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Java Cherry: neighborhood coffee house offers unique appeal in Citrus Heights

Louise Hansen-Cordray, Citrus Heights, Java Cherry, coffee house
Louise Hansen-Cordray, owner of Java Cherry in Citrus Heights, chats with a customer after serving up a cup of coffee.

It’s a cozy location, backset just far enough from a busy intersection in Citrus Heights that many people still don’t notice it while driving by. But this year, Java Cherry celebrated four years in business, having gained a growing and intensely loyal following of local coffee drinkers.

Despite having no experience running a business or making coffee prior to opening the shop, Java Cherry’s owner says the secret to her success is quality drinks, coupled with a comfortable, relaxed environment that’s part of the neighborhood.

In 2012, after finding herself out of work following a 20-year career in the banking and mortgage industry, Louise Hansen-Cordray – or “Weasie” — as some of her customers affectionately call her, decided “now’s the time” to launch a coffee shop.

“I’d never worked at a coffee shop or made an espresso drink in my life,” said the 48-year-old owner with a chuckle, reflecting on how “crazy” the entrepreneurial idea had seemed. But she had always dreamed of owning a coffee shop, so she pressed on, kept asking questions, practiced making some drinks, and opened the location in October of 2012.

Having lived in Citrus Heights since age 18, she had often passed by the location on Van Maren Lane near Auburn Boulevard and thought it would make a good spot for a neighborhood coffee shop — one close enough to walk to and friendly enough to sit and chat with the owner.

And that’s exactly what her customers say they love about Java Cherry. The “homey” environment, that feels like you’re walking into a cozy living room – complete with a fireplace, small book shelf, and plenty of unique decor on the walls.

Customers have also given the coffee house high ratings in online reviews, with an average rating of 4.3-out-of-5 stars on Yelp, an overall 5-star rating from Facebook reviews, and a 4.4-out-of-5 rating on Google reviews.

But not everyone likes the environment inside, and Louise says it’s impossible to please every customer. “You’re never going to get it 100 percent,” she said, referring to a review that was critical of it seeming like a “living room” inside.

A sign on the wall reading, “No Wi-Fi: talk to eachother,” is another indicator of the environment Louise has created at the shop, and fits with her motto to be “your neighbor for coffee.” There’s no one sitting at a table behind a laptop, and customers interviewed say they like being able to talk to the owner — something not offered at Peet’s, Starbucks, or Dutch Bros.

Chuckling about a review on Yelp that referred to her shop as a “hole in the wall,” Louise admits the shop is small inside and hopes one day to possibly expand the size.

“It’s not big, but a lot comes out of this shop,” she said. “It’s got a big menu.”

The menu has expanded since launching in 2012, but the most popular drink remains the Java Cherry – a white chocolate mocha with cherry. Apart from standard latte’s and mocha’s on the menu, other drinks include the “bacon-bacon mocha,” peaches and cream, and the “Elvis” — a banana-peanut butter flavored drink.

Louise is also known to make custom drinks for customers who want something not on her already-large menu of coffees, smoothies, Italian sodas, and two-dozen flavors of syrups in stock. A small assortment of baked items, like Kahlua cake or rocky road varieties, are also on the menu — made in Citrus Heights from a home-based business her mother owns.

“You can’t get more local than mom’s kitchen,” said Hansen-Cordray with a smile.

Fitting with the local, neighborhood appeal, the shop’s beans are supplied and roasted by Vaneli’s in Rocklin. She also lives locally, just three blocks away from the shop.

Recalling back to the grand opening of the location, she still remembers who the first customers were to come in the door. That’s because the first was a family member, and the second ended up becoming a good friend and then her boyfriend — who can often be found at the shop helping clean and maintain the place.

Hansen-Cordray said getting support from family is essential to launching a business endeavor, and she’s grateful to have received that advice from taking a free course put on by business mentors at SCORE — a national nonprofit association that hosts regular classes for business owners. Locally, the group offers classes at the Small Business Administration building in Citrus Heights.

[Learn more about SCORE: “Local nonprofit offers small biz owners free classes, mentoring”]

Now able to pass on the mentorship to others, Louise says customers have come in over the years with entrepreneurial ideas of their own and she’s been able to help give business advice based on her experience.

“It’s got to be your passion,” she said, emphasizing the commitment involved in being a business owner. Being open six days a week as a sole owner-operator, she’s never taken a vacation since opening the shop, and has difficulty fitting in doctors appointments and community activities without any hired help.

Mornings involve stumbling out of bed early enough to open doors by 5 a.m. on weekdays, with the first thing on tap being to brew a cup of coffee for herself at the store — her favorite drink being “anything with white chocolate.”

Challenges and the future
A significant challenge for growing her business has been visibility at the location. Although visible from busy Auburn Boulevard traffic, the small location is set back just far enough to be largely hidden by the 7-Eleven store at the corner of Auburn Boulevard and Van Maren Lane.

Several trees in the front parking lot were removed since opening her store, which helped with visibility, but being noticed by passerby’s still remains a challenge.

Commenting on the future of Java Cherry, Hansen-Cordray said with a chuckle, “I’ll eventually be that little old lady who comes in here to check up on her [baristas] and makes sure her customers are happy.”

Though preferring “baby steps” when it comes to change, she said franchising may be a possibility down the road — on the condition that every location be unique in its own way. In the next few years, she also hopes to offer more hot food and hire an employee to have a bit more flexibility with her time.

Java Cherry is located at 6720 Van Maren Ln., in Citrus Heights. The shop is open from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Saturday’s from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is closed on Sundays.

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