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The Clifton Cafe is Growing

A new patio, a liquor license... Things are good.

Business at the Clifton Cafe is just as strong as its coffee. The small shop opened in 2009 and owners Erin Tengesdal and Lisa Populoh are working to get a wine and beer license, build a patio out front and, eventually, a deck in the back. 

"Business is booming. It's more than we could ever ask for," said Tengesdal to Patch. "I'm loving it."  

The coffee shop, which also serves 30 varieties of crepe, has seen 30-40 percent increases in sales every year since it opened in 2009. This spring, expect the construction of a patio out front with tables and umbrellas. The liquor license should go through by the summer. 

"It's a long process with a lot of paperwork. We don't just want to be a bar. We want to have drinks that compliment our food, and we want to be able to cook with alcohol," said Tengesdal. 

The Right Combination

Last year, managing the business became too much, and Tengesdal asked her neighbor and best friend to become her partner. 

Tengesdal and Populoh are both Clifton natives, both married, both have two children and graduated from Robinson Secondary School. 

Tengesdal spent six years as a corporate trainer at the Silver Diner and five years as a Realtor. It was in 2008 that the local pastry shop "The Pink Pantry" abruptly closed, and she saw her opportunity. 

"I came here for coffee every day," said Tengesdal. "I went home and told my husband and he said: 'You should open it back up.' It shocked me. He said, 'The time is choosing you. You can't wait.' My friends and relatives told me I was crazy - in the sweetest way possible. But I knew if I could make it in a down market that when it turned around that we'd be good.

"I'm not afraid to fail. There's no business that would even be open if the owner was afraid to fail and of risk," she said.

Populoh has a graphic design degree from American University and spent years heading up her own marketing firm. She moved back to the United States from Brussels with her family 18 months ago, and she was developing plans on becoming a cheese maker (she even attended the Artisan School of Food in Great Britain while abroad).

It was a year after Populoh's return to Clifton that an exhausted Tengesdal approached her. 

"I was tired and overworked and I said: 'Oh my gosh, Lisa. I need help. We should be partners,'" said Tengesdal. "And you know what she said? 'I thought you'd never ask!'"  

It's a good match.

"We're both very type-A. She's the big romantic," said Populoh. "I'm a little more practical." 

Erin Tengesdal's Crepe Recommendation:

"It's an emotional experience you have with a crepe. What you order depends on how you are feeling," said Tengesdal. "If you want something sweet, I'd order 'Alli's Stuffed French Toast', which is made with homemade blintzes, fresh strawberries, cinnamon, powdered sugar and maple syrup. If you want something savory, then order 'The Italian Mob', which is made with Prosciutto, fresh spinach, olive spread, artichokes and lean ham." 

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Mary Stachyra Lopez February 28, 2013 at 04:34 PM
Love the Clifton Cafe! I like the idea of a patio. Nice way to expand while preserving that small, intimate feeling.
Kathy February 28, 2013 at 04:48 PM
I LOVE the Clifton Cafe! Erin, Lisa and all their staff make you feel welcome and pampered while you are there and the crepes are awesome! I love the new fresh breads they are carrying and I never pass up an opportunity to have a mango smoothie!
Karen Paris Realtor February 28, 2013 at 07:19 PM
I love Clifton Cafe! Bittners Bliss is a crepe I cannot live without. I enjoy taking family and clients there.
Elizabeth Schultz March 01, 2013 at 05:19 AM
Randy's Righteousness crepe is bliss! Black Forest Ham, Swiss, grilled onions and dijionaise...and, as always, a BIG cup of delicious coffee. Erin, we love your shop!

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