Meet the 'jittery' espresso drinkers who start their mornings at Broadway Café in Westport
Since 1992, Broadway Café in the heart of Westport has remained a central part of Kansas City's coffee scene — a place where people don't just grab their drinks to go, but stay a while and even make some friends.
This story is part of an occasional KCUR series called The Regulars, about Kansas City’s neighborhood hangouts and the customers who bring them to life.
David and Cole Gearheart are both wearing sunglasses indoors: David’s are black, like a rock star trying not to be recognized, while Cole’s lenses are tinted orange, and you can see his warm eyes beyond them.
David is Cole’s father, and the resemblance is strong — they have twin mustaches and sharp jaws. Sitting at a laminated table in the middle of Broadway Café, the two men sip out of short disposable coffee cups.
“I’ve been coming here for about 12 years,” says David, 69. “We both started with vanilla lattes and now we both come and do a shot of espresso every day,” explains Cole, 37. “He has a latte. We both have a black coffee afterwards and we leave here jittery as hell.”
A Westport staple, Broadway Café has been brewing coffee since 1992, and their roasting operation began shortly thereafter.
The shop at the corner of Broadway Boulevard and Westport Road has been showered with superlatives over the decades — most recently being named “Best Coffee Shop” last year according to Kansas City Star readers — and is regularly lauded as having the best shot of espresso in town.
At the bar behind the Gearhearts, baristas warmly greet customers, tamp shots and plink totals into their old school cash register. The shop runs like a well-oiled machine, and the smell of espresso beans lingers in the air.
When the weather is good, and sometimes even when it’s not, customers congregate outside in metal chairs or lean against the shop windows. One of those customers is Chris Hutchings, who has been coming to Broadway Café since 1995.
Hutchings says he first discovered the shop “as a kid, just hanging out in the neighborhood. This is where a lot of people I know come and hang out here in the morning a lot.”
Even 23-year-old Rachel Thorstenberg has been a regular for years, since she was 15.
“For the past two birthdays I’ve come here,” Thorstenberg says. “And they've paid for my food and my drinks because I know them all. So that's probably one of my favorite things that they do. …. I love this place.”
Despite living some 20 minutes away, Thorstenberg says she drops by “probably two or three times a week to do homework and then I come on my off days just to get a drink to go.”
Thorstenberg sits in the very back of the shop, with her laptop open and big headphones on. Her coffee mug, long empty as she works, is pushed to the other side of the table.
She credits Broadway Café for growing her love and knowledge for coffee; she's now a barista at Seven Swans Crêperie.
“This is one of the few coffee shops in Kansas City that doesn't change too much, and I think that's probably a big reason why the customers love it so much,” she says. “But a lot of my peers come here now because I come here. So I do have a little study group that comes here every now and then.”
It’s not unusual to hear staff greet people by name and ask them if they’d like their usual orders: black coffees, americanos, vanilla lattes, and espresso shots in tiny ceramic mugs.
“It's definitely good to see the same people every day. Depending on whatever mood you wake up in, they can kind of level you out when you get to the coffee shop,” says Cole. “We have developed really good friendships with people here.”
“I have made some friends just by coming here and running into the same people for sure,” says Hutchings. “My kids always came here with me when they were young, and they actually made more friends than me.”
Alex Primm, a customer since 2009, sits in a dark wool jacket drinking a to-go coffee and scrolling on his phone before he heads to his work shift. Between sips, Primm says he’s even spent holidays with a friend he made at this shop.
“I met a guy named Mike here. I know his family very well. Sometimes I meet him up for Christmas, like in Overland Park where his family lives.” he says. “I have had a few coffee dates here, so that's always good. It's just always been a safe place to come, and I enjoy taking people here too.”
Customers say that Broadway Café has remained largely unchanged in the last three decades, even as Kansas City’s coffee scene has grown and shifted around it.
“The identity of this place really has been the same,” says Cole. “That might be another reason actually why we like it so much. We know what we're getting into when we're coming down here.”
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