SOUTH PORTLAND — Three local business owners are combining forces to open a coffee bar and gourmet whoopie pie shop on Cottage Road.

The business, planned for a 5,300-square-foot space that for many years housed the Cherished Possessions consignment shop, is scheduled to open this spring and include a coffee bar for hot- and cold-brew coffee, and commercial kitchen space for gourmet dessert maker Cape Whoopies. Future plans may include roasting beans on the premises.

No name has been decided on yet, but Marcia Wiggins of Cape Whoopies said she has been lobbying for “Coffee Guys and Whoopie Pies” to encompass all aspects of the business and those involved – Ben Graffius and Tom Marlow of White Cap Coffee, and Mike Mwenedata and Nick Mazuroski of Rwanda Bean Coffee.

The businesses are all relatively young – less than five years in operation – and the owners said they are pleased with the growth that has allowed them to lease the space at 185 Cottage Road, which sits at the foot of Meetinghouse Hill.

It’s a neighborhood that Wiggins said she is excited to join, with an expanding food scene along Cottage Road to Shore Road that includes Otto Pizza, Red’s Dairy Freeze, Ruby Thailand, Enio’s, Omi’s, DiPietro’s, David’s 388, South Portland House of Pizza, Pom’s Thai Taste, Elsmere BBQ, Terra Cotta Pasta, Rosemont Market and The Cookie Jar bakery.

Wiggins, of Cape Elizabeth, started making gourmet whoopie pies in her home kitchen and upgraded to a commercial space in her basement, before outgrowing that space and moving to Portland.

Graffius said they hope to move into the new location in mid-March.

Graffius and Mwenedata met about two years ago when White Cap Coffee bought coffee beans from Rwanda Bean. Both businesses were based in Portland, and the idea of collaborating came up early in their business relationship, with both companies looking for the opportunity to expand into both manufacturing and retail.

Rwanda Bean is now roasted at Arabica in Portland, and both Cape Whoopies and White Cap Coffee rent spaces at Fork Food Lab on Parris Street in Portland.

Mwenedata emigrated from Rwanda to Portland eight years ago, seeking a better life, he said. He said his native country produces the most delicious coffee in the world, but he recognized a disconnect in getting the beans from the farmers to the market. He sought to close the gap between the markets and the consumer.

He said the cooperative he buys beans from represents more than 600 small farmers. Most families in Rwanda – about 85 percent – work in agriculture, he noted, with tea and coffee the main exports.

Mwenedata said he reinvests half of all the profits in Rwanda through sustainability projects that help farmers and allow them to grow and produce more beans. The funds also support education, clean energy, and operational needs of the farmers and their communities.

“I like to work with people, and to help, and they are so happy with the investment,” he said. “I have a responsibility to help.”

Graffius and Mwenedata will travel to Rwanda together in March, which will be Graffius’ first time in the country. Their mission, to produce a good cup of coffee with a connection to the grower, is important, they said.

Marlow and Graffius started White Cap Coffee, which specializes in cold-brew coffee, two years ago after a friend complained of a sensitivity to acidic coffee. They started experimenting in their own kitchens, and the business was born.

Cold-brew coffee is 70 percent less acidic because the cold temperature doesn’t release the acidic property of the bean, resulting in a smooth, low-acid drink, Graffius explained. They brew kegs of coffee and offer it on tap, and sell their product to local businesses.

Graffius’ professional background is working on the water. He is a Maine Maritime Academy graduate who worked as a captain of an oil drilling ship in the Gulf of Mexico before going into the coffee business.

Graffius continues to operate a second business, Portland Harbor Water Taxi, which keeps him on the ocean.

The group will be launching a Kickstarter campaign in mid-February to help with miscellaneous costs of starting the businesses, projected to be about $30,000. The building renovation will cost about $100,000.

Juliette Laaka can be contacted at 781-3661, ext. 106, or at:

[email protected]

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