Torrington’s Hummingbird Cafe owners say downtown is a perfect place to be
TORRINGTON — If you’re looking for a cozy spot to have coffee, do a little work on your laptop, read a book or watch the traffic on Main Street, there’s a place to do it in the heart of downtown.
The Hummingbird Cafe, which opened in June, is at 79 Main St., above KidsPlay Children’s Museum and across from the Warner Theatre. On a recent Monday afternoon, owners Michael Kaneb and his wife, Chelsea Murray Kaneb, had cider donuts, scones, apple cider and organic coffee on hand for customers. This weekend, a pumpkin painting night will welcome a dozen people.
“It’s been a slow boil since we opened, and things are going well,” Murray Kaneb said. “We were very busy at first, and it slowed down in August because I think people were away, but it’s picked up again this month.”
Before opening the cafe, the couple ran a food truck, and attracted customers with their environmentally friendly bicycle blender, which they used to make smoothies. Chelsea Murray Kaneb, a Wamogo Regional High School graduate and native of Morris, met Michael while working at a learning center and farm in New Hampshire. “She convinced me to move down here,” he said with a smile, adding that he is a native of South Hampton, N.H.
After a few years running the food truck, the Kanebs decided to look for a space to expand the business. They found the spot at 79 Main St., in a building owned by the Torrington Downtown Partners, and began selling their coffee and pastries, eventually adding a daily sandwich to the menu. Eventually, they hope to have a lunch menu. All the food, they say, is locally sourced from bakers and food makers in Litchfield County.
“This building has beautiful energy,” Murray Kaneb said. “We knew it was where we wanted to be.”
But the Hummingird Cafe is more than coffee and doughnuts. They use no single-use items such as plastic cups, straws or cutlery. One wall of the little cafe is filled with books, and beneath the bookshelves, cushions, an afghan and pillows offer inviting places to sit. The windows facing Main Street have a counter made of re-purposed barn wood, accompanied by old dining room chairs. The free Wifi provides another invitation for laptop users to pick a spot to work or take a break.
“When we first opened, people were bringing their laptops with them, so we realized we needed to have Wifi for them,” Murray Kaneb said. “We want people to come here and spend time enjoying it, like we do.”
Paintings by Oakville artist Ilmika Kulla hang on the walls, depicting images of Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Another wall is covered with pages of photographs from Time and Life magazines; and photographs by Murray Kaneb’s father, photographer John Murray, who formerly worked at the Register Citizen and founded the Waterbury Observer, are also on display. A Buddha statue watches over the room from a shelf.
The couple chose the name after attending a Super Soul Sunday Hummingbird talk held by Litchfield native and national bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert. Both hope the author will find time to speak at the cafe in the near future.
Also, the hummingbird is a symbol of the couple’s hopes for their cafe. “The hummingbird pollinates and spreads good in different places. That’s what we want to do,” Murray Kaneb said.
In fact, they have lots of plans: Author talks, a book discussion group, more artists showing and selling their work, a holiday craft area where local artists can sell wares, CBD products and talks to explain how hemp oil works, are some of the things the Kanebs plan to provide this year. Being across the street from the Warner Theatre has inspired them to invite performers to the cafe before or after showtime, which has attracted other visitors.
“The Led Zeppelin (tribute) band, Kashmir, played here this summer, and we invited them up before their show,” Michael Kaneb said.
“They loved it. We’re still in touch with them,” his wife added. “We invited Art Garfunkel when he was here, but I guess he’s not big on being out in public like that ... but that’s something we want to do more of. The Warner Theatre has great programs, great concerts, and if we can help promote those, it would be great.”
The business model, if there is one, is about being flexible and open to new ideas, the Kanebs said. Being in downtown Torrington was the best decision for the cafe, they said. Galleries such as Five Points and Noelke, on Water and Main streets, are close enough to draw foot traffic to places like the cafe, Water Street businesses, and the many restaurants that have opened this year. The couple is excited to be part of the scene.
“There are things happening here, that if they take off, it’s really going to make a difference for Torrington,” Murray Kaneb said. “The Warner’s been incredibly supportive of us, and the Noelke Gallery’s SpeakEasy spoken word event (held on Sundays once a month) — we love that. We hope those kinds of things will continue.”
“We want places like the Noelke Gallery to succeed. We want them to stay,” Michael Kaneb said. “More artists, more shows ... it’s good for downtown.”
As fall sets in and winter approaches, the Kanebs are excited to be part of the downtown scene. “We might change the model of the cafe over time,” Murray Kaneb said. “We want to be flexible, but we always want to have a friendly, warm space for people to come to.”
The Hummingbird Cafe is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visit hummingbirdcafe.org, email email@example.com, or find them on Facebook and Instagram.