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Viva Vermont-made

A new Old North End coffeehouse is loyal to "local"


Published July 12, 2006 at 2:12 p.m.

On the upper end of Burlington's North Winooski Avenue, Viva Espresso is a new landmark for localvores. That is, for those who do the best one can with the eat-local ethos: The coffee beans, of course, were not grown anywhere near New England. But in their brightly painted coffeehouse, which hosted a daylong grand opening last Friday, owners Megan Munson-Warnken, 31, and Heather Bauman, 32, are passionate about their mission: "Local, Sustainable, Organic." And Viva Espresso is their modest but ambitious retail destination for a small network of local growers, producers and - in the case of coffee and chocolate - importers.

Munson-Warnken gladly enumerates the links in this chain: The biscotti and baguettes are from Panadero, a bakery right next door. O Bread of Shelburne provides danishes, croissants and raisin-cinnamon-swirl bread. The milk and ice cream are from Strafford Organic Creamery, the mozzarella and cream cheese from Champlain Valley Organic Creamery in Vergennes. The organic, 72-percent-cocoa chocolates also come from Vergennes - that is, a company called Daily Chocolate. The granola is made by Nutty Steph in Montpelier. Tomatoes, basil and flowers come from the Open Heart Farm in the Intervale.

Other connections are Pop Soda, based in Moretown, Burlington's Myers Bagels, and various Vermont providers of berries, honey, maple syrup and homemade jam.

Some of the ingredients do not meet the strictest definition of "local" - for example, sugar and flour in the baked goods. Foodstuffs such as salt and pepper, dried spices, baking powder and soda, and yeast are deemed acceptable by the "modern Marco Polo exception," as it's come to be known in localvore circles. Viva Espresso falls into the "caffeine-addicted Marco Polo" category (see www.eatlocal for info). And, again, Munson-Warnken and Bauman do the best they can: Their organic beans are provided by the Vermont Coffee Company of Bristol; the teas, by Vermont Tea & Trading of Middlebury.

A Burlington herbal-tea connection is cropping up, too: chamomile and two kinds of mint from Open Heart Farm. Co-owner Josh May, 32, says he's got "six or seven herbs in project stage right now," and is also wildcrafting clover. "I have a dryer at home - it's something to keep us busy in the winter," he suggests.

May and his wife Rachel Daley, also 32, seem like ideal produce partners for Viva Espresso; their very presence in Vermont illustrates the growth of the "small and local" movement among a new generation of farmers. The couple moved here from Long Island last January and launched their two-acre plot serving 25 "members" this summer; they're also keeping track of their experience on a blog - "The Intervale was a major draw," May explains. "It's the perfect size, and we really like the attitude of the people. Eating local is in the air up here."

And just how many people are breathing that air? Organizers of the statewide "Localvore Challenge" will find out during August and September (see "Eat Here Now," page 32A). Meanwhile, local-love wafts through Viva Espresso all the time, along with the appetizing aromas of fresh joe and toasted bread. And here, "local" doesn't refer just to the food. Munson-Warnken emphasizes the importance of creating community in her own 'hood. "We lost Scrumptious," she says, referring to the now-defunct Old North End cafe, "and we needed a place to hang out."

As it happens, she and Bauman are both mothers of two young children, and so the kid-friendly atmosphere of Viva Espresso is quite intentional -- a play area with toys occupies one corner. "We were frustrated being part of coffee culture and having nowhere to go. You want to meet a friend with kids? Forget about it," says Munson-Warnken, whose own toddler favors the scones and nonlocal lemonade. On the other side of the one-room shop, a low-slung couch invites grownup patrons; a coffee table is strewn with newspapers and magazines. The place is relaxed and pleasantly cluttered, kind of like home. Can't get more local than that.

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