LOMA Coffee’s Ben Cordova on Serving Coffee, People and Faith
With a diverse crowd and a locale that’s still got growing left to do, LOMA Coffee is the common denominator that connects all corners of Market Street.
Photo by Ron Dubick
Ben Cordova was working the counter during a busy morning rush at LOMA Coffee shop as we chatted about the success of the business, as well as that of that particular block of lower Market Street—the section bookended by Second and Third streets. Cordova is LOMA Coffee’s general manager and a member of Hockessin Baptist Church, which owns the shop.
DT: I hear that LOMA Coffee is the heart of Lower Market these days.
BC: Well, when we came down here almost three years ago, this block was desolate. The church did a demographic study and found that there were people working in this area who could use a nice place to get coffee and something to eat. Money wasn’t the driving desire. It’s service. Chase has 5,000 people working there and there are 1,000 students and teachers at DelTech. The idea was to serve simple, bistro-style food and we can get people coming back to this block. The church actually budgeted a considerable amount of money per month for the sake of being able to serve these people again. Yes, the people who commute to work here, but also, equally as important, are the people that live and stay here. So it was a two-fold kind of idea.
DT: Seeing all of these folks in here, it’s obviously working very well.
BC: It’s been amazing. It’s really what we would call “the hand of God.” I think He used this place instrumentally as this sign to the rest of the block that this is a viable area to open a business. There are people in the area, there are people who commute here and people who live here that are looking for places to eat and to shop at. Shortly after we opened, all of these buildings started renting out. We can’t take credit for that. I would give all of the credit to Mike (Schwartz), who is the owner of the building. They were doing what they do very, very well by going out and finding people to rent these places. Did it hurt that there was a coffee bar that was successful and had lots of people in it? I don’t think so. But they did a phenomenal job in working with us—without by which we never would have done this—and their ability to work with others to start popping up all of these restaurants and shops. All of the other business owners that we meet, whether it’s Bain’s Deli or Extreme Pizza or the flower shop, we’re all good neighbors. It’s just amazing.
DT: How close is LOMA to reaching its potential?
BC: There is so much more to go, without a doubt. But if this block is an example of what’s coming, I think that only points to good.
DT: Is LOMA here to stay or is there a chance that LOMA, as an idea, will not come fully to fruition?
BC: Based on our success, I think our success would demand that it’s here to stay because all of these people aren’t going anywhere. We’ve got good coffee, good food, good flowers, good pizza. The demand for that is not going to diminish. It’s only going to get greater as they continue to build residential, which they’re doing. So more residential, more businesses, more people working at those businesses which is more customers for the other businesses. It’s a formula for revitalized cities that I would see lasting for quite some time.
DT: Your customer base looks to be very diverse.
BC: It’s a total mix of Chase, the students from DelTech and DCAD—there are several schools on Market. There are other surrounding businesses, the Delaware State Bar Association. All of these buildings around us have businesses in them, like Parcels right across the street. There are all the condos and the two high-rises just over the bridge. Those are customers of ours.
DT: So you frequent each others’ businesses?
BC: I love going across the street to Steve’s and grabbing a cheesesteak. I love going down to Extreme and watching the big screen and having some pizza.
DT: How did you become involved with LOMA Coffee?
BC: I became friends with the pastors of Hockessin Baptist Church while I owned and operated a coffee bar (Over Coffee Café) in Hockessin. When I was in the process of selling that, they approached me about hiring me to do this project.
DT: So they truly set out to run a shop and not worry about profit?
BC: It’s to serve. We’re closed on Sundays. We always have been. But now on Sundays we take out the tables down below (the lower level of the coffee shop) and roll in chairs and put in the worship band and we have church on Sundays. We have 40 to 60 people here.
DT: Were you a member of the church before?
BC: I was actually going to Calvary Chapel of Delaware County for the first year or so that we were open here. And I still do consult there because I put a coffee bar in at that church in the foyer.
DT: What’s been the biggest surprise for you?
BC: The biggest surprise and joy, equally, is the support we have received from the community—business and residential. It’s been amazing.