Small Business Profile: The Clifton Cafe
Owner Erin Tengesdal is a Clifton native and Robinson grad.
The Clifton Café is an enchanting place for anyone who loves gourmet coffee and delicious pastries and crepes. The cafe is located in the Weaver House, a bright blue cottage on Clifton's Main Street.
Erin Tengesdal, owner of the Clifton Café, has lived in Clifton almost all her life.
In 1977, her parents built a house on Evans Ford Court, adjacent to Hemlock Overlook Regional Park.
When Erin reminisces about her childhood riding horses and playing in the woods, her face unmistakably brightens.
Erin attended Clifton Elementary School from kindergarten through the sixth grade and the graduated from Robinson Secondary.
After high school, she attended NOVA, like so many young people from this area, and then went on to Marshall University in West Virginia. She met and married her husband when she started working after school.
The couple lived in Arlington and Prince William counties for almost six years, but the magic of Clifton called Erin home. She remarked that she loves her hometown because of its friendliness and its small size.
Clifton Elementary School — "a good, solid school" to which her two children can walk — was also a big draw.
The family bought a house on Clifton's Main Street in 2008.
Erin had always wanted to own a coffee shop, but she assumed the dream would have to wait until her retirement.
Then, just two months after she and her family moved into their new home, Clifton's one coffee shop, the Pink Pantry, closed.
With her husband's encouragement, she bought the Weaver House and started planning.
Unfamiliar with the art of making elegant coffee, Erin contacted an expert who was opening a coffee bar in the chic Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington.
He visited first as a consultant, then stayed until she also became an expert.
A person may know how to make extraordinary coffee, but unless the coffee beans themselves are special, the coffee will taste ordinary.
To provide customers with the very best, Erin picked the very best. The coffee she selected is prepared by P.T.'s Coffee Roasting Company (a company honored by trade journal Roast Magazine as the Roaster of the Year in '09).
The Clifton Cafe's coffee and tea selections are extensive, but the Cafe's black coffee is delicious, robust and aromatic — perfect — on its own.
Espresso Specialties include lattes, cappuccinos, mochas and macchiatos with every flavoring imaginable. Chai, tea, chai lattes, café au lait and many tasty iced beverages round out the choices.
A savvy businesswoman, Erin realized that her Café needed to offer more than beverages if she wanted it to survive. When it first opened, the cafe's menu focused primarily on breakfast foods.
Erin's passion for crepes was awakened in 2009 on a trip to Paris. There, she visited one creperie after another, as visitors and Parisians are wont to do, sampling the best that the city had to offer.
Back at home, she began experimenting with her own batter. With minor tweaks to her recipe and gracious help from a chef in Old Towne Alexandria, she perfected her batter. The Clifton Café and Creperie was born.
Guests can now order an incredible array of crepes and sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner.
If you want to be innovative, the menu suggests designing your own crepe or selecting from a mouthwatering list of "custom creations" like Erin's Eclectic Berry Crepe, made with fresh berries, whipped cream and powdered sugar; Hannah's Denver with ham, cheese, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and green peppers; and Silva's Savory Chicken, which has chicken, cheese, guacamole and salsa.
The cookies, bagels, croissants and muffins that originally drew customers to the cafe are still available. For vegetarians, Erin has introduced new specialties such as Julie's Fetish, which features spinach and feta cheese.
To go with the great food and excellent drinks, a truly cozy atmosphere is created day after day by Erin and her staff, who greet customers with bright smiles and offer terrific service.
Erin commented recently that the best aspect of her business was living and working in the town. (No long commutes for her!) She enjoys daily talks with her neighbors and friends, and when new customers visit the café, they soon become friends, too.
To my chagrin, I was the beneficially of these friendly surroundings on my last visit.
I had struck up a conversation with Donna McGrath, a Century 21 -New Millennium realtor and Fairfax Station resident. We had a great time chatting, until I realized I had locked my keys inside my car, but Donna gave me a lift home.