee, said Bleak House has placed an emphasis on serving local, quality coffee and that's new for the downtown. One of Mr. Roper's blends is served at Bleak House and he hopes more will be featured.

"You see shops like it in San Francisco, not Toledo," he said.

It's not just the coffee that's local -- Bleak House also serves baked goods from a variety of Toledo mainstays. The vintage cake stands on the counter were stuffed with cannoli and other pastries from Wixey Bakery on Thursday.

"Whenever we run out, we go to a local place and buy some more," Ms. Wandtke said.

Sitting at one of the custom-made tables fashioned from old doors found in the Spitzer Building, Kristin Lay worked on Web development projects Thursday. Ms. Lay doesn't maintain an office and said working from home can be tiresome.

"I'm from Ann Arbor, and I've been looking for some place that has that vibe to it," the 30-year-old said. "Downtown, there wasn't a whole lot here to do when I first moved here."

Sitting at the table next to Ms. Lay, Jonathan McAtee focused on his iPad. A Bleak House regular, Mr. McAtee said he comes in two or three times a week to play cribbage with friends or get a cup of coffee. "We love Stephanie and the atmosphere here," he said.

Contact Kris Turner at: kturner@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.

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