Twelve years ago, Tonnie Schultz put her house on the line as collateral, risking everything with the goal of creating a “community gathering place.” The result is Café Crème, a busy coffee shop located in Bath, ME. It was difficult to separate my first impressions of the café from Little Dog Coffee Shop on Maine Street—both are cozy, friendly and warm. This is unsurprising given the fact that Little Dog’s owners came to Schultz for advice on getting the right “feel” for a coffee shop. 

Schultz’s business model was simple—fill her town’s need for a coffee shop, a place for “sitting there all afternoon, and taking your time to chat with a friend,” while appealing to the largest audience possible. 

“What I love about Maine and what I’ve always loved about Maine is our economic diversity, and interests and backgrounds, [and that people] are really comfortable with those differences and being together with them,” she said. “I wanted to make sure to honor that by creating a space that wasn’t specifically designed with any one demographic in mind.”

When describing the process of designing her shop, she explained, “I would try to go for things that would appeal to everybody, in a certain sense, and not be too far in one direction or the other that someone might not put their foot in the door because they thought, ‘Eh, that’s not really my kind of place.’”

Schultz said she struggles with fitting her coffee shop into different people’s ideas of what Bath is and should be. She has difficulty reaching people “who just don’t feel like the downtown is their space, because they feel that things are more expensive, or they feel like they wouldn’t fit in. I’m constantly working to counter that, but it’s difficult unless they come in.” She remembers someone who remarked, “This is Bath, we don’t need a hoighty toighty coffee shop,” upon hearing about her proposition to open Café Crème at the intersection of Front and Centre.
Her menu, written in chalk on the wall, features a few bold testaments against this stigma. A specialty drink, “Single Working Mom” (three shots espresso over ice with a splash of soy milk) was proposed by a former employee before she left. The price of a small cup of coffee is $1.62 – 16 cents less than the same cup at the average Maine Dunkin’.
“This place has been great because people do make connections here,” Schultz says. “They start up conversations with somebody they wouldn’t otherwise know. So, even just trying to make sure that everybody gets a foot in the door. I don’t even care if they come, sit in here and have a free glass of ice water.”